I’m pleased to introduce Boston Pet Photographer Kaylee from Dog Breath Photography. She is an incredible artist with a unique, vibrant, and whimsical style and I’m so excited to hear what she has to share with us. I especially love her response to finding your own style….enjoy!
Tell us about what drew you to creating Dog Breath Photography? When did you start your business?
4 years ago, I was searching for a dream. I was feverish, and so full to the brim with a passion that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I was a college graduate – fresh-faced and alive with a brand new sense of adventure. I was confident and proud, and ready to take the world by storm. At the same time, I was so overwhelmed by the endlessness of possibility that lay before me. I never felt more powerful (and more completely afraid to death) than at that point in my life. I knew that for the very first time in my life, I held the possibility of my future right in the palm of my hand. I could turn my existence on the planet into anything that I wanted it to be. I could change the world. I could affect positivity and make a difference if I so chose to. But the most daunting part was that, no matter what was to happen, it all depended on me – on the choices I made, and the paths I chose to follow. I searched under every rock and around every corner I passed. I had big plans, I just wasn’t exactly sure what they were yet. I rode a roller coaster of ups and downs for the year after college – from editing and re-editing my resume, to alternating between doubting myself and being incredibly inspired, to applying for jobs, and to driving long stretches of highway on soul-searching trips — singing at the top of my lungs in an attempt to drown out the confusion.
But through all of this wild, wild uncertainty and confusion, there was always one constant.
Each time, when I looked down to my left, there was a multi-colored, 80lb, fuzzy wagging ball of love by my side. And through it all – the ups and downs, the highs and lows – he remained. He was the one unwavering, unchanging force in my life. No matter what, he was there, equipped with that big gorgeous smile that he gave so selflessly as he wagged and bounced around my world. I found solace in his eyes. I found peace in his warm head in my lap. His name was Toby, and he was the purest form of love I had ever known. And who would have thought that I would find that sense of Eden-like peace and inspiration in a scraggly little shelter Pit Bull? But alas, there it was, all along. It was then that I began photographing Toby constantly, in an attempt to capture that smile, that whimsy, that pure happiness that no other creature could ever duplicate. I wanted to keep those little moments in my pocket forever. To snap him into an eternity, so that on any rainy day in an inevitable future without him, I could breathe in his smile and let his peace hit my heart. I wanted to preserve those moments so that I could hold onto them forever. It was then that everything in my world clicked. It was then that my dream averted its original path and I found what I was meant to do all along. The stars had aligned for me.
Photographing pets brings me joy like nothing else on this planet ever has. (expect of course that smile that was so trademark to my little Pit Bull boy.) So, what really drew me to photographing pets all rests inside the heart and the endless smile of a rescued Pit Bull Terrier who has since found a place in the most perfect heaven. He, singlehandedly, is the reason (and the breath) behind Dog Breath Photography.
What is in your camera bag? Is there a particular piece of equipment that you just couldn’t live without?
If you asked me this question 3 months ago, my answer would have hands down been my 50mm f/1.4. But, fast forward 90 days and my world has been rocked and completely changed by one little piece of glass. Recently, after working my bum off and emptying my piggy bank to about half its capacity — I added a new lens into my arsenal. The 16-35mm f/2.8!
And what does 16mm give me, you ask? Bobbleheads galore!! Photographing dogs at 16mm on a full frame camera makes me laugh like nothing else can. Those big, comical black noses and those goofy, round puppy dog heads bobbling all about in front of my camera never cease to make me smile. Dogs bring us so much joy and comedy in our daily lives, that I believe capturing them through this wide angle lens is just a perfect representation of their laughing essence. I also love the cinematic drama I can get out of a lens this wide. Lately, I’ve been finding myself shooting wide and low quite a bit. I just love to frame a dog against gorgeous open skies, and from such a low perspective they appear larger than life – like Kings! (or Queens!) I just love to create dramatic, memorable imagery.
