BPP 166: Emma O'Brien - Tackling Black Dog Syndrome

Emma O'Brien has been a portrait and pup photographer (as in dogs) for more than a decade. Her series "The Black Series" gained her international attention and raised awareness for shelter animals that I cant wait to talk about.

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In This Episode You'll Learn:

  • How Emma got into photography

  • What came first people or pets

  • Why Emma left wedding photography

  • What was Emma’s main source of photography eduction

  • The hardest part about photography to learn

  • Where Emma got the idea for The Black Series

  • When Emma first got involved with shelter animal photography

  • How Emma keeps her subjects still and focuses

  • How to add emotion and story to your photos of pets

  • Commonly bad info Emma hears being taught to new photographers

Premium Members Also Learn:

  • How to make money photographing pets

  • How to convince pet owners to the worth of pet photography

  • What photography products pet owners purchase



Did you enjoy this episode? Check out more recent interviews with other great guests!

Full Episode Transcription:

Disclaimer: The transcript was transcribed electronically and may contain errors that do not reflect accurately what the speaker said. Because of this, please do not quote this automated transcript.

Raymond: 00:00 This week on the beginning of photography podcast. We talk to a photographer who used her camera to save the lives of those in need. So let's get into it.

Intro: 00:10 Welcome to the beginner photography podcast with Raymond Hatfield, the podcast dedicated to helping you grow your photography skills. Raymond interviews the world's top photographers in their field to ask questions that will get you taking better photos today. Now with you as always, husband, Father Home brewer, La Dodger Fan and Indianapolis wedding photographer Raymond Hatfield. Welcome

Raymond: 00:40 Back to this episode of the beginning of photography podcast. As always, I am your host Raymond Hatfield and this is a really fun and inspiring interview that we are going to get into today with a photographer who was just, I mean, her voice is infectious. If you don't find yourself smiling or laughing, then you just must be dead inside because this is a she just brings out that quality that just makes you want to smile. And it is a, a really fun, and I can't wait to get on into it with y'all, but I wanted to share this. Last week, I was interviewed on another podcast of the wedding photo hangover podcast, which is hosted by two, actually pretty local photographers, at least here in Indiana, a fellow wedding photographers, Steven and Dustin. And if you've never heard an episode of the wedding photo hanger or wedding hangover podcast, then you are going to be in for a treat.

Raymond: 01:37 It is not your typical podcast, but I have a ton of fun. So we talked about a whole lot of things like me going to essentially an all boys high school how I melted a GoPro and and then I just do a terrible job answering questions from random photography, Facebook groups throughout the Internet. So if you're interested in any event feel free to go ahead and just search your favorite podcast player for the wedding photo hangover podcast and you will, you'll be able to check that out. It was, it was fun. So Steve and Dustin, if you guys are listening, thanks for having me on. I had a blast. All right. Now I want to give a huge shout out to one of our listeners Malgorzata who that is a mouthful. And every time I say it I feel like I'm saying it wrong, but she's told me that I say it right.

Raymond: 02:35 She left a five star review for the podcast on iTunes and it was a, it was really inspiring actually. She says a few months back, I didn't have a clue what a podcast of wise and after being asked to do a senior shoot, I found the podcast app and search for beginner photographer. Thank goodness Raymond Raymond's podcast came up. I've been hooked ever since. Raymond really wants us to succeed and develop skills at our own pace here I learned the most. So do yourself a favor and listen, you'll be hooked. Malgorzata, thank you so much for leaving the review. They truly, truly do help the podcast more than you can imagine. And you are a talented photographer. You know, looking at your photos. If I was just looking at your photos, I would never guess that you are a quote unquote beginner. So I am honored that a, that you listen to the podcast and are able to take away so much each week.

Raymond: 03:29 So again, Malgorzata thank you for your review. Okay. So this week I have a chat with Emma O'Brien who photographs or photography really changed course for her when she asked how she could help her local animal shelter. So this is a great interview. I think you guys are gonna pick out a time, especially because I talk about the importance of shooting for free when you're first getting started. And not that Emma was just getting started, but she's still, you know, took a break and shot something that she was passionate about for free and it really changed the course of her career and you're going to pick that up. And as always, I save a portion of the interview that is more focused on not so much the beginner aspects and things that you need to know to get started, but it's more focused on how to start making money with your camera.

Raymond: 04:20 And then I save for premium listeners. So this week premium listeners are going to hear how to make money photographing pets, how to communicate the value of pet photography to pet parents and what products pet owners want from their sessions so that you can offer them too. So if you are interested in any of those things, then head over to beginner photography, podcast.com and click the premium membership link at the top of the page where you can become a premium member and here all of the past interviews with past guests and all of their best tips in starting to make money with your camera. So that is it. Let's go ahead and get on into this week's interview with Emma O'Brien.

Raymond: 05:04 Today's guest is Emma O'Brien. She is a portrait and pup photographer as in dogs. For more than a decade. Her series, the black series gained her international attention and raised awareness for shelter animals. And I cannot wait to talk to her about it. Emma, thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Emma O'Brien: 05:22 Thank you very much for having me. It's great to be here.

Raymond: 05:25 I'm excited to chat with you about kind of everything that you're doing, because what's great to see is that you know, many, I interview many photographers and kind of in their own sense, I feel like a lot of people are using photography to change the world, but you're doing it more in a literal sense, which is really cool. And I think that that's a bit of a mind shift, a mind shift that I'm really excited to chat to you about. But before we get into that, I gotta ask, what came first? Was it portraits of people or pups,

Emma O'Brien: 05:55 Portraits of people, started my career as a wedding photographer. What do you believe?

