Photography Matters


Pet photography provides the impossible: a lifetime with your pet

Photography is everywhere. We are faced with millions of images every day, most of them selling us something, implying who we should be, how we should look or what we should buy.

Anyone with an iPhone and Instagram is an artist: capable of creating a digital masterpiece instantly and sharing it just as quickly on Pinterest, Twitter, Flik-r and Facebook simultaneously. The medium of photography is evolving even faster than the technology supporting it and the definitions of art are more fluid than ever.

In the midst of all the images marketers choose to attract us and all the cover photos we select to define us, it’s easy to forget just how powerful a single photograph can be.

As a professional pet photographer I admit I take my job granted; the flexible hours, the travel perks, my dogs at my feet while I edit and of course the fact that I get paid to spend hours rolling around on the floor with the most irresistible creatures on earth. But there is one irrefutable fact that I never, ever forget: I am too-often reminded of just how a perfectly captured portrait of a pet transcends art to become the most precious possession a person can own.



Photo by J. Nichole Smith |

Last week I was designing an album for clients with three charming dogs: Jasmine, Willow and T-Rex. T-Rex, the eldest, started life in New York City, chained up outside in a cage, but fate managed to deliver him all the way to Terri & Michael in Seattle, which is where I met and photographed him many years later.

Our shoot was on a hot day in August and I remember T-Rex as a smiley, wise old German Shepard who quite willingly followed us around the vast lakeside park. But only months later, on a cold day in January, T-Rex passed away.

As I edited his images and pieced together pages of the album, I found myself feeling quite weepy. I glanced down at the notes written by his mom…

T-Rex's nickname was "Dunderhead" and he was a cheese bandit. He was in love with our boy cat Asher and they slept together on the couch. T-Rex could put whirling dervishes to shame when he was ready for a walk…”

As I considered where to include these details within the album I re-read her most recent email and saw the lines…

“Sadly, our boy just passed away. He was in such great spirits that day and we really want to remember him that way.”

Photo by J. Nichole Smith |

These honest words struck a chord with me and despite my best efforts the lump in my throat choked-out objectivity and tears began spilling over my cheeks. I was crying for their loss, crying for my 8 yr. old Dane who is starting to show her age, crying for the memory of T-Rex as a sweet, happy boy and the knowledge that he no longer joins his family for walks in the park. I blubbered like a baby all over my keyboard.

Then I recovered, struck once again by the warm, honorable reality of my job: the most precious gift photographers offer the world is tangible proof of perfect memories. Pet photographers in particular, have the ability to capture poignant moments with the pets we love so desperately. The stark reality is that these companions just don’t stay with us long enough, but the timeless gift of a portrait, is that it will be a meaningful part of our life long after the dog hair, stinky breath and the tap, tap, tap of their tails has vanished.

In a world of fleeting and fake, there are few jobs so meaningful and lasting.


One pet photographer in Minnesota was so impacted by the power of this role that she designated a whole portion of her business to offering “end-of-life” sessions for aging and terminally ill pets. Her name is Sarah Ernhart and she has lovingly defined these shoots as “Joy Sessions”.

photo by: Sarah Beth Photography,

Sarah was inspired to offer these sessions after she had the opportunity to create portraits of a particularly special relationship between a labarador named “Joy” and her owner, Joan.

Since 2010 the demand for these shoots has risen to the point where Sarah recently created a whole website dedicated to matching up pet owners in need of “Joy Sessions” and pet photographers who offer this tender service:


As pet photographers we regularly receive overwhelmingly emotional words of thanks for the images we captured with our clients. Thanks because their puppy is grown and they had forgotten just how small he once was, or because like T-Rex’s family, their dear friend is gone but they have beautiful images to remember him by. This is the greatest honor bestowed upon artists – the ability to transform an intangible, powerful bond, into proof of your love you can see, touch and cherish.

If you haven’t yet, or if it’s been years since you have, I urge you to document the relationship you have with your pet(s). Whether you snap cell phone videos and photos for your desktop wallpaper or Facebook, or you hire a professional to produce a work of art for your mantelpiece or coffee table – do it now. If not, you will desperately wish you had.

When we lose a pet, no words can soothe the grief. No amount of busy can distract from the daily routine that is suddenly gone. No sound on earth can ease the silence their absence leaves behind. There is no remedy for the loss of a loved one.

As time passes the ache does dull, but so too the memories will blur and fade. But like your love, the gift of photography is forever; moments as crisply rendered a decade from now, as they were that sunny day in August when you took a walk in the park… one of a million moments shared, saved forever.


If you’d like a referral for a fantastic pet photographer, check out Pet Anthology’s Guide to Inspirational Pet Photographers Part I  and Part II.

In memory of T-Rex February 1997 – January 2012

… and all the animals we love so much who leave too soon.

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Positively Expert: Nichole Smith

J.Nichole Smith is an author, photographer, designer and consultant specializing in the pet-industry. While in college she co-founded the brand Dog is Good® as well as a boutique creative agency, dane + dane studios. Recently, Nichole packed up her dogs and re-located to London where she is currently completing her Masters in Marketing.


9 thoughts on “Photography Matters

  1. Pingback: V-day gifts for pet parents | Have dog blog will travel

  2. Nat

    This very clearly, and beautifully explains why we do what we do as pet photographers. We are lucky to be able to do this for others. I am especially lucky, to call Nichole my friend.
    Thank you Positively, for this lovely feature!

  3. Trish

    I echo Nat's sentiments. This is a lovely feature that gets right to the heart of what inspires us to do what we do as pet photographers. I am deeply honored to be able to create lasting memories of our cherished pets. They are with us for far too short a time. Thank you, Positively, for spreading the word about "Joy Sessions."

  4. Michael

    Thanks Nichole - All the photos are wonderful. That was such a happy day for my old T. It's been over a year and I still miss him everyday.

    - Michael

  5. Katherina Dueck

    So wonderfully put - thanks for taking the time to put this out there. It was shared to my Facebook timeline by some clients who thought of me and I couldn't be more honoured by that gesture.

  6. Kate & Zena

    This struck a chord with me. When I was little and had a Greyhound, a professional photographer came to PetSmart and took photos of pets. We had our Porsche's photo taken and it is our most treasured possession of her as we forgot to take photos of her. Yes, he forgot to get the side with the big tan spot on her belly and got the white side, but did he get her personality down to the 'T' with the pose. She sat like that ALL OF THE TIME with those big brown eyes and when I miss her a lot, I cry looking at that photo. I'm sad I didn't get a photo that described my dog after her like that because my own photography skills weren't up to snuff.

    With Zena, I have about twenty billion photos that describe her. Seriously. She's the reason why I got so into photography as she's so expressive. There's this one photo though that I took last year that screams, "ZENA!!!!!!!!!!" She smiling up into the camera, eyes all twinkling, and she's so happy because she was out in the sun sunning herself. That photo is just her, no matter how old she gets. I need that one framed.

    I definitely cry over photos of my lost pets, and I cried over T-Rex's photos, Michael. He looked like such a silly dog to be around, kind of like my Z. He kind of looks like the kind of dog that if you were sad, he'd do something really silly like grab a ball,fling it in the air, pound his two front paws on the floor and the ball would hit him on the muzzle. Ha ha ha. (Okay, that happened to Zena and I started to laugh so hard I peed my pants.)

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