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Capturing your pet's unique personality: Chantal Sammons Photography

Based in Whitby, photographer Chantal Sammons has a true talent for capturing your pet's unique personality in every photo. She works with your furry family member to capture their essence and create photographic memories for you to cherish forever. We're super excited to learn more about this local photographer and her passion for pet photography in this week's Vendor Spotlight!

Tell us your story! How did Chantal Sammons Photography begin?

I was in the corporate world for 14 years and realized that I needed more of an outlet for creativity. I picked up my first DSLR camera in 2015 (thanks to my husband), and never wanted to put it down. I am completely self-taught, thanks to the internet, and started like many other photographers, shooting landscapes and wildlife, but always adding in the occasional image of my dogs. As I started to focus more on pets, I started receiving more encouragement from friends and family, enough so that I decided to take the leap and venture into the pet photography business. I figured that life is short and you should do what you are passionate about! I am also part of the Oshawa Camera Club which focuses on training through the generosity of guest speakers and four photography competitions throughout the year.

I am currently owned by a Great Dane named Gus. He has become my amazing test model and muse for all new ideas and background colours. He’ll even start pouting if I’m going into my studio without him - it’s so cute!

Are there any photographers whose work has influenced you the most?

There are two main photographers that have inspired me on my journey towards pet photography. The first is German photographer Elke Vogelsang (aka Wieselblitz), who does amazing commercial work and has an exceptional ability to bring out the goofiness of dogs and cats. You can’t help but smile or laugh when looking at her photography.  The second is UK-based photographer, Jessica McGovern. She is the owner of That Photography Spot which is an amazing resource for training and inspiration. She is also an International Award Winning photographer, mainly for her outdoor dog photography images.

What’s your favourite part of being a photographer?

I find photography very rewarding. It’s a special moment captured for a lifetime. An image is not just a picture of something, it is the emotion of that captured moment and the emotion that it brings to the person viewing it. 

Who doesn’t love spending their days working with dogs and cats? Everyday I am thankful I get to do what I love. I get to capture the unique personalities of each pet, giving their owners a memory to cherish forever and, as an added bonus, owners can take an image and make it into a one-of-a-kind piece of art for their home or office. 

There is so much emotion wrapped up in each pet. They can be so regal one moment, and the next, a complete goofball. Taking pictures of dogs catching treats has to be one of my favourites (see image of Tucker below). Some of the looks you can capture are just amazing.

With my photography, I am also able to help out those pets in need of a forever home by working with rescues to photograph those who are up for adoption, donating photography sessions to help raise money, among other things.

You have a talent for capturing the unique personalities of the pets you photograph. How are you able to do that so well? What’s your process like?

The key to photographing pets is to make sure they are comfortable, letting them get used to their new surroundings and not forcing them to do anything they would not want to do. Let them be who they are. Once they are comfortable, their unique personalities come out. It’s always best to get down to their level when taking their picture. I spend most of my time on the floor, even on my stomach, depending on the size of the animal. A little bribery helps out as well. My go-tos are liver treats and peanut butter.

What would you say makes a good photograph?

To me, a good image gives the viewer an instant emotion and can be thought provoking. It should be more than just something pretty. It should make you laugh, cry, or swoon! 

Can you recall and share any interesting stories about some of the sessions you’ve had?

My sessions vary with each pet that comes to my studio, from young puppies to end of life, and very fearful rescues to happy-go-lucky dogs. I have been showered with kisses, covered in drool and fur, and have also been brought to tears. 

One session that stands out recently is Diesel the Frenchie, a rescue with no use of his back legs and who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. This boy was simply amazing - so happy with life even with all that he had been through. You almost would never know he didn’t have the use of his back legs with how well he ran around the studio. He just loved his moment in front of the camera. An instagram fan of his sent him a great batman costume which his mom brought with her to the photoshoot. As his mom stated, "Why just be a dog, when you can be a batdog!” It’s a great reminder that no matter what life throws at you, you can do anything you set your mind to.

What are some of your favorite photos you’ve taken? Can you share the backstory behind them?

Here are three of my favourite images:

Wally the Brittany Spaniel - Wally’s parents had informed me that when he was a puppy, he somehow had gotten a splinter in his eye. After removal of the splinter, a scar was left behind. This image of Wally shows his unique scar and how beautiful little imperfections can be.