Raymond: 06:01 Really awesome. Okay. So then how, how did you, how did you just get started in, in wedding photography or how did you get started in photography in general?

Emma O'Brien: 06:10 Yeah. Okay. So I went to college in the UK, so I'm British, but I live in South Africa in 2004. So of course we were at college in the dark room and doing stuff on film. And whilst I was there, somebody who was on the course with me was working for a local photography studio and it was one of these guys who kind of did very cheap weddings and just sent other photographers out to do them. So she said to me, you know, he's looking for, for other people, so I'll introduce you to him. So, so great. So off I went and I think I shot a couple of weddings for him and I thought, yeah, I think I could probably do this myself. So I, you know, the, the beauty of being very young and brave, you know, and I'd, so I'd just set up a business shooting weddings and it kind of, that's how it started. Oh my gosh, I love that.

Raymond: 07:01 So what was, so how, how before I, let's see, so you learned photography, you were taking a course in, in university for photography itself. Okay. So can you kind of take me back there because I think that a lot of the listeners are, are still stuck there, right? The point of going to university, especially for taking photography, is to learn photography. In those early days when you were starting to learn and understand, what would you say was the hardest part for you to grasp?

Emma O'Brien: 07:33 I'm just trying to think. Really. I'm one of those people who just kind of decides I'm going to do something and I'd just go and do it and then figure it out along the way. And I think a lot of the time, so we don't want to really want to talk about what those weddings look like for that shot. Perhaps.

Raymond: 07:50 I'm the same way. You don't have to be shy.

Emma O'Brien: 07:52 We don't need to look at that work from 15 years ago. And I just think, I feel I figured it out along the way and I learned the hard way with lots of stuff. I lost half a wedding once. Very awkward conversation to have with a client, but I think I just kind of got on with it. And I think the one thing, cause I get asked a lot with people, photographers that I work with here you know, how do I get started? And I think the thing is you've just got to start and you've just got to pick up the camera and go and shoot. Yeah. I think lots of people get very caught up with, oh, I'm not quite good enough. You know, if you, if you're going to do like cheek weddings, which was what I was doing. So the expectation was super low, thankfully it's okay and you can just kind of go for it, you know?

Raymond: 08:38 Yeah, yeah. That I totally agree. I totally agree. I had a, a similar entrance into photography or specifically shooting weddings when I, me and my then girlfriend moved across the country to a place I had, I'd never been here before, before we moved to, and I just, I don't think that I was ready to shoot weddings, you know, but I went for it anyway cause I just thought, well, I know how to use my camera. So how hard could weddings be? And as you know, it's hard. It's not, it's not that, it's not, you know, if you know your camera settings are good, it's, it's definitely more than that. So tell me about how you, how you lost that, the half a wedding. Were you shooting on film at the time with [inaudible]?

Emma O'Brien: 09:19 No, no. I say I started shooting weddings digitally, so I was at college doing a lot of black and white stuff, but we were shooting, I'm shooting digitally. In fact, my dad, you know, my dad was quite a keen photographer, so I, I stole his nick on d one that he had at the time. So that was the first thing I went to news. And I uploaded everything to a hard drive. And of course, you know, I had like two memory cards and I had quite a few jobs coming in. So I'm copying stuff off the memory cards onto a hard drive. That is one of those old ones with the wheels that span in it and it fell off the desk.

Raymond: 09:55 Oh No. Yeah, yeah. That's, that's all it'll take. That's all I will thing. I don't think people understand how, how fragile hard-drives really are when they just sit on your desk. You never think about them, but just a simple bump can really do it. So luckily now we're cloud storage.

Emma O'Brien: 10:14 Absolutely. Especially those real old school ones, you know, that were big and you plug them in and they had a power supply. So I think that the newer ones are better, but you know, I learned a very valuable lesson about backing stuff up and then, you know, that was, it was an awkward conversation with that client.

Raymond: 10:32 Sure. Yeah. I can imagine.

Emma O'Brien: 10:34 Yeah. But it was one of those things. It's gone, it's gone. There's nothing we can do about it. So I actually got to move on. It was a second wedding, so it wasn't too tragic.

Raymond: 10:46 Tell me, tell me that that wasn't the last wedding that you shot and you decided, you know what? No more people, I'm going straight to pets. Pets aren't going to be mad if I lose their image.

Emma O'Brien: 10:54 No, no, no, no. I just learned the lessons. I was like, right, okay, we need to get more memory cards. We need to invest more in stuff and it needs to be a case of the cards don't get wiped until the edits are complete and stuff is backed up in several places.

Raymond: 11:10 I'm sorry, one second, Charlie. I'm on a phone call right now. Okay. Can you give me a few minutes? Thank you. That's Charlie. He's obviously feeling much better now. Sorry about that. I usually have a curtain that goes across, but we just got new cats and they were climbing on the curtains or ripped the whole thing down. So clearly it wasn't anchored in correctly. So that has, yeah. Growing up I had a cat. Cat's name was Buckaroo Bop. I have no idea why we named the, and Bob. He was a fantastic cat and then he passed away when I was probably like maybe nine or 10. I was pretty young, but we had any other animals a until, or we never had any more chats until recently when my wife was like, hey, somebody's work is giving away cats. So now we have cats and now, now we have cats. But yeah. Yeah, we just we just got them a neuter the other day, so there's still kind of loopy walking down town. I don't know what to do with themselves. Yeah, it's been, it's been an interesting few days for sure. So I apologize for that, that interruption.

Emma O'Brien: 12:20 Really. It's fine. I'm hoping we've got six dogs here, so I'm hoping they all stay quiet for an hour or two a locked away. I'm hoping they're quiet, otherwise it'll be lucky. And there's a parrots. I'm also hoping he stays quiet.

Raymond: 12:34 Oh, parents that I never, I never got into birds, but a, I had neighbors who had birds and I think that's why I never got an independence.

Emma O'Brien: 12:40 Yeah. Yeah. They know that they are an interesting,

Raymond: 12:44 I love that. So I guess we could just use this as the perfect segue. How did you go from shooting weddings to start photographing animals and was that kind of like the intention or did it just happen organically?

Emma O'Brien: 12:58 So it was a bit of a surprise to me. So I started my, as I started shooting weddings in 2004 in the UK and in 2000 there's dogs barking now in 2009 m I moved to South Africa and I think by that point because I'd also got divorced, I got to the point where I actually really was not digging the idea of photographing weddings anymore. In the UK it was very difficult. I don't know what the weather is in Indianapolis, but in the UK, you know, it's very rainy and I just got to the point of being very frustrated with shooting weddings and it would start to rain and people would look at you like you're going to perform some sort of miracle. And I actually found it, you know, it ended up being less about the creativity and often more about damage limitation.

Raymond: 13:45 Oh that's a really interesting way of looking at it. Yeah.

Emma O'Brien: 13:47 Yup, Yup. And I got frustrated cause I'm thinking, you know, here we are at this venue and I could be doing this shot, this shot, this shot. And actually now we're stuck inside and I've got my flash gun and it's all gonna look a bit, you know, rubbish. So actually I just found that very stressful. So so I decided to want to move to South Africa. I did retire from weddings and I just concentrated on shooting portraits. So that's what I started building my business doing. And then in 2011 I went to my local SPCA and I adopted a little sausage dog called Jeremy and also was there. I got chatting to them and I said, look, I'm a photographer, can I help you somehow? And we came up with this idea of shooting an annual fundraising calendar and that's where it all started. So I never set out to be an animal photographer. It just kinda happened. And then I kind of discovered that I really loved it and it had a bit of a gift for it. And then of course the clients started arriving. Yeah. So, and then I ended up helping other shelters. I'm photographing their dogs up for adoption. And then I kind of got my name out doing, doing that. And then, and then it's just kind of, it's morphed from there. It's just totally unplanned

Raymond: 15:04 As some of the best things in life are for sure. Yep. Yep. So when, when you, when you walked in there and you ask them how you can help, you said, you know, I'm a photographer, you had no preconceived idea of, of that the future could hold for you as photographing animals. It was just you simply wanted to give back and then you just enjoyed that time so much that you're like, you know what, I'm going to offer this to paying clients. Is that it?

Emma O'Brien: 15:33 Yup. Yup. Absolutely. So it just kind of, it went, the next two people bought the calendar I'd shot and then started asking me, Oh, can you come and photograph my dog or my cat? Yeah, I mean, it just, the kind of very organically grew from there. So it was never something I sat down and thought, well, I'm going to be a dog photographer. Totally. I sorta, I'm as surprised as everybody else, I think clients.

Raymond: 15:55 So what were some of the biggest challenges that you faced when you started photographing animals coming from, from people, I'm sure that the technical is probably transferred over just the same, but what about the actual shooting itself was challenging for you?

Emma O'Brien: 16:12 So I think the thing with, with dogs, I think it's quite interesting for people listening to the podcast who are thinking, oh, I'd Kinda like to get better pictures of my pets. It's getting the angle right. And you do have to kind of approach it a little bit differently. In fact, dogs are very similar to photographing children. I think you generally get the best shots of them when you're at eye level with them. Or if you've got your dogs a little bit higher on sitting on something. And I figured out along the way that also it's much easier to keep dogs still if you put them on something. Cause they, they, they know, they sort of, unless you've got a very well trained dog, you know, they will sit and then walk off or turn sideways. So you've kind of gotten the learn all these tricks about elevating them a little bit, making sure you've got somebody holding treats above the camera lens so they look straight at you. And then I've got a collection of excellent and very strange dog noises that I make that make sense.

Raymond: 17:11 Do you have any squirrel noises?

Emma O'Brien: 17:12 No Squirrel noises, but I've got like cats and a prairie dogs that sometimes works. I've got an app on my phone and I've also gotten very good at doing cat noises. So when people are photographing their dogs, I'll be making these noises and they're like, is that you?

Raymond: 17:29 Wow. You Bet. Good making that noise. Yeah. Wonderful. So did you, obviously these are a lot of tricks that you just pick up over time. Is this something to kind of take me back to that first shoot that you did for the shelter? Did you just show up and you're like, Hey, I'm gonna make noises, I have treats, I'm doing all this stuff. Or did you find yourself kind of frustrated trying to try and to take those photos?