All of that being said, if my camera bag spontaneously combusted and flames were shooting out of it every which way, and I only had a moment to rescue two things, I would be wildly fleeing the scene with the 50mm under one arm and the 16-35mm under the other like they were newborn children. (And I suppose neither of these things make such sense without my Canon 5D MkIII body, so I’d smuggle that out with them too.) 🙂
Do you have any advice for photographers that are trying to find their “style”?
Find Inspiration everywhere you look. Don’t get caught up on solely focusing on the current work thats being churned out in your specific niche of the photography industry. If you focus on only this, you risk snuffing out the creative fire inside you before it even has a chance to spark. Don’t limit yourself to what’s been done before.
Do watch the light as it sparkles and glints across the sky and take note of it’s patterns as it dances and changes with each passing hour. Delight in the sunlight and take note of the times of day that it’s beauty makes you weak in the knees. Seek out those moments when creating images that are truly unique to you.
Do turn your eyes towards other forms of art. Watch movies and pause at the scenes that are so cinematic and so beautiful that they make your heart skip a beat. Take note of why. Read books and let your imagination paint the scenes inside your head. Visit art galleries and linger at a painting that catches your eye. Listen to music that inspires you and sets you off into a dream. Most importantly, Climb Mountains. Hike through Forests. Adventure frequently. Keep your eyes to the light and keep your mind open to the air. Dream up scenarios bigger and grander than your wildest dreams. Most importantly, try everything. Count out 5,000 shutter actuations and keep going.
So many artists get lost in the realm of what is ‘realistic’ or what is ‘accessible’ when creating images. Don’t fold at the first inconvenience that comes your way. Don’t fall victim to the belief that your vision is not unique or special. Push your own personal boundaries with every shoot. Step outside of your comfort zone and set challenges. If you keep an active, open mind – it will be impossible not to land in a place that is completely unique to you and your style. And that being said, don’t be afraid to explore and change your style once you think you’ve found it. An excellent artist is one that is always growing and changing.
How did you learn the craft of photography? What advice to you have for those just starting out on their photographic journey?
I was privileged to attend the gorgeous University of Tampa in sunny Florida. There I majored in Visual Arts, with a curriculum very heavy in art and photography courses. Over the course of 4 years, I learned the technical aspects of my camera and gained valuable insight into the mechanics of what goes into making the perfect exposure. But, all of the formal classes in the world couldn’t teach me what I learned after college. It was then that I began shooting out of the purity of inspiration — shooting for me and for no one else. No more assignments. No more limitations. I watched the world around me. I chased the sun as it shifted through the sky. I studied animals and the way that they move, humbled by their grace and dignity. I fell in love with tiny fractions of seconds. I pointed my camera towards the world — towards the things that inspired me. I practiced and practiced endlessly. Sometimes I made gorgeous pictures – images to be proud of. But in those first few years, mostly I made lots of mistakes. And I think that’s the secret. Never be afraid to make mistakes. Never be afraid to fail. Just get out there and try it. Try everything. Find what fuels you and never stop shooting out of passion. The moment you lose the passion is the moment you should stop. Life is too short to spend any amount of time doing something you don’t love.
I have to add, that I been blessed to have met my match in another artist. I share my home and my life with an outrageously talented portrait photographer who continually blows me away with his creativity and magic. His work is breathtaking. Sam has taught me so much throughout my career as a pet photographer, and he continues to teach me new things everyday. To live with another creative minded artist is a constant source of inspiration and advice. He is literally a Photoshop master. My favorite thing to do on a Friday night is make a bowl of popcorn and sit down and watch him post-process. (I know, I am a total dork.) I am so privileged to have this endless source of knowledge and information under the same roof with me. Sometimes I feel like he is my secret weapon — I have learned an incredible amount of photography related knowledge from this guy. Plus, he cooks me dinner. 😛
Where do you find inspiration for your work or trying new things?
Oh gosh, that’s such a fantastic question — Everywhere.
