Greg Mancuso's Petography Is Something to Bark About
L.A. portrait photographer Greg Mancuso used to come home from work and photograph his dog, Enzo, just to relax. Today, pet portraiture is as much a part of this 20-year photo veteran's business as celebrities and magazine clients Time and People.
This new portraiture business, which he calls "Petography," evolved as Enzo, his four-year-old Brittany spaniel—that's Enzo at the top of page 32—started inserting himself into the studio shots of Mancuso's human clients.
"I'd take a few shots of him so he'd get out of the way," says Mancuso. Before he knew it, a friend told other friends, "Hey, Greg's taking photos of animals now."
Business is booming and Mancuso largely credits Enzo and the Internet. He compares his home-based business to "taking a vacation" after commercial shoots. But that's not the main reason he's enjoying the niche—and even makes house calls. "It's a good match. I love dogs and dogs love me," he says.
"I talk to my animal subjects the way I talk to people. I say, 'What kind of look are you going for?' and I consider their good features," says Mancuso earnestly. "My inspiration is showing the dignity and the fun of the world's most popular beast."
Not long after starting Petography, Mancuso added a pets section to his website. To increase traffic, he bought ads on Yahoo and Google that direct people to his website. He also purchased strings in search engines so his site would match any search for "LA photographers" or "pet photography." Together the strategies have proved quite effective.
Today, 70 percent of his pet clients come via the Web, some from as far away as Europe. Visitors report being enchanted by the cartoon puppy pop-ups that scamper across the page.
When clients come to the studio for the first time, their pets are understandably apprehensive. Enzo, Mancuso's number one employee, somehow knows to comfort the dogs (and cats) that are shy or intimidated by the camera, and goes right up to them and plays. "That helps to bring out the pets' personality," adds Mancuso. Once the animals are more comfortable, he'll distract them with squeaky toys, noisemakers, salami, and tuna.
"At times I'll whisper 'speak' in Enzo's ear and he'll bark," says Mancuso. "As the visiting pet reacts, I start clicking away. Enzo seems to know he's an important part of the business."
Preferring digital capture, Mancuso shoots with a Canon EOS-1D. "Once I find equipment I'm comfortable with I stay with it. I like to keep things simple so I can concentrate on the subject better," he says. "I also love the quality of the images and the ability to shoot quickly, which you need when shooting pets. The image is clear in the viewfinder and easier to manipulate in Photoshop. And it gives me the ability to shoot in color for the client and change it to black & white for myself."
Clients enjoy digital for its instant feedback. In the studio, Mancuso connects his EOS-1D to a Panasonic TV monitor so clients can see exactly what he sees. "They're used to Petco portraits," says Mancuso. "They're so easy to please." After the shoot, he burns a CD so clients can leave with pictures. "This gives them instant gratification and also keeps costs down by not having to pay for prints," he says.
He offers clients additional photo products and services through his website, including gift certificates, last-minute gifts, and screen savers. Throughout the year, he stays in touch with his portrait subjects' humans by sending out e-blasts.