Emma O'Brien: 17:53 I'm just trying to think. I think these are things I've learned along the way. I think treats are always a very obvious one cause most dogs will respond quite well to biscuits or you know, or sausage or something like that. And it was just kids too as well. Absolutely. See you can bribe them with these things. Say they it is a bear that it kind of overlaps. Say it's always having somebody helping as well. So I think this shelter photography can be a little bit more challenging cause often you'll move, I tend to move the dogs out of their pens or their runs cause I don't like having the cages and everything on display cause I think it's actually very off putting for people. So it's finding a spot. And so our South African shelters won't even compare to your American shelters, which are often very beautifully set up and they get caught a lot of government funding and they look very neat and tidy. It's a little bit more basic here. So then you've got to find somewhere where there's some good lighting and the backdrops. Okay. And there aren't too many other distractions around. So it's kind of a bit of a Juggling Act of trying to get the sweet spot, which is always a bit of a compromise I think.

Raymond: 19:04 Sure, sure. Now for, for that first shoot were you just trying to get one good photo of each doc? Cause obviously for portraits of people you want a variety of images, you want to, you know, different poses and looks yeah. For for the animal shelter. What was your, your thought process there?

Emma O'Brien: 19:22 So when I'm, I mean mostly I kind of do this when I'm photographing old dogs is my, my kind of modus operandi if you like, is I like dogs looking straight into the camera. And I like them quite animated cause I like to just capture that little moment and glimpse of personality. So for me it's kind of that, just that momentary connection with the dog. So it's kind of always getting someone to position them front on and then obviously do all the tricks and squeaky balls and toys just to get them looking straight at me. Cause I think especially when you've got dogs that are up for adoption and you wanting to find homes for them you want people to be able to kind of connect with that dog, if that makes sense. So they can kind of look at them and think, oh, you know, I really like that little kind of cheeky glint in his eye. Or you know, that dog he has got really soulful eyes. So for me it's very much about kind of get that connection and really capturing that personality in the shots.

Raymond: 20:19 And then did they say what they were going to be using the or I guess how the, how the photos would, would be used? Would it just be online? Are they printing out flyers or, no, I'm sorry, you talked in the beginning it was purely for the calendar.

Emma O'Brien: 20:31 Yeah. So the SPCA calendar one was, yeah, the shots were going in the calendar. And then for some of the other shelters that are sort of started doing stuff for a lot of it was going onto Facebook in their adoption albums.

Raymond: 20:42 I see. Okay. So then how did the idea for the black series come along? Cause I kind of talked about that in the intro. I just, I, I mentioned it. Can you kind of, can you tell me where the idea came from? What it is and then what it was that you hoped to accomplish as well.

Emma O'Brien: 20:58 Okay. So I'm, I'm kind of always trying to think of ways to encourage people to adopt shelter dogs. So we've got four here at home and mine are like proper mixed breed mati creatures. So I did do a project previously called maths, which I self published as a book. And I, I actually focused there on mixed breed shelter dogs. Cause unfortunately they fill shelters worldwide. People want pedigree dogs. So all these kind of mishmash of dogs that are brown and different colors. So I did that project and then I was kind of thinking, you know, what do I do next? And then the idea just came to me for four black dogs cause I thought, you know, that's subtle. Make a really cool series cause it works beautifully together to capture black dogs cause they all look quite different even though people sort of perceive them to be a bit boring and a bit the same.

Emma O'Brien: 21:49 So I thought, right, I'm going to tackle that. And I'd been playing around with these black backdrop photos in my studio for my paying clients and I photographed a couple of black dogs against it. And actually it shouldn't work, but it works really well. So I thought, right, I'm going to do this black series, I'm going to do black on black cause I d I don't, I haven't really seen it done anywhere else. And then also they're making them a black and white as well, just to really make the dogs the personality of the dogs. The focus in the pictures.

Raymond: 22:19 Yeah. Yeah. I think what's interesting is a, you're right, black on black, it doesn't seem like it should work. But when you look at your photos, the way that they've been lit, the way that they'd been composed, and how you really try to pull out that personality, which by the way, all of your captions for your photos of these animals are fantastic and definitely worth the read. A great a great stress reliever for sure. But I think I think what's interesting obviously is, is your lighting, like you said, you know, and getting that that personality to come out really makes these photos work. And then I was going somewhere with that. I was thinking again about the captions. You have one about it. I think it's like a little Jack Russell with like a beautiful scarf on. And I was thinking about that photo real quick.

Raymond: 23:08 No, but, but, but you're right having it as, as a full black series, I think what it does is it brings all the attention to the animals, the animal face, you know, whereas we can see the whole animal. I feel like we know what animals look like, you know, like, and as somebody who, I mean, I've, I've never, you know, looked at a pedigree animal, tried to, you know, look at them for how perfect they are. I just always look at that face because animals look funny. And when you have the same color of backdrop in the color of the animal, your attention just goes right to that face and it does bring that personality to them. So that is, I just want to commend you on that. That is, you know, great job for taking a risk and it totally, it's fun. So I totally stole your thunder. Let's get back to the idea as to why why, why focus on, on, on black animals?

Emma O'Brien: 24:00 Okay, so I think following on from the mixed breed months that I did the series of, the other thing is, is black dogs are the least likely to be adopted if they end up at a shelter. They are there's quite a few theories on, I've done a bit of research on it. And I think the problem is they all kind of a perceived to look a bit boring because they don't have individual markings. I think there's a bit of a perception that maybe they're more aggressive cause some of them, especially if you've got dogs with very sort of bright brown eyes, they can look a bit a bit menacing. So then it's a, it's a thing called black dog syndrome. It's a, it's a huge problem worldwide. So for me it was kind of what can I bring attention to with my work and try and get that message out.

Emma O'Brien: 24:50 And I did it in, I didn't want to with the talking about the captions cause I was kind of putting this series together and I thought, you know, I've got the option of going super serious with it and you know, this is Casper and he spent 10 years at a shelter and he's just been adopted. But I think we're all a bit fed up of negative and serious stuff. So I just kind of am. And it was a total personal projects. I thought, you know what? Screw it. I'm just going to go wild here and I'm just going to let my inner creative out and do some scribbling with these captions. I thought let me just make it totally fun. And I captioned them, obviously locked the dogs with people. And it kind of, everybody loved it and it got, you know, it went viral on board Pandora. I mean, it's gone round the world, this project. And I don't think it would have done if I've kept it super serious.

Raymond: 25:36 Sure, sure. Everybody likes to, like you said, people are very serious. It's kind of, you know, we hear a lot of sad news. If there's anything that can kind of brighten your day, especially for, I mean, underneath it, it's a, it's a very sad topic, you know, that I believe that you shared with me that that black dogs are the most euthanized animals, like you said, because they're not, they're just not being adopted. So taking this seemingly sad subject and then kind of turning it around and, and giving them that personality really does help. So what was it that you hope to accomplish? Was it just the awareness or was it something, something bigger than that?

Emma O'Brien: 26:14 So it was literally making people more aware of it. And just kind of drawing attention to it. Cause I'm very much you know, we've kind of talked about how, you know, starting out as a wedding photographer, but I actually wanted to become, you know, become a photographer when I grew up because I wanted to tell stories. So it was always very influenced by documentary photographers. So w Eugene Smith is one of my all time favorites photographers. And loved that he was, you needed stuff for life magazine. And I loved that he shot a body of work of a Japanese village and a lot of the children there were being born with limb deformities and actually turns out that the, there was a factory kind of nearby that was pumping effluent into the water and they were eating the fish and these children were being born very deformed.

Emma O'Brien: 27:07 And the images he took made the world aware of it. And it also was very instrumental in them winning a lawsuit. And I was just so inspired. I thought, you know, how, how amazing to be making work that makes such a huge difference. So that was always, it's always kind of been my motivation with it. So then to put this series together and just to do something to do my bit to I guess make a bit of a difference in the world was what kind of drove it. But to do it in a way that was relatable and entertaining is not quite the right word, but that, that would, people would pick it up, enjoy it and share it. Cause the more that happens, obviously the more people know about it. Cause I've had messages from quite a few people who've seen it who didn't know about black dog syndrome. So it's been quite wonderful to know that actually it has the work made an impact.

Raymond: 27:57 So have you gotten any messages of hearing of people who have adopted a black dogs or cats purely by learning about you know, the education that you're providing them to through these photographs?

Emma O'Brien: 28:12 Not yet, but I did have quite a lot of messages from people who'd seen the series and were busy sharing their adopted rescue dogs with me. I had a message from somebody, I think it was in Australia who said, I didn't know about this, but the next dog I'm going to get, we will be one from a shelter and it will be a black one. Wow. So yeah, no it's amazing. So I'm not kid. Good. I've, I've done, I've done something there. So one thing I was going to just drop in for you is there's a documentary that's on Netflix called life in the dog house. And it's a documentary about Danny and Rollins rescue now. I think they are in Texas somewhere. We'll just have to check that. And it talks about they have rescues in their house, so they've adopted out like 11,000 dogs, which is phenomenal. But there's a sequence in, in the documentary where they go to a shelter cause they often go and pick up the dogs that are sort of running out of time. And the shelters give them to them, say can adopt them out. And there's one sequence where they go to a shelter and that shelter won't allow them in, but they bring out black dog after black dog after they bring out like 12 black dogs and hand them over to them.

Raymond: 29:23 Oh Wow. Wow.

Emma O'Brien: 29:25 So it was kind of, it's, it's, it's a real, it's a reality.

Raymond: 29:28 Sure. Not just in South Africa, but we're worldwide.

Emma O'Brien: 29:31 Yep. Worldwide. Yep.

Raymond: 29:33 Oh Man. That's that's, I'm going to have to check that out and obviously I will put links to that in the show notes if anybody listening to check that out. So let's transition a bit from the black series, cause obviously I'm taking photos of, you know, cute animals just sounds totally like a dream job. Right? It sounds like so much fun. You just get to play with dogs all day. I get the pet up, it's awesome. But I want to know how do you convince you know, when you're not working with the shelter, how do you convince potential clients, the pet owners to spend money on, on pet photography?

Raymond: 30:10 Hey, Raymond here. And if you're listening to this, you are listening to the free version of today's interview. If you want to hear more from today's guest about the business of photography, consider becoming a premium member every week. Guests answer questions about products, pricing packages, and so much more that will help your growing photography business thrive. This is the next logical step to join head over to begin on photography podcast.com and click the premium membership button at the top of the page.

Raymond: 30:40 Yes, I love it. Oh my gosh. So many. So many great tips right there on obviously not only being able to make money photographing animals, but just, just how to do it in a very efficient way and, and get that done. So let's talk a little bit kind of about you know, as somebody who, who shot weddings, you understand and as somebody who wanted it to tell stories with their camera, you understand that when you go to a wedding there's a very clear story that's being told that day and you have to, it's your job to capture it. How do you how do you add story onto your, onto your portraits of, of, of pets for your clients?

