Please help me welcome Danica Barreau as the Hair of the Dog Academy Guest Artist of the month for the month of October!  I must say that I’ve been an admirer of Danica’s (pronounced duh-NEE-kuh) work for a long time and it’s an honor that she agreed to share her skills with us.  Before we get to the image that she chose to edit for the guest artist column, let’s get to know Danica a little bit better first!

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

I’ve been running a creative type business under the Pouka, LLC name for over 20 years. From pencil portraits, to web design, to graphic design, to owning a dog daycare. I’ve always had a camera and really enjoyed photographing my own pets but in 2005 I started fostering dogs for a rescue and suddenly the importance of a good photograph became apparent. I fostered about twenty-five dogs and was photographing not only my own fosters, but others in our rescue. In 2015, I finally decided to start photographing professionally.

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

I shoot primarily with a Canon 7D mkii. For pet photography, I have two lenses – a 24mm and a 70-200mm. The 24mm is an inexpensive crop lens but it’s fast and sharp and is perfect for studio work. I started with the “nifty 50” but I had to scoot halfway across the room to take full body shots. The 24mm allows me to be close to the animal for control and still get a wide shot. The 70-200mm is my outdoor action lens. I use the f/4 lens rather than the more popular f/2.8 because it’s lighter weight and I prefer to shoot with a smaller aperture for action so that I don’t miss my focus. My “must have” items are squirrel and peacock calls to get a dog’s attention. I also keep some show leads on hand.

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

I think the concept of “style” is over-rated for the beginning photographer. It will come organically as you try new things and find the ones that make you and your clients happy. Once you’re shooting consistently and can look through your recent portfolio and see the same ideas showing up in most of the images, then you can see what they all have in common – that’s your style. But styles also change. Don’t feel compelled to stick to the same thing forever. Photography is a creative sport and we need to change and innovate and experiment to stay happy.

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

I started out just playing around with my equipment and seeing what I could do with it. If I couldn’t get the shot I had in mind, I’d research online, trying to figure out if the limitation was my equipment or my knowledge (it was usually me…). I joined FB photography groups and found images that I liked and admired and then asked questions about how they were achieved. Then I tried again. And again. I joined photography associations (state as well as PPA) and started taking classes, learning about processes, equipment, and inspiration. In 2017 I decided to get my CPP (Certified Professional Photographer) certification. Studying for that exam was an eye-opener. It provided the reasoning for all the stuff that I was trying to do spontaneously. The written exam was hard but definitely made me a better photographer. If you understand the “why”, then it’s easier to choose the correct settings when you’re in a changing environment.

I recommend practice, practice, practice. Try to recreate the lighting and styling of your favorite images. Find mentors, both locally and online, who can inspire you and guide you. Check out your local photography associations and take classes. Ask questions, develop a thick skin. Understand that there will be times when you feel frustrated and think your work sucks and that ALL photographers, even the very best or successful, regularly feel the exact same way.

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

Inspiration can come from anywhere. A TV or magazine ad (a cat and a mouse interacting), the shape of a tree (oh, that’ll frame a dog perfectly), a snippet of conversation, the color of winter grass under frost (that’s the same color as xxxx dog – I should bring her out here), and outtake from a shoot (ha, look at the pose that cat’s making), a classic painting… leave yourself open to ideas and concepts. Sometimes when you’re trying to shoot, something completely different happens. That’s fine. It’s an organic process. Go with it. Keep a notebook nearby and make notes or quick sketches. They don’t have to be pretty as long as it jogs your memory.

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

Word of mouth. I was depending entirely on client referrals and people I knew through the rescue. It wasn’t ideal but it was a friendly way to start slowly.

What is your most valuable marketing strategy now?

A good website, having a concise offering, confidence in my pricing strategy and techniques. Word of mouth still plays a big part in my client base but I participate in local events, talk to people and explain what I offer, and do a little online advertising.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Surprisingly, it’s the in-person sales part. As an introvert, I thought I would be terrified and there are definitely sweaty palms at the beginning. But I enjoy talking to the client and figuring out what they want, where they want to display it, and what makes their pet special so that I can capture it. I spent the first few years finding good vendors and products so I’m proud of the work I’m producing and I think that comes across. I’m also a big fan of creative editing. I love Photoshop.

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

This niche is exploding but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s becoming a more “acceptable” form of photography and people will be open to seeking us out. We have more and more photographers sharing work that inspires us and takes us in new directions, more education and technology (pet eye tracking in the Sony’s) that caters to us. Yes, there are more photographers providing competition but I think that should just drive you to improve and find your own unique viewpoint.

You can see the image above that Danica shared with us during her Guest Artist lesson in the Hair of the Dog Academy, a simple, yet beautiful, piece of art.  Thank you again for sharing Danica!

If you would like to check out her lesson, along with many other guest artist edits, click on this link to be notified of the next opportunity for enrollment into the Hair of the Dog community.  

If you would like to follow along with Danica and her artwork, you can follow her here: