How Four Paws and an Instagram Comment Led Me Down the Path to Pet Photography

Like nearly all the best things in my life, it was entirely serendipitous that I stumbled into the wonderfully chaotic, fur-filled world of pet photography.

Whether you’ve seen his furry face that’s often plastered with the undeniable expressions associated with what we pet photographers call “photographer’s dog syndrome” all over my Instagram or he’s answered your email inquiry, you’ve likely “met” Hunter at some point. He is our Frisbee-catching, bed-hogging Head of Shed and my heart dog. He is the reason why our home is a little hairier, our bed a little tighter, and our hearts a lot fuller; he is the inspiration behind Bark & Gold Photography.

I first wrapped my arms around this big-headed, floppy-eared boy at just 11-weeks-old when my now-husband surprised me with the softest, squirmiest stinker of a puppy. I remember asking my husband with an I-can’t-believe-this joy if he was ours to keep forever.

Over the past 11 years, months of shark-toothed puppy bites and tales of mischief–some that would leave you scratching your head in disbelief unless you experienced them firsthand–quickly transformed into years filled with chin scratches, adventures, snugs, and laughter. Not a day has gone by when Hunter hasn’t been the best part of my life.

When Hunter turned 10-years-old in 2019, it hit me hard. Despite his puppy-like playfulness and good health, celebrating those double digits came with the reality that, as pet parents, we are not privileged to forever. Hunter is my heart dog, the one who made me a pet photographer.

I spent his first three years photographing him with a purple Nikon Coolpix basic point and shoot that left me with grainy, blurry snapshots. It wasn’t until 2012 when I got my first DSLR that I was able to get my first decent photos of him, and another three years before I was capable of producing consistent images that were exposed correctly, focused properly, well-composed, and that reflected a clean, natural editing style.

On March 10, 2016, a single comment on an Instagram post of Hunter changed the trajectory of my life. It came from award-winning wedding photographer, educator, and Flourish Academy founder, Heather Lahtinen, who simply wrote, “He is handsome and your photos of him are amazing! You should be a pet photographer!”

I don’t know what Heather saw in this photo (I mean, what is even happening here? Is that sepia? Black and white? Lavender?), but something about her belief in me fueled that subtle smolder that ignited this incredible adventure, which has afforded me the most fulfilling opportunities to celebrate the joy and love between Pittsburgh pets and their people in ways I could have never imagined.

A four-legged surprise from my husband. Years of memories documented. The power of a single comment of encouragement from someone who sees in you what you, at the time, didn’t see in yourself.

As I said, most everything good in my life has been surprisingly inevitable in the most thrilling ways, and while yours may not have started with four paws and an Instagram comment, these serendipities are an important part of our story.

While yours may not have started with four paws and an Instagram comment, we all have a story. How will you tell yours? If you’re ready to book a Bark & Gold Photography session for your pet, click here or give me a call at 724-913-BARK (2275). For more information on Bark & Gold Photography sessions, visit “The Experience” in the menu and be sure to share your email on my homepage to join the VIP list.


This post is a part of a photography blog circle featuring photographers specializing in a variety of niches. To see what the next photographer is sharing for our weekly theme, “Introduce Yourself,” check out Gretchen Ciccone with GCiccone Photography, capturing special moments. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here.

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7 thoughts on “How Four Paws and an Instagram Comment Led Me Down the Path to Pet Photography

  1. Angela Schneider says:

    Ah, I love hearing how you stumbled into this magical pursuit. I remember similar conversations with friends and then researching to see if “pet photography” was even a thing. You can imagine my joy when I found it was. Now I wish I had started it earlier because it has brought such happiness to my life.

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      Isn’t it funny how many people still don’t know pet photography is a real job! I just spoke with someone the other day and she asked if pets were just a small part of what I do. When I told her nope–it’s all pets all the time around here–she was truly surprised. I think that’s why it’s so great to have a community of other pet photographers to grow with, learn from, and inspire!

  2. Yvette says:

    I love this story and your images. We lost our 15 year old dog this year. I am so happy I thought to get good images of her through the years. We miss her. Great job Jessica!

    • Bark & Gold Photography says:

      I’m so sorry, but I’m thankful you have those photos of her. I always encourage people to photograph their own pets too because they can capture those day-to-day in-between moments us photographers can’t always be there for and because when they’re gone, you’re not going to look back and judge the composition or lighting of a photo; you’re going to see those special memories you’ll never get back but always have.

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