Emma O'Brien: 31:21 That is a very good question. I think for the, for the studio portraits it's kind of, it's, it's not so much a story I suppose as well. It's kind of capturing that moment in time. With the dogs. Especially if I'm just shooting, just shooting kind of dog portraits. You're capturing people's beautiful for children. But if I'm going to a park or something, so often I do do location shoots as well. So sometimes I'll always find out from a clients you know, how their dog is with, with traveling, what are they like coming to new places. Cause I'll say some dogs would really not cope very well in a studio at home. So if we go to a park or something, you've got a bit more scope for, for capturing a bit more variety I suppose. But I think for me it's about capturing, especially if you're photographing pets with their, with their owners or their parents as you sort of, everyone refers to themselves as it's kinda capturing that interaction and that sense of fun. Cause dogs are fun, you know, space especially, you know, most people say to me, or my dog doesn't behave, we all can. I don't really expect them to, it's fine cause you should meet mine. They really don't behave.

Emma O'Brien: 32:33 Yes, it's a bit like a circus hit most of the time. So, so it's capturing kind of the interaction and the moments of people kind of holding their dogs and something funny happens and it's like there's little in between moments as opposed to the very staged portraits. And I think like with the studio stuff, it's like capturing the, recapturing the dog's personality. So I'll say to people you know, I'll kind of, I don't like to show people too many pictures during this, you know, after the shoot. I think, I don't know how, how you feel about that. Cause I know some photographers are like, don't show the client anything on camera and some people will happily flick through. But I always like to just show them a couple and just say to them, have I got the dog as you see them, have I got there real? You know, when you look at them and you really see, you know, Lucy for instance, is this a really Lucy look? And most of the time if I've done my job properly, they'll say, yes, that's perfect cause you've just, you've just got that. You just got Lucy's trademark, whatever she does. So it's kind of way, it's just that kind of personality really.

Raymond: 33:39 You know, I think I'm saying a lot of times when I ask that question as a, as a wedding photographer, I think of sometimes photos as as a series. And, and as I asked that question to you, I was kind of thinking about that question as a whole and how even often think of that photo the Afghan girl by Steven, Steven McCurry who that is just one photo. Right? And that's not, that's not like, we don't, we don't, it's not like an environmental portrait. We don't see the, the, the environment in which he's in, we don't know her living conditions. It's just that close up portrait and yet portrait so much. So much story can be pulled out of that one photo. It's on how we see it. And I would assume that it's a lot of times the same for same for an animal.

Raymond: 34:28 You're not trying to, trying to, you know, go off and create something that's like met, you know, like, like for an engagement session, you're going out and you're trying to like look at this beautiful place and look at how much like in love we are, but let them portraits. It's a little it's a little different that different. You made me want to change my questions and to think about photography a little bit differently today. Thank you for that. Let's talk a little bit about lighting. You obviously, as you said, you go out in the in the field, you photograph animals at the park or at home, and then you also photograph animals in the studio. Would you say it's about 50, 50, or is it split a little bit differently? It's probably 50. 50. Okay. And do you find that that's, that's because that's primarily what you show is the stuff that you shoot in studio video? So

Emma O'Brien: 35:20 I think also here it's been a little bit, cause we're, we're in South Africa, we're just coming out of winter now and in winter around kind of around Johannesburg where we are, it doesn't rain all the winter, so everything the is okay, see the leaves fall off the trees, which isn't really great, but the grass goes brown. So actually outdoors in a park or anything, it's pretty much off limits. So the only other option is to go kind of into this Johannesburg kind of city center, which used to be, it's quite cool, but you've got to be a little bit careful, you know, it's a little, it can be a little bit you know, it's a bit of a dangerous place potentially. So if you've got clients who are brave and that can say to them, how do you feel about a real kind of grungy urban shoot, that's cool. They'll go. But oftentimes people all say, well, we'd rather come to the studio. So fought for winter, I've been doing a lot of studio stuff and now it's spring is here and it's starting to get green and warm up. So I'll be doing more, more outdoor stuff's just a little bit weather dependent.

Raymond: 36:28 Yeah, yeah, yeah. I would, I would totally imagine that. So when you are outdoors, obviously indoors, you need full control of lighting. When you're outdoors, what does the lighting setup look for you? Or is it all natural? Do you have a that flash on a soapbox?

Emma O'Brien: 36:43 Nope. Say I do all, all natural lights. And when I'm outside and if I'm doing kind of park shoots, I generally steer everything towards kind of late afternoon to say you get that nice kind of afternoon lighting. I tend to backlight everything. So, and then I work with a, I've got a silver reflector that I work with. I think for me it just, I keep it simple cause I think also with you know, like I said, I'll do lots of stuff with dogs and with children and with families. And I think the less complicated you make it, the easier it is for people to feel comfortable. Cause for me, you know, my, you know, my work is very much about capturing character in a sense of fun. So you know, there's lots of, I see lots of photographers who these beautiful, very artistic shots, which look wonderful, but it's totally not what I do. So I tend to just try and keep it very simple. So it's just clients don't feel intimidated. And also if they, if they're not quite in the perfect spot, I can, I could move. It just, it doesn't, there's not too much kind of precision involved cause with dogs, you know, you kind of difficult to be precise. It's tough to sort of roll with it other than right over there I pay. That's fine. Let me move that way, you know. So,

Raymond: 37:58 So then how does that vary when you go into the studio? Cause obviously you're going from a very simple, you know, show up and shoot, just angle the reflector to now being in the studio for control of lighting. Is it, just tell me how different of an experience that is for both you and the client.