Leroy the French Bulldog - Leroy was very skeptical about the whole photoshoot ordeal but that just made for interesting images. He always kept an eye on me.

Gus the Great Dane (my boy) - As noted, my boy Gus is my muse and just loves being in front of the camera. As part of his personality, I wanted to highlight the fact that he likes to sing and howl. His squeaky toys are there so he can get the proper “pitch” to start his singing. This composite image I created helps to showcase his singing abilities.

What kinds of service  packages do you offer? What can clients expect when hiring you?

For every client that comes through my doors, I work to create an experience. While their pet is having their photos taken, the clients of studio sessions get to see images come up on a tv in real time. They also get to see their pet for the supermodel that they are as they strut their stuff in front of the camera. Depending on the pet, the owners are also brought into the process to help out with the pet’s focus.

I have two packages to choose from and during the Christmas season, add in a third mini package: 

Studio Sessions include a 45 minute photoshoot with a choice of 2 background colours, 20 edited watermarked proofs which can be used on social media, and 4 high resolution images. 

Outdoor Sessions include a 1 hour photoshoot at a location of your choice within the Durham Region or GTA, 20 edited watermarked proofs, and 4 high resolution images. 

Christmas Mini Photoshoots include a 20 minute photoshoot with a choice of Christmas background, 5 edited watermarked proofs which can be used on social media, and 1 high resolution image. A portion of the proceeds received goes towards a rescue organization. 

With all packages, clients have options to purchase additional high resolution images as well as canvas prints and regular prints, available on my website.

What’s more popular, outdoor sessions or in-studio sessions? Which do you prefer?

I concentrate more on in-studio sessions rather than outdoor sessions as they tend to be easier on the pets. With in-studio sessions, your pet does not need to have any training. If they don’t know how to sit, stay, or lay down, that is no problem. Outdoor sessions tend to have a lot more happening around us which makes it harder and more overwhelming for the pet to focus on what they are being asked to do.

Can you share what gear you use (and other essential items) when doing a shoot?

As a photographer, my brand preference is the Canon line of products. I am currently using a Canon R6 mirrorless camera paired with a 17 to 40 mm lens. I quite like a wide angle lens for studio sessions as it adds just a bit of warping to the image to help emphasize the goofiness of our pets. As pets are ever-moving, when shooting in a studio, flashes are a necessity. A flash or two or three, helps to freeze motion that much better which is great especially for images where dogs are catching treats, which are some of my favourite. With an outdoor shoot, you can easily use natural light and a variety of different lens focal lengths.

What are you most proud of in your business journey and career so far?

Being a part of the pet industry, particularly as a photographer, I am very happy to be able to help out pet rescues. Each Christmas season, I donate a portion of the funds raised from our Christmas mini photoshoots, to a dog rescue. I also donate studio sessions for fundraising efforts to rescues, as well as take pictures of animals looking for their forever home in the hopes that it helps them get adopted. Most recently, I have been working with Ruff Start New Beginnings Rescue in support of two of their dogs, Wiley and Bruce, who are in their care and in need of a forever home.

Do you have any advice for emerging or amateur photographers out there wishing to change their passion into a full time profession?

For any photographers out there thinking of making that transition from free to paid work, my advice would be to utilize social media and the people around you. Start taking pictures of others’ pets for free to help build your portfolio. Facebook is also a great resource for critique of your images. There are many groups on social media that allow you to post your images for comment and critique. This can be invaluable information to help you figure out your style and fine tune your craft. Photography is an art form that is always evolving. There is always something new to learn as we all grow in the field of photography we have chosen. 

At Shop Durham Region we believe our business community is stronger together. What are a few of your favourite Durham-based businesses?

As I meet more small business owners in Durham, I am just in awe of everyone. I feel so privileged to be a part of this great community as I find inspiration everyday in what they do.

You can find Chantal Sammons Photography on the Shop Durham Region Online Marketplace as well as on their official website. If you want to swoon over the cutest pet portraits, check them out on Instagram (@chantal_sammons) and Facebook (Chantal Sammons Photography) too!