Written by: Tan Dominguez
Creator and Photographer of The Pet Visuals who believes that pets are more than mere animals
As a pet photographer, I've found a fulfilling and thrilling career that lets me bring together my passions for animals and photography. But how did I end up in this field? Let me share with you my journey from working in the IT industry to becoming a dog photographer in Manila, the skills required for this job, and the challenges and joys that come with working with furry clients.
A Look Back on My Early Encounters with Dogs
I was raised in Tarlac City by a family that owned dogs, though I can't recall the name of my very first puppy. I was around three years old when I welcomed my first four-legged friend into my life, but my excitement was short-lived as he fell ill and passed away under my watch in less than a week. I remember being inconsolable at the time, but this experience fueled my passion for canine care. Whenever we would bring a new pup home, I would vow to myself to do better in taking care of them, and this helped deepen my love for dogs.
A particular dog that remained with us for a significant period of time was Brownie. She was remarkable because every year she delivered approximately 8 puppies, which we would then give away to family and friends. At one point, my mother considered giving her away as she has bitten a number of people, but Brownie surprised us by nestling into my mother's arms and nuzzling her nose against her as if she's pleading not to be surrendered. It was at that moment that I recognized the emotional and affectionate nature of dogs.
Fast-forward to my college days, and I found myself without a furry companion to care for. Between the challenges of being an engineering student and living in a condo that didn't allow pets, the time wasn't right for a new four-legged friend. Physics and Calculus kept me preoccupied, and I had to channel all my focus and energy into my studies to succeed. Despite these obstacles, I remained determined to finish my degree and establish a career in information technology.
After completing my degree in Computer Engineering, I worked in the corporate world for many years. I handled various responsibilities such as addressing access complaints, software testing, and quality reviews. I eventually became a member of a management team, where I participated in daily meetings, provided coaching sessions, and tackled and resolved issues. At some point, I came to the realization that a typical 9-to-5 job simply wasn't my calling. I couldn't envision myself sitting behind a desk for the next decade, and I knew I needed to explore alternative career paths that better aligned with my interests and passions.
My Journey as an Amateur Photographer
I always had a passion for photography and would spend my weekends taking portraits and landscapes. My first camera was the Canon EOS M, which happened to be their first-ever mirrorless camera with a less-than-stellar focusing system (hehe). Nonetheless, it was an excellent camera for beginners. At night, I often tune in to YouTube tutorials that teach various techniques for color grading and retouching photos. I enjoy learning new ways to enhance the visual quality of my work and find these tutorials to be informative.
In 2019, I resigned from my job but did not immediately consider pursuing photography as a profession. Instead, I spent time exploring other potential business ventures. And then the devastating events of the year 2020 emerged.
How the Pandemic made me start taking pet photos
The pandemic took the world to its knees, disrupting daily life and causing unprecedented levels of illness, and economic upheaval. Outdoor photography was on hiatus for months due to stay-at-home orders. During the period of lockdowns, I found myself unemployed and grieving for my father who had passed away early on. I remember sitting in my garage, feeling uncertain about what the future holds when suddenly my dog Duke appeared in front of me as if to offer comfort and reassurance. This reminded me of a quote from Bruce Cameron's book "A Dog's Purpose," in which he states that the primary duty of a good dog is to stay by its owner's side, no matter what life may bring.
My black Labrador Retriever changed the course of my career
Back in 2018, a dog breeder colleague of mine told me about the birth of nine healthy puppies from his female Labrador. Upon receiving videos of the litter, I was immediately drawn to the only black-colored pup among them. Falling in love with him at first sight, I reserved the puppy as a gift for my girlfriend, Rhea, who loves watching uplifting dog videos during her work breaks. We named him Duke instead of his original name, Yogi, as it suited his appearance well. Ever since then, we have considered him as our first-born son and his presence in our home fills us with joy and happiness. Little did I know that this dog would alter the trajectory of my career.
The Pet Visuals was brought to life as a result of Duke's photo
In the midst of the lockdown, on a particularly lackluster day, I grabbed my camera in an effort to enhance my photography skills. Despite my desire to capture a photo of my wife, she declined. Instead, I redirected my attention toward Duke, who was resting under the stairs. Using just the right amount of natural light, I managed to snap a great shot of him in the shaded garage with a dilapidated black backdrop. I shared the photo with a dog group on Facebook and was astonished when it received thousands of likes and shares. This was a significant response for an average person like myself. After receiving messages from several people inquiring about my rates for pet photoshoots, I became motivated to set up my own pet photography studio.
I thought long and hard about what to name my studio, and I ultimately decided on Pet Visuals because I believe it perfectly encapsulates what I aim to achieve with my photography. My goal is to create stunning and visually appealing images of pets that capture their beauty and spirit in a unique and captivating way. In my opinion, pets possess a unique gift for bringing happiness and joy to our lives, and I wanted to create a name that reflected this sentiment while also emphasizing the visual artistry that goes into every photograph.
The quality of every pet photo
In order to kick things off, we began our pet photography venture by inviting our friends to bring their dogs to our place. We set up the photography space in our garage, using only natural light as we did not have any studio lighting. Witnessing the joy on the faces of the pet owners when they saw the final photos of their dogs was a truly fulfilling experience. After several pet photoshoots and editing sessions, I believed that my work had reached a level of quality where I could begin charging for my services. However, my perspective changed after watching a YouTube video featuring a professional photographer from Texas who authored the book "Good Dog". When I first saw his animal photos, I was amazed by their stunning sharpness and meticulous attention to detail. I was immediately struck with the idea that if I could replicate that level of quality here in Manila, it would bring a great deal of joy to many pet owners who would love to see their pets captured in such breathtaking images. In order to achieve this goal, I made the decision to invest in photography lights, and transform our living room into a photography studio by relocating our furnitures to our larger bedroom, as well as acquiring additional studio equipment. I dedicated myself to studying the optimal positioning of strobes and the most effective techniques for editing animal photos. It took me 4 months to establish my workflow, but I finally reached the point where I was able to achieve the level of photo quality that I had been striving for. Despite the fact that I'm using my old Canon 6D, which is commonly regarded as a hobby camera, there is a popular saying in photography that goes, "It's not about the camera, it's about the person behind the lens." :)
Working as a pet photographer requires a unique set of skills. Not only do you need to have a good eye for composition and lighting, but you also need to be patient, flexible, and able to connect with animals. Dogs, cats, and other pets are not always cooperative or predictable during photo sessions, so it's essential to be able to adapt to their needs. Prior to the photoshoot, I take the initiative to lower myself to the ground to introduce myself and establish a comfortable and reassuring atmosphere for the animals in front of the camera. It is crucial to be able to connect with them and create an environment that allows them to express their personality, which is the hallmark of a successful pet photography session.
Despite the challenges, being a pet photographer is incredibly rewarding. I love being able to capture the special bond between pets and their owners, and the joy and excitement that pets bring to their humans' lives. Seeing the happiness on my clients' faces when they see their furry friends' portraits is the best feeling in the world. At the time of writing this, I have already taken more than 300 pet portraits, showcasing their unique personalities and characteristics.
If you are a pet parent, I'm inviting you to visit Pet Visuals Photography Studio located in Las Piñas City, Metro Manila for a fun and memorable photo shoot. Whether you have a boisterous dog, a shy cat or a curious rabbit, we'll create a relaxed and playful environment where they can shine. At my studio, I aim to provide not just a photo session, but an experience that you and your pet will cherish. You'll have the opportunity to browse through a variety of creative and high-quality prints and products to showcase your pet's portraits in your home and beyond. I can't wait to meet you and your beloved pet!