Emma O'Brien: 38:16 So my studio set up, I still keep it quite simple so I've got a really big octobox that I use most of the time for dogs. So I don't have to worry too much if they're a little bit to the left or you know, they're not quite in the perfect spot. Cause I think that's the one thing with dogs and like we've said with photographing is you can't get too hung up on, you've got to sit on that x I've made with tape on the floor because otherwise you're just going to have a frustrating shoot. And it frustrates the client as well. And I think I'm, you know, one thing I'm very keen on is making sure my clients have a good experience. Cause I think actually the experience of a photo shoot makes the images because people then look at those images and they're like, oh, we had so much fun. I love these pictures. Yeah,

Raymond: 39:05 We've got to do it again next year. Yeah. Yes. Exactly. 31. Yeah. So with with, with weddings, when I go out and shoot, Aye, this is gonna sound so geeky. I went through light room and looked at all of my settings and I found that f two, eight was my most used aperture when it comes to dogs and they're very rambunctious. Nature is something like f two, eight. And the shallow depth of field that you get from that something that you can use or do you have to stop down to up a five, six or an eight to be able to capture them?

Emma O'Brien: 39:41 I probably am not really quite brave enough to do 2.8 all the time because you know, you know full well you've got to be so precise with that. If it's off slightly, it's done. So I'm, I'm kind of anywhere between four and 5.6 maybe 6.3 if I've got a couple of dogs. I don't generally go much more than that because I, I do like a, a nice soft background, especially, you know, especially if you're out of pocket does, it really does draw the focus to the animal. So w we, we know about appetites and steps the field, hopefully, hopefully everyone who's listening has got a bit of an idea about that. So so yeah. And then in studio, cause I'm usually shooting against a plain backdrop. It doesn't, it doesn't really matter of course in studio I might be anywhere between six and eight depending on, on kind of what I'm shooting. White background or black background. Yeah.

Raymond: 40:38 I gotcha. Very cool. When I'm sure as kind of like last week I interviewed a photographer who shoots food, right? Lots of food and I kind of brought up the, the idea that it's like we all eat food. We can all, you know, that's kind of how Instagram gained its popularity, right? People were taking pictures of the food and posting it, but just because people were taking pictures of the food, it doesn't mean that it was necessarily good. Just because people take photos of their pets, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be good. Is there any commonly taught hot misinformation or poor information that you see being taught to a new photographers who want to photograph their photograph? Pets? I don't know if you heard that. That's that really excited to go outside. Yeah.

Emma O'Brien: 41:29 Oh bless. And I'm just trying to think where he said the one thing that I'll get a lot of the time, the black dogs are really difficult to photograph, so which they are, it's all about the lighting, especially with it, you know, and I think that the thing with that is if you've got your black dog against a light background, it's not gonna work a toll and where the cell phone or what have you. So that's, that's one thing that I think people kind of really struggle with. I think there's this sort of preference for people that fill flashes like a Goto. And I'm not a big fan of fill flash, especially kind of with outdoors stuff. I think if you can learn the really learn kind of how to light stuff properly outside you don't necessarily need it. But it depends on your photography cause I think for some people it kind of suits their style of photography.

Emma O'Brien: 42:26 For mine it's kind of not really my jam. And I think also the biggest myth that I hear a lot of the time from people is that you have to shoot on manual. So I shoot on aperture priority apart from when I'm in the studio. I'm on manual obviously cause I've got, so I've got to really control the settings there. But I shoot on aperture priority the rest of the time. And there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with that. And it's quite interesting. I have lots of people I do, I do workshops for nick on here and often people will come and they're really struggling because they've done a bit of an online course somewhere and they're struggling to work with their camera on manual cause it is quite, you know, if you're not familiar with it, it's, there's lots of things to change and you changed, you changed your aperture and then you've got pictures that are too bright. And I think people just get very frustrated with not knowing quite what does what.

Raymond: 43:17 Yeah, exactly. And that compensation between all three, your aperture shutter speed and a, and ISO. Yeah, I find that I find that as well. Well thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Have you ever had a a failure and an apparent failure to yourself that you think actually looking back sets you up better for success?

Emma O'Brien: 43:39 Right. I think the losing half a wedding was a pretty epic.

Raymond: 43:43 Yeah. I think we can all agree there. Yeah. But yeah, you are today. Yeah. So everything turned out okay in the end

Emma O'Brien: 43:50 It did. And I back up repeating, you know, I back up obsessively.

Raymond: 43:55 Can you kind of walk us through that then? I'd love to hear, I love to hear backup strategies, but that's not a question that I hear very often or that I asked me often on the pocket.

Emma O'Brien: 44:04 Okay. So we, where I live we don't have access to fiber currently. We are in Africa, so I can't at the moment use cloud backup cause we just don't have quite the Internet upload capacity. So my backup strategy is that I outflows everything from my a memory cards onto an external hard drive. And then I'll do my editing and when I actually send a lot of my off to somebody to do and I get that back and I finish it off and I will save a copy of the edits on my Mac and I'll save a copy on another external hard drive. So I have three copies and then obviously intimacy, they are back, the mockups are probably on a different hard drive. So it probably makes four copies. So I am fastidious about it and I won't wipe those memory cards until that backup is done. And I know they're all safe and I've checked it a couple of times.

