Please welcome San Diego-based pet photographer, Terran Bayer from Westway Studio to the Hair of the Dog blog…..and there is some HUGE news at the end, so you definitely want to read though this one!  🙂

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Tell us about what inspired you to create Westway Studio?  When did you start your business?

Westway Studio is a two-part business. One-half is graphic design; the other is pet photography. I officially filed paperwork with the county in 2006 as a graphic design business while I still had a full-time job. In 2007, after deciding I could no longer handle the corporate world, I quit and said to myself, “I have to make Westway Studio work full-time. I just have to.” A little while later, we adopted Roxy and I began taking photos of her. I have had a camera in my hands and photographing animals since high school but I just always thought of it as a hobby. At one point, something made me realize that there were actual professional pet photographers out there and I knew in that instant: that was what I was supposed to do. I started learning everything I could, signed up for a pet photography workshop, got hooked up with a rescue whose adoptable dogs I could photograph, and the rest is history!

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What is in your camera bag?  Is there a particular piece of equipment that you just couldn’t live without?

My camera bag is overflowing, so let me focus on what I use the most. I shoot with a Nikon D800 and my main lenses are the 17-35 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, 50 f/1.8, 70-200 f/2.8, and 105 macro. For lighting, I have SB800 and SB900 speedlights with stands and umbrellas plus an Einstein strobe with a stand and octabox.

My 70-200 is, by far, my favorite piece of equipment. I love it so, so, so, so much and can’t shoot a session without it!

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Do you have any advice for photographers that are trying to find their “style”?

Get out there and start shooting. Practice! Experiment! Try something you don’t fully know how to make work! It’s OK to look at others’ art but try not to copy it. Look at fashion magazines, catalogs, wedding photographers, and family photographers… don’t just focus on the pet photographers.

Play with your editing. Do you love saturated colors or more muted tones? Do you love high contrast or when the blacks are softer? Do you find yourself editing on the warmer or cooler side of things?

Try to remember that your art is yours. You don’t need to be like anyone else. Reach deep inside to find your voice because it is important and when you are true to yourself, people will want to hear what you have to say.

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How did you learn the craft of photography?  What advice do you have for those just starting out on their photographic journey?

In 10th grade, I took Photography I and fell madly, deeply in love with the craft. The following years, I took more photography courses and studied it in college along with graphic design. I focused more on the design side of things but photography always remained a passion.

For those just starting out, my advice is similar to my answer above: practice, experiment, draw inspiration but don’t copy, and find your own voice. Rent equipment and lenses before making purchases. Work with what you have and what you can afford; you do not need a bag full of gear to start with. I began with a single Nikon D80 and a 28-300 kit lens. It doesn’t make you any less of a photographer if you don’t have the top-of-the-line full-frame camera, fancy lenses, or the best lighting gear around. Work with what you’ve got! I promise, it’ll make you appreciate the good stuff more later and it’ll help you learn to think on your toes.

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Where do you find inspiration for your work or trying new things?

I find inspiration everywhere I look! From beautiful light to stunning landscapes to amazing man-made architecture, all I have to do is keep my eyes open. “I want a puppy right there!” is a common phrase my very patient husband hears a lot.

I follow photographers on social media but I allow myself to be more inspired by the emotions, lighting, and overall images captured by family and wedding photographers than other pet photographers.

I’m deeply inspired by nature, wildlife, and light.

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What was your most valuable marketing strategy when you started your business?

By far, the most important thing I did when I began my business was to find local pet events and get a booth at them. I did every one I could find. I collected mailing addresses and got people booked for sessions.

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What is your most valuable marketing strategy now?

Believe it or not, booth events are still where I find the majority of my clients! A lot of clients have seen me at multiple events and feel confident enough to book me. I just started a new email marketing strategy that I’m hoping will also be a big win!

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What is your favorite part of your job?

Um… puppies? Haha! No, actually, knowing that I’m creating tangible memories for people and making a difference in their lives is the most important thing to me. As hard as it is, my favorite is working with pets who are old or terminally ill. I think at that point, their guardians know how important photos truly are and they find so much more meaning in them. I am honored to be able to capture the love and history between animals and their pet-parents.

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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.

First, be honest with yourself and understand that you are a business. Next, decide what kind of business owner you want to be. For me, I want to always be kind, generous, flexible, and understanding. I want my clients to feel taken care of. I want to make their chosen artwork perfect so they are thrilled and proud to display it. I want them to feel that they got an amazing value by hiring me. And to do this, I realized that I needed to charge a premium for my service.

I have priced myself for profit. Sometimes people will say “you’re so expensive!” but I don’t let them bully me into reducing my rates. I know what I’m worth and what I need to make a living at this. Have confidence!

I also do in-person sales out of my home. IPS has been a huge way for me to give my clients value because I listen very closely to what they say and don’t say. I am able to get a sense of what they truly want and am able to make suggestions to help them get it. That leaves them feeling thrilled!

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What do you think the next 5 years will look like for the pet photography industry?

I think we’re going to see more pet photographers joining our ranks and, together, we will continue to work toward being seen by the general public as legitimate photographers (yes, I’ve been laughed at more than a few times but whatever!).

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us!  Please let us know where we can find you online.

Wait, that’s not all!  

I am so honored to announce that Terran will be teaching alongside me at the next Hair of the Dog retreat!  Details are available now and registration opens on December 1st.

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The last Hair of the Dog retreat sold out on the first day, so I would mark your calendars if you are interested in joining us!