On location with Emily Nicholson, Founder of Pet Stories
An exciting day of prepping and posing was had by Barnaby & Jones and friends on our very first location shoot!
We knew we wanted to showcase the release of The Colour Edit which is why we reached out to Emily Nicholson, a talented pet photographer and founder of Pet Stories. From the outset, Emily understood our vision to capture the Great British Summer and as we discussed locations, ideas, themes and shot styles, it became obvious that Emily was going to achieve exactly what we were looking for.
Alongside photography, Emily also runs Pet Stories Model Agency - a pet model agency specialising in rescue and imperfectly perfect pets. Emily sourced a variety of dogs for the shoot including Fergie and brother Bowie, the paddle boarding duo!
Needless to say, the shoot was a great success with the dog models enjoying exploring their surroundings whilst Emily worked her magic.
It's clear to see from Emily's beautiful photos that she has a special rapport with dogs, knowing how to bring out their true personalities whilst also having fun at the same time!
We caught up with her to find out more...
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career journey...
I’m a self taught photographer and launched Pet Stories in 2017. I’m from a little town called Glossop, on the outskirts of Manchester, and over the years have been so lucky to call many UK cities home. A few years back, myself and my other half finally settled in Sheffield, just over the hill from Glossop, and we absolutely love it. We have such an appetite for adventure so it’s the perfect location for dog walks, bike-rides and wild swims.
Q: What inspired you to start Pet Stories?
When I was 24, I landed a job as an interiors trend forecaster at a creative agency. It had always been my career goal to work in this fast paced role, but I struggled. I had anxiety, major imposter syndrome and after 2 years, I realised, the job I had always worked towards, wasn’t for me. I left, with nothing else in place and focused on rebuilding my creative confidence. With so much time on my hands, I picked up a camera and found myself taking more and more photos of my best pal, Cavalier King Charles, Ted. Capturing Ted was a welcome distraction and the best possible therapy. I learned how to use the camera and so I learned about Ted too. His daily habits and the aspects of his personality that I adored so much. Sadly, Ted is no longer with us and passed away in 2019. I miss him dearly, he was the most gentle and devoted boy. I will be forever thankful to him, for his patience, pro posing and above all, his encouragement to launch Pet Stories.
Q: Have you always been into photography and why animal photography in particular?
I feel I’ve always had a photographic eye and especially when I go on holiday, I have an obsession with capturing moments that freeze-frame the atmosphere of a new place. This obsession was there when I was a kid too. At one point, I had around 7 rabbits and 3 guinea-pigs. They used to come into the house a lot and I vividly remember capturing each of my pets with my favourite toys. Even then I think I had a desire to capture everything I loved about all of my babies, not wanting to forget a single thing.
When I first launched Pet Stories, I knew straight away I wanted pet photography to be my niche. I had a few confused comments from friends and family, “Oh, you’re not doing weddings?”, but pet photography at the time, was, in my eyes, quite outdated. I wasn’t so keen on the studio style shots. I wanted to get out on a walk, visit pets in their homes and ultimately, capture real everyday moments and the parts of pets’ personalities that are so familiar and eventually become cherished memories to have forever.
Q: Tell us a little about your beautiful rescue hound Alan...
Alan’s mum was taken in as a pregnant stray in Cyprus and so Alan was born in a rescue centre. Once named Loco (which explains a lot!) he came to us at 4 months old - a little tornado, that loved to chew and bite everything and anything in sight. Alan loves to be with his pack (me and my other half Nik) and I genuinely couldn’t imagine life without him. He’s almost human-like in his expressions, noises and everyday routine. He’s an adventurous boy and I love nothing more than getting out into the Peak District and exploring the great outdoors. He never strays too far and always holds back and checks in with us. And it goes without saying that he’s a bit of pro poser and he genuinely loves it when I get my camera out. He will happily sit there and work those angles!
Q: What do you enjoy the most about your work?
There are just so many aspects of my job that I adore. Every pet is different which means every shoot is different. I never really know what to expect and I love that. It’s just a fun time for all and I happen to take photos in the process. One thing I absolutely love is I get to experience the favourite walks and parts of the UK, that I never would have come across, if it wasn’t for the pets that enjoy them on a daily basis. It’s such a privilege to be able to share these special and meaningful places.
Another aspect that makes my job so great is seeing how pets make people feel so at ease. I’m a naturally anxious person - so not only do the pets I photograph make me feel instantly relaxed, but I can tell they take away the anxiety and awkwardness for their owners too. There have been occasions where I’ve had a shoot booked for photos of just a pet, but during the shoot, the owner has felt more relaxed and has become open to having photos together with their sidekick. These spontaneous yet natural moments are always the photos my clients love the most and the ones they choose as prints. Just them and their pet, being themselves and having a special moment together.
Q: What does a typical photoshoot involve?
A typical photoshoot involves me either visiting a pet at home or out and about on their favourite walk. This is because I find pets are much more themselves when they are in a familiar place. At the beginning of a shoot, I make a point of having a brew and a chat with the pet’s owner. This action alone, of us just sitting down, means the pet I’m visiting doesn’t get too excited and is calm for the shoot. They quickly lose interest in me, which means I get to blend into the background and capture more genuine moments between pet and owner. Pet Stories shoots are all about capturing people’s lifestyles. So there have even been times when I’ve had the pleasure of joining pet and owners in more unique situations such as, on epic hikes, wild swims or at a favourite coffee shop. Every pet and owner relationship is different and that’s what I want to capture for my clients.
