Karen McMillan of Fido Photography fills her photographs with fun, vitality, and honesty… and wagging tails. Karen’s style marries clean, bright images with joyous personalities and motion. Focusing on pets, not people, Karen creates lifestyle images that show animals as they are, smiling and barking, meowing and coy, loving and playing with the humans who love them. You can find Karen at her Website or on Facebook.
How did you get in to this line of work? And please tell us a little about Rugby! Did you know that you can buy a friend? I found that out when I moved to Houston for work and didn’t know anyone. Getting a puppy changed my life in so many ways, not least of which was discovering photography. When I got my German Shepherd Dog, Axel, I wanted to capture all his expressions. Shortly after learning the basics in the darkroom, I started shooting other people’s dogs so that they, too, could see the love they felt in photographs. Rugby is the kind of dog whose day is made when he meets a new person. His wag starts at his ears and moves back from there. He’ll eat anything except carrots, even plain spinach, but his favorite “food” is deer hooves he finds in the woods.
You recently left a life-long career to pursue photography full-time. That must have been exhilarating and terrifying. How did you make the decision to take the plunge? It definitely was and, frankly, still is exhilarating and terrifying. My friend Jackie said something over lunch one day that made me change the way I saw everything. We were discussing when we might retire and I told her I couldn’t wait until I was 58 (I was 47 at the time) so I could leave DuPont with a pension. She said, “Don’t wish your life away.” It took me another year to mentally gear up and make the change.
How do you capture the personality of your clients’ animals? Do you have any tricks to bring out the nature of cats of dogs? The only trick is to create an atmosphere in which they’re comfortable. The less the humans ask of them, the more the dog or cat realizes that there are no wrong things to do and the more they’re themselves. Coaching the owners is key because if they’re stressed thinking the dog or cat is “doing it wrong” then the animal feels that and isn’t sure what’s expected of them. If everyone is relaxed and having a good time the photographs show it.
Do you have a favorite technical trick when you’re shooting? It’s not very technical, but I keep a squeaker from a squeaky ball toy in my mouth so I can make a noise to get the dog to look at the camera. It leaves my hands free and is small enough so that I can still talk. (Dogs don’t like to look at cameras because lenses look like a big black eye staring at them and that’s scary for them. Eye contact can be confrontational and a big “eye” is even more intimidating.)
What does your typical client look like? What makes folks decide to get professional photographs of their pets? Most of my clients are women over 35 whose animals are a central part of their lives. They identify themselves as dog or cat people. Their children are either adults or they never had any. I suspect people hire an animal photographer for the same reason that families hire someone to photograph their children—they want to remember how much happiness they add to their lives. Sometimes it’s because they can’t get good photos themselves. They might have a black dog or one that doesn’t hold still. Whatever the motivation, they are people who value quality and are willing to pay for it.
What’s your favorite piece of gear? What’s on your photography wish list? I couldn’t do what I do without my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. No distortion and gives the animal enough space to feel comfortable. I profoundly wish Nikon would make a camera that has focus points closer to the edges of the frame.
What kinds of photographs inspire you? Who is your very favorite visual artist, living or dead? Images with really interesting lighting always get my attention. Gary Parker of www.catdogphotography.com is unbelievable. I’d love to spend a year learning from him.
Where would you like to be as a photographer in five years? In ten? How are you working to get there? I’d like to have a balance between client shoots, stock photography sales and teaching. I’m doing my first workshop in May at the Delaware Art Museum and I hope to do more in the future.
What is your favorite image that you’ve ever taken? Can you tell us a little about why you took it and the circumstances surrounding it? Oddly enough, my favorite photo is not of one of my own dogs. She’s a friend’s dog and she had never been off leash since being adopted as an adult. We were at a small park in Delaware that has a stream running through it. I unhooked her leash and she went straight to the water. My friend had no idea she was a water dog. The look on the dog’s face says it all.
Karen McMillan was interviewed by Sara Kelly.