“Dog Photographer” definitely isn’t a career you hear about every day! Finding my way to creating Dogs of MKE, and discovering my love for dog portrait photography, has been an adventure. And I’m so grateful for it. From discovering a hobby and exploring Milwaukee, to building a business, I’ve learned a lot along the way! Here’s my story.
I’m originally from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Believe it or not, I didn’t get my degree in dog photography! I attended the University of Iowa and became a Labor and Delivery nurse. When I moved to Milwaukee, I continued my work as a nurse for a few years before deciding it was time for a change.
I enjoy fitness, and I began teaching classes at The Barre Code’s first Milwaukee-area studio, downtown. As plans for a Brookfield location were underway, I was given opportunities to lead more classes and take on new roles with additional work. Boy, was I busy!
Around that time, I also started walking dogs and dog sitting in my free time. Not only did those services provide me with additional income, but I got to spend time with a lot of lovable pups! I worked with many dogs, all with different personalities and temperaments. I learned a lot about handling and taking care of them, too. Plus, I got to explore Milwaukee with furry friends and discover all of the city’s quirks, character, and beauty.
I’ve always liked taking pictures, so when Betsy gave me my first camera, I was excited! Not only would the camera be great for the social media content I created for The Barre Code, but I could explore photography as a hobby and give it a try.
I started telling people about my interest in taking pictures, and I got some great advice: just keep practicing. I started photographing everything. I mean, everything! From the dogs I walked to shampoo bottles (really!), I snapped away. Over time, I taught myself tricks and techniques to capture great shots.
To hold myself accountable and commit to becoming a better photographer, I made a rule for myself: I would take at least one picture every day. Inspired by the @HumansOfNewYork Instagram account and my love for Milwaukee photography with dogs I walked, I had the idea to create @DogsOfMKE.
At first, photographing dogs was a way for me to keep practicing with my camera. I would take pictures of dogs and their humans in front of a Milwaukee location, with my only request being that the location mean something to the owners. I had a lot of experience with social media, thanks to my work with The Barre Code, and I wanted to have some posts prepared before launching my Instagram account.
Over the course of a few months, I photographed my friends’ dogs and dog-walking clients. It was so much fun! When I had my first six posts ready, @DogsOfMKE went live. It was no time before my post about George, a handsome Boston Terrier, was reposted by @DearMKE. This led to me getting a ton of new followers and a lot of great exposure!
I started getting emails from Milwaukeeans who wanted me to take pictures of their dogs. At first, I did it for free! I enjoyed it so much and was just happy to have the opportunity to take more pictures of dogs. The demand for my photos went up and up as I juggled multiple jobs. I realized that my pet project–pun intended–had the potential to become a business. I decided to go for it, start charging for my services, and dive into my dog portrait photography career!
Like I mentioned, I learned about photography by doing it. I’m a self-taught photographer, and I’m proud of that! When I first started taking pictures, YouTube and Google were my best friends. I watched videos, found tutorials, and figured it out along the way. Early on, I invested in photography courses, too. But the best education I’ve gotten is practice.
Teaching myself hasn’t always made things easy, though! My DSLR camera has a bunch of useful settings, but for a while, I used a lens that didn’t autofocus. Imagine, photographing dogs on the move, and manually adjusting my lens along the way. Facepalm. I did that for a long time! And while I wish I’d have known better back then, I appreciate that skill now as a more experienced photographer.
When I was first getting started, I wanted so badly to get as much experience as I could. I would take any Milwaukee photography job that I could to improve my skills. I learned pretty quickly to turn down any opportunity that wasn’t my niche, though. Taking pictures of dogs is what I’m great at and what I love doing. And while turning down opportunities felt a little weird at first, focusing on my niche is ultimately what’s best for my clients and me. So from family portraits and engagement sessions to maternity shoots and baby announcements, as long as you include your dog in your photos, I’m your girl!
Looking back on the journey that brought me to where I am today, there were quite a few times I took a leap to try something new. Leaving my nursing career, teaching myself to become a photographer, and starting this business were big moves. But I’ve been confident each step of the way. I truly believe that if you have an idea you’re confident in, and that you can stand behind 100%, you can accomplish anything!
Taking photos of Milwaukee dogs is my favorite thing to do, and I’m excited to see what the future holds. I’d like to take Dogs of MKE on the road to explore other Midwest cities and photograph the dogs that live in them. Dogs of MKE merchandise is also fun to create, and I’m excited about new products we have in the works!
At the end of the day, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to meet so many amazing Milwaukeeans and their dogs, and to create a business I am so incredibly passionate about!
Want me to take pictures of your dog? You can learn more about booking a session here.