Margaret Bryant of Bryant Dog Photography knows that anyone can make a photograph of their dog, but few people can make a professional portrait, or-more importantly-something visually artistic and photographically unique. Bryant's style works because she captures the personality of the dog and the relationship it has with its owner. Bryant finds ways to express the bond between human and dog without doing too much posing and, as a rule, without using miniature furniture.
As a result, the Dallas-based photographer has positioned herself as the solution for those looking for something special when it comes to pet portraiture. She says that her clients' experience as a whole has her calendar booked full of referrals; and has her confidently delivering a one-of-a-kind product that separates her from the other pet photographers in the area.
Leader of the Pack
First and foremost, Bryant emphasizes that to succeed in a niche market such as pet photography, a photographer has to make his or her product something wholly separate from what competitors are offering-and sign it with a personal flair. "You have to give them something they can't buy elsewhere, so to separate yourself, make yourself unique," she advises. "Give them a reason-a special reason-to come to you. I've done other types of photography, and I know I can be a generalist and make a living-but I felt that finding a niche would make me special. One of the biggest lessons I've learned going into this as a business was realizing I needed to differentiate myself-realizing that not everyone was photographing dogs in the manner I was, making it personal and about both interaction and art."
Bryant focuses on her client base first, knowing that client impressions of how she works is going to make a huge difference in their perceptions. "It is as much about the experience for my clients as it is about the resulting images of their dogs," Bryant says. "We have a design consultation ahead of time, which is something I insist on even if they don't think they need it-it's worth the effort. We always end up enjoying each other's company during the consultation, and that's important for our business relationship. It helps me learn about them and about their dog-seeing what the dog does, and how the dog and owner interact. I want to hear the stories about their dog and use that to tailor the shoot. These are clients for whom their dogs are their kids, and I find that I love the people as much as the dogs. This makes for a client base that I love working with; it's important to love your clients, and it will show in your photographs."
It's not just understanding the paying client, either, Bryant asserts. "You have to have patience in this business, and you have to understand dog behavior," she says. "I'm further separating myself from other shooters by delivering photos aside from a dog sitting in a little chair, or an owner's snapshot. Photographing dogs is a lot more than the technical aspect; the technical is a tiny piece of the puzzle. What counts is capturing the individuality of the dog and knowing how to do it."
Bryant knows that there are always some clients who will say they're concerned about their dog's "problems," that they are the types to bounce off the walls and will therefore be uncooperative. Her suggestion is simple and always the same-she tells them to bring the dog in hungry and tired. "My biggest problem, though, is a dog that is frightened of the flash," Bryant says. "It's a subtle set of signs the dog exhibits, but we know what to look for. When we see those behaviors start, we have several approaches to counter it. Most of the time, an easy solution is that the dog's owner will be in the shot with it to keep the dog relaxed."
Bryant doesn't take all of the credit-her assistant is definitely her right hand when handling these four-legged subjects. "Even my animal wrangler has exceptional patience with the dogs, which is something regular portrait photographers don't usually have with animals," she says. "Also, I am knowledgeable about dog sports, dog psychology, and dog training. I think that is value added for my clients since I can give them tips. I'm a dog lover myself, and I ‘get' the importance of their relationship with their dog-it's a special bond that's formed. There is a kind of kinship, a shared experience, that exists between us. This helps not only in the studio space, but in the sales office, too."
Wearing the Business Collar
Running a dog photography business has its own particulars, so Bryant has developed a cache of techniques to help her studio thrive. While she feels she's no genius when it comes to marketing her services, she admits she's developed some solid practices to allow her bookings to record more sales each year. Word of mouth always brings in new clients; her constantly updated website enjoys thousands of hits each month; and her networking in the dog and pet circles keep her name on the tips of plenty of tongues.
"I also advertise by offering prints to hang in doggie daycares and vet offices," Bryant says. "I will occasionally do dog events, and I participate in the local rescue groups. I donate a lot of sessions to fundraisers and charities, too. These donations are often to non-dog groups, but they're carefully selected and target a clientele I know I'll enjoy having. You have to be smart about nearly every advertising move you make in the hopes that it's not a wasted effort."
Designing your website so that it searches well is important as well, Bryant states. Metadata, text, and language are all crucial, and it's all about search engine optimization. "Stay away from Flash sites if you can, too-for now, search engines aren't finding them," she warns. "It's very, very important to know how to make yourself searchable by the popular search engines-read up on the best practices. I'm also constantly tweaking the language in an effort to appeal to my client base in the best way possible-I know most of my clients are women, so my site's language is geared to appeal specifically to them."
Bryant's involvement in the canine community helps her with her email blasts and newsletters, too. By staying involved with local groups, she's able to send more than just photography in her newsletters, updating her clients about available trainers, local events, and everything "dog"-which brings an added value to her potential clients while also exposing them to her brand and photography.
Bryant has methodically streamlined her business to be easy on the client, starting by giving ID numbers to each and every photograph on her website to allow clients to identify images that have inspired them with ease. Her sessions are a sleek 60 to 90 minutes, and the shoot review takes place with a slideshow set to music in her studio, with the help of ProSelect Presentation software. Final print selections are inspected, personally packaged, and delivered to Bryant's clients in her office so that she can be sure to thank them again personally, sending away a client she knows is happy.
While Bryant would love to give everyone a secret to success in pet portraiture, she finds that most of the advice she gives out to aspiring dog photographers goes unheard. "I get a lot of emails from people looking to get into the pet photography business," Bryant says. "I now have a form letter that I send to people in response, which I chose to do after finding that most don't want to talk about pet photography as a business-they just want to hear that it's all fun. I also urge everyone to copyright their images-I've had photographs end up on the side of pet shops, and plenty more stolen for commercial purposes. Be diligent!"
For more of Bryant's photography, visit www.bryantdogphotography.com