Photo by Nadra Farina-Hess

My name is Alan Hess and I love being a photographer. I am really lucky that I get to photograph things for a living. As the house photographer for a large indoor arena in San Diego I get to capture some of the biggest names in music like Cher, The Who, Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber, as well as other events like the NBA, MMA, and the WWE. This year we will also have a Professional Bull Rider event. But even with the wide variety of events I get to shoot, once in a while I still find myself in a creative rut. That's where personal projects come in.

For me, that is taking photos of my dogs.

I have two rescued boxers. They make for great subjects for a couple of reasons. They are always available since they live with me. They have distinct personalities that makes photographing them more fun (or challenging). And best of all they never want to see the photos, and never complain that they don't look good. On the downside, they don't have a great attention span and can easily wonder off in the middle of the shoot, and getting them to pose can be challenging.

I started off by just trying to get a portrait shot to use as a wallpaper on my iPhone, which led to experimenting with lighting and learning how to create the invisible black background portraits. This led to creating the Fuel Book, Pet Portraits that Stand Out. This Fuel Book led to my newest full book, Pet Portraits: From Snapshots to Great Shots. This was the most fun that I have ever had writing a book since it didn't seem like work at all. I was able to take all that information I had accumulated while creating photos of my dogs and turn it into something that could help others get great photos of their pets.

First I want to tell you what this book isn't. It isn't a book on creating a pet photography business, or how to profit from taking photos of people’s pets. This book is not about having to go out and spend a lot of money on special gear. It is just about getting better photos of your pet, or any pet. I photographed dogs, cats, birds, horses, lizards, snakes, fish, hamsters, mice, rats, and bunny rabbits. I spent time at leash free areas getting to capture dogs in action as they ran, jumped and played with other dogs. I got nudged by horses and had a lizard climb all over my gear. I spent time with an exotic pet vet, and even though I did not cover spiders as pets in the book, I ended up with a tarantula crawling on my hands.

It was the most fun I have had writing a book.

I spent some time photographing big dogs at play. I find it fascinating what you can capture at 1/4000 second that you don't see when watching the action in real time. These dogs are playing together on the beach, but if you just saw the fangs you might think that it wasn't a friendly encounter.

Getting to lie in the grass and photograph a group of puppies the first time they got to roam around outside is a great way to spend a morning.

I wanted to make sure that the book dealt with all pets, and not just dogs and cats. So I tracked down a wide variety of different pet owners and rescue groups. The best part was that pet owners and rescue group volunteers are really passionate. The passion that they have for their pets is really contagious. Need a little pick-me-up? Ask a pet owner about what their pet did recently. I learned more about snakes, frogs, mice, birds and lizards in the past few months than I thought possible. Every photo shoot was a new adventure.

I spent quite a bit of time photographing cats as they are the second most popular pet in the US, right behind dogs. Cats turned out to be both easier in some respects and much more challenging in others. They love to stand in doorways and look out. Turns out that this makes for great portrait light.

It was tough to think of it as work as I lay outside watching a friend’s cat stalk his cat toy. A tough day at work.

Photographing cats became an exercise in patience. Cats can sit still for what seem like hours, then suddenly leap into action⦠or just stretch out and go right to sleep.

Getting up close and personal with a horse was really quite awesome. I was in constant awe of their power and size. Watching the muscles under their coat as the walk and run was fantastic, and getting to photograph them up close was really amazing.

On a final note, I used to think that personal projects were just a time suck. When was I supposed to go out and shoot stuff just for me and at the same time try to earn a living. There just didn't seem like enough of a payoff to spend the time shooting for myself when I could be out trying to earn a living. It got to the point where I didn't pick up my camera unless I was off to shoot something for a job…

I was wrong.

Turns out that taking the time to go out and photograph something just for me not only recharges the creative side but can lead to other work.

You can pick up your copy of the Pet Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots from Peachpit (use the code PETSHOTS to save 35%), Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

You can find out more about Alan and his work at AlanHessPhotography.com, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

About The Author

22 Comments

  1. Fellaini Keen to Score More Goals for Man Utd

    http://www.football-images.net/2014-10-22/5efe91319b136db22bcea0fa3704ed2d.jpg
    Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini is keen to register more goals to his name after striking his very first one for the Red Devils in their 2-2 draw with Premier League opponents West Bromwich Albion.
    “My first goal this season and for Manchester United as well,” Fellaini said, as quoted by reliable Agen Bola indo11.com.
    “It was a great feeling.”
    “I have waited a long time for this moment. I hope I can score some more goals for us this season. It was good for me but the result is a disappointment.”

