To this day, I still remember the first time I saw scruffy dog photography’s work. It took my breath away. It struck a nerve in my photography-loving and dog-adoring soul, and I remember thinking that this was the skill level I needed to aspire to in my own work. Her colors were so rich, her focus was always spot-on, and the moments she captured always seemed to show the essence of the animal in front of the lens. And somehow–and this was the real kicker–she made it all seem so damn easy!

Fast forward over three years of building Grumpy Pups, and I suddenly found myself spending an entire weekend with the photographer I admire the most, illona haus of scruffy dog photography. You know that nervous butterfly feeling you get when something exciting is about to happen? I had that for weeks before my mentoring session. Not only was I excited to be learning from one of the best, but I also was pretty nervous about laying bare my business and photography practices, letting illona see everything under the hood so she could help me fine-tune the things that weren’t quite working.

I drove to Canada in late April to meet illona at her studio, and from the moment we met, the mentoring began. Everything was specifically focused on what I wanted to learn. Illona and I worked through settings on my camera, the prices on my order sheet, the language on my marketing pieces, the dialogue I have with clients, the holes in my post-processing skills and so much more. She was extremely generous with her time as well as her knowledge. Even meals were accompanied by my notebook and pen. By the time I left, I couldn’t think of a single remaining question to ask her, we had covered that much. I came home with a whole new way of looking at the business of pet photography, new confidence in my shooting skills, new ideas to try in post-processing, and one really good lemonade recipe (it wasn’t all work!).

Oh yeah. And then there was the shooting. Despite the rain that had followed me from Michigan, we managed to get three shooting sessions done in three days. Here are some of my favorite shots from the weekend.

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Now I’m home and working to apply everything I learned, but in my own way. One of the challenges of any mentoring session or workshop is to not just copy everything you see. While we worked through what types of packages I should offer, I’m still making tweaks based on what I think my West Michigan pet photography clients would like most. I have some of her exact settings for editing shots, but I need to take what I learned and apply it in a way that makes sense for a Grumpy Pups shot. I know now how illona does her action shots, but I have to work within the limits of my own camera, which is very different from hers. It will take some time to process and implement everything I learned, but I’m really excited about where this is going to take me. My scruffy dog mentoring session delivered absolutely everything I was hoping for, and it was the perfect boost of knowledge and confidence that I needed to take Grumpy Pups from startup business to the kick-butt, jam-packed, awwww-inspiring photography business I know it can be!

Make sure to check out scruffy dog photography on Facebook to see illona’s work for yourself!

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Springer spaniels in a field of Michigan wildflowers

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