We all love photographs of our pets, and when was the last time you took out your phone to snap a picture of your dog doing something cute or funny? Did you feel the urge to frame your photo and display it on your living room wall? Your wall is begging for a gallery quality photo of your darling dog, but every time you reach for your camera or smartphone the moment is gone, the image is blurred, or lacking that "Je ne sais quoi".
The truth is, we live busy lives and thousands of precious moments come and go, while we struggle to immortalise them the best we know how.
Now, there's a whole thing about what makes someone a professional, and being a professional does not necessarily mean being an expert - so I'm going to assume that by professional, you really mean expert.
A purpose dedicated to your dog.
A professional dog photographer has one purpose. It is their mission in life to capture those delicate doggy moments in gallery quality glory for your viewing pleasure. They've trained for years, and mastered the skills and styles that your smartphone can only wish to replicate. Professional dog photographers have invested their income and time into the very best equipment for the job, and more importantly, the know-how to use it.
"...a healthy dose of natural talent"
No one picks up a camera for the first time, with the immediate ability to create stunning prints. It's true that there is such a thing as 'the eye' for photography, but a newbie picking up a camera for the first time can expect to make a whole lot of mistakes on their way to greatness. It is widely believed that 10,000 hours of practice makes an expert, however a study on the 10,000 hour practice rule stepped all over that hypothesis. This study concludes that mastering a skill also "takes a healthy dose of natural talent". So taking expert-level dog photographs really isn't something just anyone can do.
The right (print) stuff.
Producing a high quality print isn't as straightforward as snapping a picture and sending it to the printer. Without going through the technical mumbo-jumbo of high resolution printing, there's also considerations such as making sure the print fits aesthetically. A little too much negative space here, or cropping to low there and the aesthetics of the image are spoiled. Much of this is considered before the photograph is taken, allowing for a perfect edit and print.
There's a great deal of art-theory applied to professional photography that's learnt and practised until it's second nature, and that's the reason a master's prints have that something special about them.
"low-cost print labs come with an uncomfortable risk of disappointment"
Who are you going to go to for printing and framing? Have you done this before? You can bet that an expert photographer has already been through the trials of finding a reliable, high quality print lab, and will shoulder the cost of handling anything that may go wrong. Have you ever wondered why photographers print prices are so high? Low-cost (mainstream) print labs come with an uncomfortable risk of disappointment, longevity issues, and poor quality control.
For some this is a moot point, but most people just aren't willing to get down into the mud to take a photograph, and that counts out one of the best dog photography techniques available. Eye-level point of view. A professional dog photographer will be willing to lay down, front first in the mud if a stunning photograph is the reward. Stepped in a brook up to the shins? No problem. Soaked wet-through in the rain? Sure thing! As long as the dog and owner are safe and happy, we're happy to do whatever it takes to get you that perfect photograph. And we love it!
Muddy trousers aside, the activities required to photograph a dog are demanding, and require certain equipment considerations. Paying £5000 and up on weather-sealed equipment is out of reach for all but the most committed, and certainly puts the cost of a professional and a framed print into perspective.
More than just expensive prints.
Perhaps a £200 - £400 framed print is a little out of your price range, but you'd still like to immortalise your beloved dog. Most professional photographers offer unframed options, ready for popping into a store-bought frame. You could opt for an album, or just keep the digital proofs until you're ready to buy a luxury, built-to last frame.
I wasn't going to say this, but the whole cost vs benefit debate always comes down to one question.
What will a gallery quality portrait of your dog worth to you?
This is not a question I can answer for you, but I expect, when you consider a high quality framed photograph will last many, many years, it's value will be a lot more than the cost of a professional.
Simon Osbaldeston is an award winning professional photographer,
Specialising in outdoor, natural dog and animal photography, in Preston & the UK.