  2. Genoa Boss Gasperini Taking Swipe at Club Fans

    http://www.football-images.net/2014-10-22/b39696e830e41c323a66bd13d669cb75.jpg
    Genoa boss Gian Piero Gasperini has taken aim at some of the club’s fans who are provoking negative environment following their 1-1 draw with Serie A counterparts Empoli.
    “Here at Genoa, there is too much negativity, it’s a different environment from that of years ago,” Gasperini said, as quoted by reliable Agen Bola indo11.com.
    “The fans have lived through difficult times, but this is a team that deserves to be supported and not only attacked.”
    “Some people don’t deserve to support a team, because they’re incompetent and ditch players of a good standard to promote others who haven’t played.”

  3. Chelsea Are Keeping a Close Tab on Me- Kakuta

    http://www.football-images.net/2014-10-22/8cd7ba6fdf7bce60ca8218418927f40c.jpg
    Chelsea loanee Gael Kakuta, who is currently playing on loan at La Liga side Rayo Vallecano, says the Blues are keeping a close tab on him, while he expects to remain with the Spanish outfit until the end of the season.
    “Yes, I usually talk to the club. They are aware of my form and send scouts to see my matches with Rayo Vallecano,” said Kakuta, as quoted by reliable Agen Bola indo11.com.
    “It’s still not the time to talk about it (returning to Chelsea). I will complete the season at Rayo Vallecano.”
    “But I’m always ready to play for a big club and I’ve started at Chelsea. We will see.”

  4. I love being a photographer because of people like you! The leading portrait of you says it all for me, a gentle spirited, truly good guy, who is always a pleasure to be around, and a great shooter! Have a great day my friend!

  5. This is a great post from an awesome photographer! Your books inspired me to try pet photography as well.

    If I may, here’s a photo I shot of my daughters dog, a gorgeous pitt bull mix!

    http://www.ivanbodenphotography.com/Pets/Appa-and-Molly/i-DHt9MhT/A

    Warmest regards,
    Ivan

  6. When I started out with photography, all I would shoot it sports. But after a while, I became rather bored with it. That’s when I started doing exactly as you described: photographing my dog. I know this may sound funny, but in all the midst of learning to photograph him, I developed an extremely deep bond with him. He’s been my muse for countless experiments, and is very patient.. most of the time. ;-)

    He just turned 14. While he’s battling a severe neurological problem, he still loves life, still loves going out for walks (although much shorter now.), and he’s still my inspiration.

    Thank you SO much for your post. I don’t feel quite so weird now when 90% of my memory cards are filled with my aging dog out on the shoreline. And I’m looking forward to ordering your book on pet photography shortly.

    • I photograph a lot of pets as they get older. It is very difficult to see a friend get older and start to have health issues, but you will always have the photos and the memories that goes along with that. Glad that you get to enjoy your time together

  7. Great post, Alan. You have some wonderful expressions in these portraits. Sounds like a fun project.

  8. Hope you used a telephoto for the snake, great post! :)

  9. Way to to Alan! So happy to know you…terrific shooter, teacher and author. Annie and I are here going crazy over that picture of the pups! What kind are they? Terrific!

    • thanks Joe. Those pups were a mixed breed. Mom was rescued off the streets and had a litter of 4 puppies. So amazing to watch them explore a part of the world for the first time.

  10. After all these years of attending PSW, I finally got the chance (in Vegas) to sit in on one of Alan’s class from beginning to end. It was one of my favorite classes! I learned heaps and he was just a cool character. Looking forward to more live classes from Alan!!! Enjoyed this post and seeing different work from the great Artist!

  11. Thanks Alan Hess for your nice blog. I know this may sound funny, but in all the midst of learning to photograph him,

  12. That’s an awesome blog post. I need to pick up your book, I’m glad to see it’s more on how to take awesome photos of pets. I’ve been getting some more portraits of my 14 1/2 year old lab since he’s really old. Looking at the stuff you posted on Facebook definitely motivated me to do so.

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