I fill my up my life with art. It’s constantly around me, in all kinds of wonderful forms.
The cinema is huge for me. There are such amazing, amazing artists in the motion picture industry. I find so much inspiration in the imagery of films. I love to watch the pictures move in front of me – I’m always tuned in to colors, lights, depth, textures. I pick out the scenes with so much imagination that they give me goosebumps, and then I’ll deconstruct why. I’ll take what I find and apply it to my work.
I also find creative enlightenment in reading books, watching the patterns of natural light as it sparkles around me, fashion photography, and music. I frequent art galleries. I really tune into any clever form of artistic expression in the external world.
But mostly, I think a lot of the inspiration for my work comes from my crazy, colorful mixed up brain. For whatever reason, car rides are a big one or me. I drive a lot. I serve all of New England when it comes to private sessions, so it’s not abnormal for me to travel an hour or more to a shoot. There’s something so therapeutic for me about endless stretches of highway disappearing under my tires. I watch the patterns in the road as they wind all around me, and my brain floats off to an arena of magic and creation. I’ve always been a wanderer, a nomad, a traveler – so I think dreaming up dreams under these circumstances just comes very natural for me. Im always thinking up concepts and ideas. I think there’s something about the meditative hum of my wheels on the concrete that gets my brain going. I’ve come up with so many of my shoot concepts while on a car ride. I’ll take out my phone, hit ‘record’ on the voice memos, and just start rattling off whats going on in my mind. I bet I look like a complete crazy person to anyone who might be passing me by. haha.
What was your most valuable marketing strategy when you started your business?
When I first started out, I reached out to my local shelter — an incredible little organization called the MSPCA. Maybe I shouldn’t say ‘little’. The MSPCA has quite a fantastic and influential reach throughout Massachusetts, as it has three branches spread across the state. I volunteered my services as a professional photographer to their adoption center at Nevins Farm in Methuen, MA — specifically to photographing the homeless dogs for their adoption profiles. I was met with such enthusiasm and excitement from the organization – both of us knowing how important a great photo can be in the chances of an abandoned shelter dog finding a forever home. Reaching out and connecting with people who shared the same passion for animals as I did was huge for me. Not only did I gain incredible knowledge and experience when it comes to working with all types of dogs and personalities, but I also built relationships with a multitude of different players in the pet industry.
When I first started as a shelter photographer, I got lost in the joy and incredible sense of reward that comes as an aside to making a real difference in the life of a helpless animal. I got so caught up in those wonderful afternoons spent sitting on hillsides cuddling and photographing the pups that I didn’t even realize the positive affect my shelter work was having on my business. Not long after, I was booking sessions with clients who had seen my work on the MSPCA’s website, passed by my booth at a shelter event, or been recommended by another volunteer or staff member who I had formed a genuine personal relationship with. I think its so important to be authentic and genuine at this stage in the game. (well, truly its important to be authentic and genuine always — but especially then.) And not only that, don’t ever forget to be grateful. I owe so much of my success to the incredible people at the MSPCA who warmly welcomed me in as a part of their team and believed in me right from the start. Now, almost 3 years later, no matter how heavily I’m booked with private sessions – I always reserve one day a week to spend at my favorite place in the world kissing, cuddling and photographing the adoptable dogs. No matter how far I go, I’ll never forget where I started.
What is your most valuable marketing strategy now?
I’m in love with stories. I’ve always been entranced by the power of a good story, and thus have always been a storyteller. This is a personal quality that I never ever thought would come into play anywhere in my life expect maybe in my literature classes in college.