Q: What has been your most favourite shoot? Have there been any funny moments that stick in your mind?
One shoot that comes to mind was at the beginning of the year when Sheffield was experiencing super heavy snow. I put a call out on Instagram asking if anyone wanted to take advantage of the Christmas card scenes for a shoot and was delighted to hear back from the owner of Blanche, a 13 year old rescue whippet. Blanche is the sweetest most gentle little lady and to take her photo was the biggest pleasure. Not only was she a natural to photograph, it was the first time her owners had seen her in the snow. It was just magical. I’ll never forget the moment Blanche did this happy little booty shake in the snow. I’ve never seen a dog do it before! I just feel such a great sense of pride that I got to meet her and take her photo.
The beach shoot we had for Barnaby and Jones will always stay with me too! Quite the extreme opposite to the snow shoot I just described, but they day was just perfect. We were so lucky with glorious sunshine all day and each dog model was perfect in their own way. We had posers, swimmers, paddlers, fetchers. Each dog did their own way of modelling the new Barnaby + Jones. And my favourite part was being able to get in the sea and photograph the surf board dogs. It was a joy to see them in their element and having so much fun. The whole day genuinely felt like a mini holiday and remember thinking at the time that I’m so very lucky that I get to call this work.
Q: What are your top 3 tips for taking photos with dogs?
1.) Don’t use treats. Probably not what you were expecting from a pet photographer but I’ve found that when I involve treats or a squeaky toy on my shoots, dogs tend to get an obsessed, startled and excited look on their face.
2) Be patient. Don’t set out to take a photograph, just watch and wait and capture what’s there. These are always the best photos.
3.) Light! Natural light is your best friend and will always make your photos stand out from the crowd. IF you’re shooting inside, turn the lights off and get as close to a window as possible. If you’re outside, my favourite time to shoot is between 6-9pm (in the Summer). The light is generally softer and so much more detail can be picked up.
Q: We’re in LOVE with all the photos you captured from our recent photoshoot. Do you know the kind of images you want to capture before the day of the shoot? Did everything go to plan?
Thank you! I’m so happy with the outcome. For this shoot I definitely had a vision, and the minute I had received your enquiry, I could see exactly what I was after. The setting for the shoot is one of my all time favourite places and I think knowing it so well, meant I could see it being the perfect back drop for lots of fun beach holiday photos. Everything went to plan apart from I’d banked on getting some shots with an ice cream van which wasn’t there on the day! I think we made up for it with the paddle board shots though ;)
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given or read?
I’m a textbook introvert but every year I set myself a goal that pushes me out of my comfort zone. The Pet Stories Agency is a perfect example of this. When I launched the agency I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to do it. But you learn, you adapt and you just do it! Something I live by is that you are never done learning. This mantra is especially true with being a photographer (and a self-taught one at that). I sometimes feel like photographer’s camera is like an extension of their arm. Sometimes I don’t even realise what I’m doing, my hands just turn the dials and flick the buttons and it’s like a second nature while on a shoot. But there’s still so much for me to learn and the more I use my camera, or the more I push myself with challenging photographic situations, the more my skills will improve. I sometimes fall into the trap of comparing myself to others, but everyone is on their own professional or creative journey. It’s OK to go at your own pace.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve learnt from?
Not really a mistake, but more of a small business life lesson that has come from experience – is that there will always be quiet periods. I used to drive myself crazy and think what have I done, or why does nobody want to invest in my photography? I would then drastically reduce my prices, which I have now learnt isn’t the solution. It’s natural to have quiet periods as a small business and reducing your worth isn’t the answer. And more often than not, those quiet times are counter balanced with absolutely crazy, can’t even catch your breath, super busy months! Which I just love and thrive off!
Q: What keeps you inspired?
The interesting and creative people I meet and have in my life, 100% keep me inspired. I work in an art shop a few days a week and I think there’s something really special about the cross over in different creative practises. I love the conversations and ideas that come from a conversation with (for example) a painter, illustrator or sewing expert. I’m an ideas person and a problem solver and I love that feeling when you’re onto something really special. Getting to chat with creatives from various fields always leads to the best ideas which I believe wouldn’t have been achievable alone.
Quick fire questions:
1. Favourite city - Sheffield!
2. Favourite holiday destination - Porto/Copenhagen/Madrid
3. Favourite food - ALL FOOD
4. Downtime is - a dog walk around our favourite reservoir
5. Something on your ‘bucket’ list - to travel the world meeting and photographing extraordinary pets
6. Top 3 favourite movies
- Isle of Dogs
- Funny Face
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
7. Biggest motivator - becoming a more confident and creative person
8. First career you dreamed of having as a child - fashion designer
9. Choose only 3 adjectives to describe yourself - reserved, sentimental, overthinker
10. If you were a dog, which breed would you be and why?
A Lurcher. They love short bursts of exercise and being outdoors but would also quite happily have a long lie in and a lazy day cozied up at home. Me to a T! :D
Thank you so much Emily, it's been fabulous talking to you! Your work is truly inspiring - we are so delighted to be collaborating with someone who shares our passion and look forward to our next shoot!
If you haven't already, we really recommend following Pet Stories on Instagram HERE. For more information on the services Emily has to offer, head over to the Pet Stories website HERE.
Shop the full Colour Edit HERE.