Inside the Studio: Nicole Begley Photography
Nicole Begley wasn’t completely surprised when her family photography business grew into a pet and equine photography studio. As a former zoological animal trainer and manager for 13 years, Nicole has worked with all animals from seals and primates to free-flight birds. Now, her session ratio at Nicole Begley Photography is 65% animals and 35% families. We chatted with Nicole about the creative ways that she has tapped into an equine photography market and grown her business.
Nicole Begley Photography is really three studios in one: Pet, Equine and Family photography. Please tell us a little bit about each genre and what made you decide to focus on each one.
Prior to starting my photography business in 2010, I had worked as a zoological animal trainer and manager for 13 years, working with everything from seals and primates to free-flight birds. I always loved photographing the animals that I worked with, so the move into pet photography was natural for me. As for the equine photography, I used to ride competitively when I was younger but had to give that up after college when I had to choose to pay for rent or my horse! I recently started riding again and realized that there could be a great niche in the photography world that hasn’t really been tapped into. The old model of photographing every horse and rider at a horse show has become challenging for photographers to make a decent profit, but there is demand for a more custom photography experience, and that has been fun to create. My family photography business started as my bread and butter, but in the past few years I have been shifting more and more into the pet and equine sessions. My current session ratio is approximately 65% animals and 35% families. In fact, I recently hired an associate photographer to focus on families! I do still love photographing families though. Where else can you pretend to have a stuffed monkey poop on your head?
For those of our readers who aren’t familiar with equine photography or your work with equestrians, what do these sessions consist of? How has your personal experience with riding and competing helped you capture these moments?
The Equestrian Experience consists of two distinct experiences: Show Day or On the Farm. My Show Day experience is essentially like a mini-wedding with all-inclusive collections. I meet the client at the horse show and document their day and then create a gorgeous custom coffee-table album with their images. I so wish that I had something like that from when I used to compete with my horse. The On the Farm sessions are traditional portrait sessions that are held at the horse’s home barn. The client has the option of tacking the horse up and riding as well, so that we can include some under saddle images as well. The On the Farm session then includes a Session Premier in their home in which we go over all of their images and I am there to help them create their order, just like my pet or family sessions.
It is important to know your subject in any genre of photography, but I find it is especially important in pet and equine photography. Learn about the natural history of the animals that you are dealing with, google dog breeds and learn about their traits. Watch the body language of an animal that you are working with AT ALL TIMES. Even the sweetest dog can be potentially dangerous in certain situations. Is mom letting their two year old climb all over Fido? While Fido may be fine with that at home the dog may have picked up on the extra stress in the house as mom got everyone ready. There are so many new factors at play during a photography session that ignoring Fido’s raised hair on his back or stress licking could lead to a bite. Likewise, working with horses requires an understanding that these are prey animals with a fairly significant flight response. It is a constant monitoring of their behavior to guide my session.
There are a lot of family portrait photographers out there, but not as many pet photographers and even fewer who focus on other animals. Is this why you started the Hair of the Dog blog? Please tell us about the animal photography community that you’ve brought together and also about the workshops you offer.
I created the Hair of the Dog because at the time there were no other blogs dedicated strictly to pet photography. I strongly believe that the photography industry is made stronger by building others up instead of cutting them down. The Hair of the Dog has periodical information articles, guest posts, interviews with prominent pet photographers, and a monthly photography contest.
I also really enjoy working directly with photographers to further their business and craft, so I created the Hair of the Dog Retreat, a 3.5 day retreat scheduled next for April 12-15, 2015 in Southwest Florida, just north of Naples. We go in detail into shooting, editing, pricing, sales, marketing and automating your workflow just to name a few. Since we all stay together in a private home and eat delicious food at unique restaurants, every night it’s a blast too!
If the full workshop is out of your budget or vacation time allowance I do also offer a limited number of Single Day Workshops. These focus on shooting and marketing during our time together, but then post-processing and a private consultation via an online workshop a few weeks later. There are still some openings in Napa, CA on November 26th and San Diego, CA on December 3rd.
Visit the Hair of the Dog blog for more details!
Has your interest in animal photography led you to any unique photography opportunities that may not have otherwise come your way?
My interest in animal photography does seem to affect the number of family sessions that want to include their pet in the session too. At least half of my family photography clients opt to include their pet in at least part of their session!
Our notepad seems to be your “go to” product of choice as you’ve ordered several of them over the last few months. What do you use them for and what do you like most about them?
I love Pinhole Press’s products, but I especially love the notepads. I don’t sell them directly, but include them as a gift in many client’s orders….and they LOVE them. They are always so surprised and often tell me that they don’t want to use it because it’s so pretty! The quality of the paper is outstanding and it’s the perfect way to really say thank you to my clients.
Nicole Begley is a Certified Professional Photographer based outside of Pittsburgh, PA. Nicole specializes in creating modern and expressive imagery of pets, families, and equines. After 13 years as a zoological animal trainer and manager working with everything from aardvarks to birds and seals to primates, she combined her love of photography with her love of animals into a successful photography business. Nicole has a never ending thirst for travel….and chocolate martinis.