But unexpectedly, my love for stories has translated over into my career as a pet photographer as well. I think that one of my most valuable marketing strategies currently, is creating beautiful image and story content and sharing it with people all over the world who share the same passions as I do. Genuinely connecting with people and pouring my heart out through photos and stories via social media has been more valuable to the success of this business than I ever thought possible. The internet is such an incredible tool for business owners because the size and engagement level of your potential audience is unprecedented. I have been absolutely privileged to have been able to travel across the country, meeting and photographing pets from all corners of the US due to connections I’ve made with real people via social media. I revel in the thought that I can reach and form relationships with people who I might have never even known existed if it wasn’t for this big silver box in front of me. Don’t ever underestimate the power of social media and the limitlessness of the community of passionate people who may only be a click away. Don’t hesitate to reach out.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Oh, hands down – the animals. 🙂 There is nothing that I am more passionate about on the whole planet than the infinite joy that is so unique to animals. When I meet clients on-location, my heart skips a beat each and every time that I first lay eyes on my fuzzy model for the day. Ever since I was a small, small little version of myself, I have been absurdly crazy for animals! As a child, I would squeak and squeal and tumble across the street in an effort to meet whatever dog might be walking by me and I would get lost in their eyes and their fur between my fingertips as they greeted me — today is not much different. I delight in the whimsy of animals, their ability to live in the present, perfect moment and in their endless smiles. For me, their wiggling bodies and wagging bottoms are the purest kind of joy. I knew from the very minute that I was conscious enough to realize that I would one day want to become someone wonderful, that I would do so by surrounding myself with animals. That, truly, for me – there is no other reason for living. Getting the privilege to work with animals each and every day of my life is bigger than my wildest dreams. I never have a case of the ‘I hate Mondays’ or a bout of the ‘Thank God it’s Fridays’. I have no doubt in my mind that if it weren’t for the animals involved in my craft – that this wouldn’t be the case.
Oh, and I also love sleeping in. 🙂
A photography business can’t stay in business long without sales. Tell us a bit about the sales strategies that have worked well for you.
I have to be perfectly transparent and candid with you here and tell you that I am just about the worst salesperson on the planet — at least in the traditional sense of the word. What I do on a day to day basis is fueled by so much love and passion, that I still struggle with the concept of earning money from it. While I am currently making my full time living off of it (and am so incredibly, incredibly grateful for that) – I can truly tell you that I have no static ‘strategies’ in place. I know this is probably not the most helpful answer on the planet – but here is what I do think:
I think it’s all about really connecting with your clients as people. Not as a business opportunity or a means to an end, but as a friend, a person to keep close to your heart and to look out for. I fall in love with their pets and I have such a respect for and connection with people who share the same passions that I do.
Let the sales be fueled by their love for your enthusiasm, for your artistry, for you as a person and most importantly, for the cause that you believe in. The trick is to create once in a lifetime images– images that hold unprecedented personality and whimsy — pour your love into their images and you’ll never go wrong. The sales will come as a side to their love for their pet and for the moments that you have captured for them. Moments they might never be able to duplicate. Moments that will get them through the hard times. Moments that will bring them happy tears for so many years to come. I put my relationship with my clients and their pets first, and let the sales come naturally. So far, this ‘strategy’ thats not really a ‘strategy’ has been pure magic for Dog Breath Photography. 🙂
What do you think the next 5 years will look like for the pet photography industry?
I see the pet photography industry growing exponentially. I see consumers seeking out this once-elusive service as opposed to not even imagining it exists. But what excites me most, is that I see lots and lots of new and emerging pet photographers popping up who are all heroically acting on a common goal — shelter pet photography. As a mass community of pet photographers, we are standing together to give hope to lost animals who might not have a chance otherwise, we are giving a voice to the voiceless — and I am so proud to say that I am a part of such a giving and caring community of artists. In the next 5 years, I see lots more awareness being created for abandoned animals who lie in wait in shelter cells. I see lots more gorgeous portraits being created that will ultimately save a lonely animals’ life. And based on that alone, I am so thrilled for the future of this industry. 🙂
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us! Please let us know where we can find you online.
No, thank you for reaching out to feature me. This was the coolest. 🙂
And please don’t hesitate to email me if you’d like to connect, share your thoughts, or just say ‘hey! let’s be friends!’