The moment I saw the above tutu-wearing bulldog I knew I would fall in love with all of Susan Sabo Photography‘s work. Based in Long Beach, CA, Susan brings character, charm and whimsy to every photograph she creates. It was a pleasure to chat with her about life as a pet photographer! Keep reading for her insights into the industry and more adorable photos!
1) Who are your pets?
Jack is a Rat Terrier, who was rescued from a puppy mill. He was a breeder for three years. After being rescued by a group, he was bounced around the adoption circuit for another three years until he came into my life.
T is a Jack Russell/Chi mix, who was in and out of city shelters from the time he was born until he was three. Then I adopted them together. For the six months prior to my bringing them home, they lived in a crate together in the back of a business. During that time they bonded and are still bffs.
2) Where did you study photography?
Apart from the occasional seminar, I am all self-taught. I have spent nearly six years as a full-time photographer running my own business.
3) What is your favourite camera and lens?
Oh, that’s a hard one! I think my favorite camera ever is a Polaroid sx-70 that I got off of eBay a couple of years ago. But in terms of digital, I love my Canon 5D Mark II with my 35mm L series lens. That’s a combo that is consistently beautiful and looks a lot like film!
4) What is your most memorable pet photoshoot to date. Why?
That would have to be with Pelei, a Sharpei I came to know. After she was diagnosed with canine cancer, her owners brought her to me for a studio session.
But when it came time to euthanize her (her people decided not to put her through painful and prolonged treatment), I went over and spent a couple of hours hanging out with them and shooting Pelei, the way she lived; playing a little ball, getting some snuggling. We all knew that by that evening she would be dead. But it was still such a wonderful day: celebrating her life as if she were young and strong and healthy, the way she was before.
5) What is your greatest professional challenge or triumph?
I held an exhibit in 2008 called “This is Who We Are,” and it featured photos of dogs that were in area shelters and needed homes immediately. In four weeks I planned the exhibit, photographed the dogs, made and framed the prints and found a place to hold it.
I also asked all the shelter managers to hold the dogs an extra 30 days in case anyone wanted to adopt the dogs I featured. I know of one dog who was adopted as a direct result of that show. I see her now and then around Long Beach, and I don’t think she remembers that past life. I hope she doesn’t at least.
6) What is the greatest lesson taught to you by a pet?
My dog Stiggy, who passed away a long time ago, taught me to look at each dog and see him or her as an individual. He taught me how to look at dogs, how to see them, hear them and listen to them.
He taught me how to love dogs, how to be with them, how to make them happy and how to let that happiness into my life. He taught me everything about living with and loving dogs, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss him.
7) What advice would you give to someone wishing to start a pet photography business?
When you’re asked to photograph an animal, you have to remember that you’re often in that animal’s space. You should respect that, and respect that all animals are different. Don’t treat them all the same; don’t shoot them all the same.
Get to know what makes that dog tick; know what that dog is about and like I said, respect that. Then you can get photos that will really show that animal’s true personality, and you won’t have just a picture of any dog.
8) Is there something you would like to see happen/change in the pet world in 2013?
Oh, God, yes! Put an end to pet stores selling dogs and cats! There are so many animals in shelters; there’s no need to buy from pet stores. So many of them use puppy mill breeders, and with Jack I’ve gained a lot of firsthand insight into the long-term damage it does to an animal, both physically and emotionally. Adopt, don’t shop!
9) Is there anything else you would like to add? Anything at all?
Yes! A few words of wisdom if I may:
- Not everyone who surrenders their dog to the shelter is a bad person (you don’t know their circumstances)
- All animals are living, sentient beings and deserve to be treated as such.
- If you don’t love dogs with all of your heart you have no business photographing them.
Thank you Susan for taking the time to speak with Pawsh today! Be sure to keep up with all of Susan’s latest work by following her on Twitter and Facebook!