Shooting the Dog
How it all started...
I worked in IT for about 25 years, starting here in Devon before heading to New Zealand and then back again, before ending up working for DHL based in West London, but travelling all over the place.
"It was redundancy that gave me the kick up the backside to start doing something different"
I had made a hobby of photography, mainly wildlife photography as a way to unwind at the weekend. I was very lucky to live in a house backing on to a river and with a nature reserve just along the river. I guess one of the things that made me think I could make a living out of it was being picked up by the London Wildlife Trust, and providing them with some photographs for the visitor centre at Crane Park Reserve, and then people wanted to by some of them; this led to further photos being picked up the Richmond Environment Network to use on their publicity material. So it seemed a natural thing to start doing when I was made redundant.
Originally the business was just plain old Tom Horsley Photography, and we were looking at selling photographic prints of the local area, but as the years have rolled by people are buying less and less of that sort of thing. I slowly moved more into photographing pets and in particular dogs, so decided I needed something catchy and that explained what we did. I had Shooting The Dog in mind for a few years, and checked if their was anyone else out there using the name, and checked if the web domain was available – neither was the case, so I jumped and grabbed the domain name and “Shooting The Dog” came into being, followed quickly by getting it trademarked before anyone could pinch my idea!
I've been in business now for just over 10 years, with the Shooting The Dog brand in place now for just over a year. We offer a bespoke framing service as well, for which I have a semi-retired framer who I work with, and he comes in for three days a week, or as required.
We'll often try something new, if it proves popular then we'll keep it, if not we'll try something else. The dog photography has proven popular, and I love doing it, so that stays. As far as end product I check the market and see what is available, and see what other pet photographers are offering, and then come up with a selection of print finishes and options that I think will work. Next week that might change when I discover something else, or if a customer asks for it. One of the latest things we are offering is memory frames for dogs that are no longer with us.
"I get to work with some super dogs, and some of the people are quite nice too."
A day in the life
Unfortunately an average day tends to be doing paperwork, paying bills and trying to market the business; however, on the days we have a photoshoot things are slightly different. First thing is to get my dog out the way. Then, if it is a studio session, when the client arrives we'll have a chat about their dog, so I can find out more about it. I'll spend some time getting to know the dog and getting it's trust; it's important to get the dog as relaxed as possible in what is quite a strange environment for them. Then it's a case of finding out what gets the dog's interest, whether it's a ball or a treat, or something that squeaks (the number of times I have nearly swallowed one of the squeaky things from a dogs toy is unbelieveable!); once we get that worked out we get down to business and take the photographs. Once the shoot is finished, we then spend several hours processing the photos and picking out a shortlist of the best ones for the customer to make their choices from. These will either be uploaded to a private online viewing gallery or we will produce a set of contact prints for the customer.
Working with the dogs, but seeing the reaction of the clients when they pick up their finished product is always nice; had a few tears in the shop when they see the finished framed prints over the years.
One of the biggest challenges is to get the owners to leave things to me, many a time I have been about to press the shutter when the owner calls their dog and it looks in completely the wrong direction. I like having the owners here when I am photographing the dog, just to help the dog relax, but sometimes I do wish they would just keep quiet.
If you could do anything else other than what you’re doing now what would it be?
I suppose I would have to get a real job. I have just completed a level 3 diploma in dog behaviour with the BCCS, so it might be good to go down that route.
"Nearly every prospective customer tells me that I would never get their dogs to sit still long enough to get a photograph, but I haven't failed yet."
I am the proud owner of Sir Fidget Smelly-Bottom, who has his own facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/FidgetSmellyBottom
He is a nearly 4 year old Jack Russell terrier, and is my muse. He must be one of the most photographed dogs in the country, but knowing him so well means that I can practice different things with him, from action photography, even to underwater shots this year.
To relax I go out and take photographs, and I like to go camping with Fidget whenever I get the chance.