Raymond: 45:01 Sure. Oh Man, I get that and I get that after that first mistake. You don't, you don't want to do something like that again? No. One question I hear a lot from new photographers is when do you delete photos? Do you, are there, do you delete the photos that you don't deliver? Do you delete all the photos after a certain amount of time? How does that work for you?

Emma O'Brien: 45:20 Okay, great question. So I will the files that I've edited, I obviously shooting in role so I can make make a roll set of images in a, in a different folder. And then once, once my editor has done at once, I've been to see the client and once they've ordered everything, I will wipe all the unused photos, all the unused raw files. But I keep the raw files I've edited, I just keep them on that drive. And then I don't, and then obviously I've got jpegs copies that are sitting elsewhere that I keep. I don't, I don't delete. I don't delete anything really aside from the unused raw files strategy.

Raymond: 46:01 Love it. Love it. Well am I don't want to take up much more of your time. You have your shared so much about photographing animals and, and beautiful dogs and even weddings as well. Before I let you go, can you share with the listeners where they can I guess a little bit more about you and where they can find you online?

Emma O'Brien: 46:22 Okay. So you can find me online. I've got a couple of websites and my website is Emma O'Brien dot com, but you'll find my, my family and my doggy photography. I also do business mentoring for other photographers. So you'll find that@mentoringforcreatives.com you can find me on Instagram at Emma O'Brien photo. You can find me on Facebook at MRO Brian Photo. And I've got a mentoring for creatives Facebook page as well. And then I also have another kind of a website that I'm sort of pitching. I'm pitching to galleries at the moment with my work. So this is my more, my more highbrow website, which is dog art.photography. So this, this, this, it's a bit more, the images are a bit bigger on that. So that's the, the Porsche site, shall we say.

Raymond: 47:14 I like to I like to tell people, I feel like so many people feel like they're, I mean, I'm not saying this, this is the case for you, but there's a lot of photographers who think that their ideas won't work or that it's not like big for mainstream. And I always love to bring up the Andy Warhol soup photo. Like who would have thought that that would've been a good idea and it certainly would've been me and yet if I would've told any Warhol and not that he would ever ask for my opinion obviously, but then that idea was a bad idea then than the world would be missing out on a piece of art that is beloved by many. So yeah, I love that you're going out and you're trying lots of new things and again, as somebody who, somebody who talks a lot of photographers who in their own way change the world, you are doing it in a more direct way. And I can't thank you enough for coming on the podcast and sharing everything that you did today with the listener. So again, Emma, thank you so much for coming on and I'm excited to keep up with you in the future and continue to read those, this wonderful capsule.

Emma O'Brien: 48:13 Thank you very much for having me. It's been lovely to be able to, to chat with you and share my work and my ideas with you. Raymond Emma,

Raymond: 48:22 If you aren't listening right now I just gotta say thank you so much for the fun hour that we spent together in just you sharing everything that you did about your inspirational story. And it's just really great to hear how, how you can use a camera too. It's not mutually exclusive to either make money with your camera or you know, do good things for the world with your camera. They're not, it's not either or. You can clearly do both. And a, you are living proof of that. Again, I really appreciate you sharing as much as you did. My biggest takeaway from this interview is simply how quickly inspiration can strike. You know, Emma said that she was a wedding photographer and had no intentions of photographing animals, especially when she first got into photography. But she tried it out when she, after she made a big move and now this is her jam.

Raymond: 49:19 Like she's known as a pet photographer and she just did it from, from doing it once, from trying something new that she didn't know anything about. She gave it a shot, she gave it her all and she found that she loved it. You don't know what you don't know. I never, you know, she never thought that you'd be a pet photographer. She tried it and now this is her thing. This is so awesome. And when you try you, you might find something that just changes your life or the life of others. So that was definitely my biggest takeaway from this episode with Emma O'Brien. Now I want to share, last week I mentioned that I created 52 presets for y'all to download presets in light room and you guys loved them. And it has been so cool to see you use these presets. To edit one of my raw photos that I posted in the beginner photography podcast Facebook group.

Raymond: 50:21 You know, one thing that became very clear to me and it's, it's kind of always been clear, but I guess just visually seeing it in front of me is just how subjective photography is. And there are just so many ways to edit the exact same photo. And what's cool is that none of them are wrong. So I hope that that gives you hope. I hope that that gives you inspiration, that a, there's no right or wrong way to do things. There are best practices of course, but ultimately that it, it's not like you get graded on how you edit a photo because ultimately you, you know, what's the saying? Beauty's in the eye of the beholder. And that is, I cannot stress that enough when it comes to art, when it comes to creating things on your own. And that is just how, how, how things need to be done for you to, to truly have a voice, for you to truly have a style, you need to go out and do things on your own and continue to do things that you like without listening to to others.

Raymond: 51:26 So if you want to download the presets for yourself, if you weren't able to make it last week and you want to check those out, and you can download them right now by heading over to learn l e a r n. Dot beginner photography podcast.com. And you'll see a a, a grouping of several courses that I have, and one of them is the 52 free Lightroom presets. So go ahead and download that yourself. Then there's also an instructional video on how to install them and get started with preset. So that is it for this week. Until next time, I want you to get out. I want you to go shoot. I want you to focus on yourself and stay safe. All right, I love you all.

Outro: 52:08 If you enjoy today's podcast, please leave us a review in iTunes or your favorite podcast player and continue the conversation with Raymond and other listeners of the podcast by joining the beginner photography podcast Facebook group today. Thank you. We'll see you again next week.