Special Project Course: Dog Photography

Pet Photography

Students shoot faculty and staff dogs…with cameras

This spring, Dakota County Technical College opened its doors to dogs of all shapes and sizes. Students in the college’s Photography program offered free dog photography to faculty and staff as part of a special project course.

After trying pet photography five years ago, the decision was made to only allow dogs for this round. “We learned from some bitter experience to keep it to dogs,” said Peter Latner, a DCTC photography instructor. “Cats don’t travel well.”

JackLatner, a former museum photographer who worked 12 years for the Minnesota Historical Society and seven years at the Walker Art Center, began teaching at DCTC in 2004. He says the Photographyprogram offers up to three specialized courses each semester at the discretion of the photography faculty. The courses aren’t requirements, but serve as opportunities to enhance skills. Occasionally, the special project courses mutate into traditional classes.

“We are able to pilot new curriculum and determine how viable it is based on its popularity and outcomes,” said Latner. Examples of summer courses include a Wedding Photography Workshop, Advanced Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and coming soon, a course about photographing the land and waterscapes of the Mississippi River.

The Pet Photography course appeared to be a natural choice based on market demand. Total U.S. pet industry expenditures are estimated to reach an astronomical $52.87 billion in 2012. More than 60 percent of U.S. households own a pet, and 46.3 million households own a dog, according to the American Pet Products Association. As the demand for pets has increased, so has pet photography.

“Pet photography is a great niche,” Latner said. “It’s our job to make students aware of the demand—and the real animal lovers are going to gravitate toward it.”

AbbyLatner pointed out that his students learned patience, animal psychology and the dynamics of dog owners. The students were surprised at how much the dogs moved during the photo shoots. They instantly realized canines are not the most cooperative subjects.

Emily Dean, a photography student who enrolled in the course, said she learned to work quickly and not to hesitate snapping a picture. Dean noticed the challenges of photography different types of dogs and their personalities. “Hyperactive dogs were sometimes as difficult to photograph as well-behaved dogs that were attached to their owner,” she said. “When that happened, we just made it work by offering a family shot.”

Jessi Sheppard, another student in the course, intends to make pet photography part of her career and appreciated what she took away from the experience. “I had so much fun meeting the dogs and their families,” she said. “The opportunity to work with different kinds of dogs and realize that simple lighting adjustments could change the coloring or size appearance of the dog was incredibly valuable, as was the chance to have client interaction.”

The student photographers discovered their backdrop was making a difference in the success of the shoot. “When we used a canvas backdrop, it worked great and the dogs were fine,” said Latner. “But when we used the seamless paper backdrop, we discovered the dogs were slipping and couldn’t get a footing. It was almost like they were walking on a frozen lake.”

JinxLatner noted that one student took more than 400 pictures of one dog the first night, but greatly reduced the number of shots she took the following evening. “She found confidence in having the experience,” he said. “These students gain a lot by taking photos they can compare to other professionals and realize their work is just as good if not better.”

Overall, dog photography seems to have been a huge success. “I would have thought there would have been all of these nightmare stories to pass on but we have been amazingly lucky,” Latner said. “Hopefully, it is something we can consider offering again in the future.”



Slideshows of student photographs
Jessi Sheppard | 2nd-year photography student

“All the dogs were great! They had such different personalities. Some were really excited and energetic and others would just lie there like they have photo shoots every day! I thought it was really interesting that the flashing lights didn’t seem to bother any of them.”


Tanner, a cute and spunky cockapoo
 Jack and Shane, a pair of sweetheart “brothers,” a German shepherd and black lab
Emily Dean | 2nd-year photography student

“I enjoyed the class. It was fun to watch the variety of dogs that came through and how easy they were to handle and photograph.”


Rosie and Sebastian
To learn more about Photography at DCTC, contact:

1 Comment

  • What a great idea for a class. I wish they offered one when I was in school – I would have picked up pet photography a lot quicker. I have some real world experience with starting a pet photography business, just last year. If any of the students would like to ask questions about the struggles I’ve encountered or tips I’ve learned, I’d be happy to answer. 🙂

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