To help celebrate National Pet Day, we spoke to Emily Nicholson, the wonderful photographer behind Pet Stories, a service capturing your pet's personality.
From frolicking dogs and cuddly cat's, to guinea pigs and even turkeys, she's photographed them all, capturing the special relationship between them and their owners. We spoke to Emily to discover what a pet photographer does day-to-day and find out her tips for capturing the best pet photos.
For those who don't know you, can you tell us a little bit about Pet Stories and Pet Stories Agency?
In 2017 I launched Pet Stories with an idea to capture people and pets in a very natural and candid style. I was inspired and a little obsessed with photographing my own dog at the time, Ted the King Charles Spaniel. I was desperate to capture all of the things that I loved so much about him and made Ted, Ted. This gave me the idea that others might like this, as well as photos of them together with their pet.
Sadly Ted passed away a few years go. I’m ever so grateful to past Emily for capturing all of those moments of Ted, and equally as grateful to him for the opportunity he gave me. Over the past 5 years Pet Stories has evolved. We have Alan the Cyprus rescue dog as our resident hound and Pet Stories mascot. He’s no stranger to having his photo taken and loves nothing more than going for long walks with us in the Peaks and getting lots of snaps along the way. Pet Stories has changed too and since the pandemic, the business has expanded into a talent agency, connecting brands with the loveable pets I get to meet and photograph. The agency works in two ways. I get to work with brands and offer a full rounded service: location sourcing, shooting, model sourcing and overall creating content in a typical Pet Stories style. I also work with other marketing and production companies, sourcing pet talent for photoshoot or TV ad work.
Why did you decide that you wanted to focus on pet photography?
When I first launched Pet Stories I wasn’t in the best headspace. Taking photos of Ted was an escape for me and it was so therapeutic, observing him and patiently waiting to get that in the moment shot. Capturing Ted not only gave me the idea for Pet Stories, but allowed me to regain my creative confidence too. And, later down the line, when I started getting enquiries, being able to visit other pets was hugely calming.
What gave me that extra little push to go for it was, in a past life I worked in the trend forecasting industry, and I knew that the pet market was going to really grow in the coming years. That, combined with a desire to freeze frame everything I love about Ted, gave me the confidence to move into such a niche direction. I had a few funny looks from friends and family and was asked, ‘Why not weddings?' but I just knew in my gut there was an opportunity there. When I first launched Pet Stories I didn’t know of any other photographers visiting people and pets at home. Now I would say it’s just as popular a service as hiring a family photographer.
What does a day in the life of a pet photographer/pet agency owner like?
It’s the best job ever! No two days are the same! I get to meet up with pets and their humans for wild walks, play time on the beach, or lazy photos at home and it’s such a pleasure. I genuinely adore every pet that I meet and every personality is so different. I have to pinch myself that I get to call this work and it’s worth the gravy bone crumbs in every pocket, muddy jeans from lying in a field while I try and get ’the shot’, and of course all the super slobbery kisses.
The agency side of things is just as unpredictable - one day I might be searching for a litter of kittens, the next, a surf boarding dog (genuine enquiry). I love it!
What do you think makes a good pet photo?
It’s all in the eyes. It’s so clear to distinguish a happy and relaxed pet over a ‘caught in the headlights’ looking pet, and I think that’s all down to having relaxed and warm eyes. Some dogs in particular just have that look, where they stare deep into your soul, like they are trying to communicate with you. These are my favourite posers.
I make a big point of trying not to use treats during a shoot because that can lead to a slightly crazed expression. I prefer to create a calm environment for pets so that I become invisible to them. That way I can capture those truly authentic moments, either on their own or engaging with their human.
Have you got any tips on getting a great shot of your pet?
Mainly I’m just really calm and I always allow for a 15-20 min getting-to-know period at the start of every shoot, so the dog can soon become uninterested in me. If I want the dog to look at me, I do have a signature high pitched noise that I make. My brother has told me it sounds exactly like Pacman dying. The noise sometimes sparks a few giggles from people too, so is a good way at getting in the moment happy/laughing shots. Most of the time the noise instantly captures the dog’s attention, with an adorable head tilt, but some dogs don’t even flinch and are none the wiser to it. Which I find super interesting!
I would say my biggest tip is to just be patient and always have your camera to hand. I personally think the best photos are ones that aren’t staged and just happen by chance. I never really set out to take a certain shot, I just capture what’s there.
Whats the most unusual pet you've photographed?
A magnificent pet Turkey!
Have there ever been any pets that have just been too naughty to photograph?
I love the more stubborn, untrained pets because there’s no telling them what to do, they are being completely themselves which means more candid moments. I think a lot of people would feel daunted with the chaos but I kinda love it! Naughty pets lead to more interesting photos.
As you normally shoot digitally, how did you find picking up a film camera?
I LOVED IT! I took the photos over the course of a month and can only vaguely remember certain shots I got. I like the element of surprise mixed with the fear that I might end up with a roll of Alan blurs. I'm not too keen on the current culture of taking a million photos and checking each one to get the perfect shot. I'm definitely guilty of it from time to time. Shooting on film completely eliminates that.