Today I would like to welcome Kat Humble from Pawprints Photography for the very first Pet Hooligan Interview.
1. Firstly, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about where you are based, for example in which country and part of that country?
My name is Kat Humble and I’m a Texan based in the North East of England, near Newcastle upon Tyne. I moved here to marry my husband (we met online) fourteen years ago.
2. Please tell us a little about the nature of your art/craft.
3. What first interested you in your craft?
I’ve always been animal-mad! My first word was, “Meow.” No, seriously, ask my mother.When I was six, I discovered that lots of animal shelters put animals down after only a few days. This upset me tremendously, so my mother sat me down and helped me write a letter to (and here’s my age giveaway!) President Ford asking him why. I received a letter about a month later with a sensitive explanation regarding the subject and a photo of the White House dog. I first started taming ferals at ten, when I discovered a wild cat colony in back of our house. I learned a lot about animal rescue, cats in particular, very quickly and have been involved in one way or another ever since. I got my first camera at the age of eleven and, since I was animal-mad, it only seemed natural to take pictures of what I loved most. My cocker spaniel KC and my ginger tabby TC were wonderfully patient about the whole thing.
4. Did you have any formal training or have you learnt by yourself as you have gone along?
I’ve got no formal training; photography is a technical craft, but it is definitely one which you can study on your own. There are many excellent books and tutorials available, so all it takes is practice, patience and a lot of hard work. However, I was immensely lucky to have married a man who was incredibly technically proficient, so he has taught me a great deal about the way cameras work, which really helps when you are trying to achieve a certain look. There is so much to know and so many different types of photography that there is always something new to learn.
5. How did the idea for your business/website come about?
To be perfectly honest, it was a fluke. All I was looking to do was volunteer for my local animal rescue, Pawz for Thought. My sister-in-law had mentioned that their web site could do with some better photos, so I printed out some samples and took it by their charity shop. After about a year or so of having fosterers tell me I should go into business, I started thinking, “Well, maybe I should!”
6. How long now have you been established?
It’s been two years now since it’s become a business, though I spent a good year or so building up a portfolio of my work before that.
7. How do you find inspiration and where do you locate your materials/subjects?
Okay, I know this is going to sound twee, but it’s true, I find my inspiration in the face of every animal I sit on my table. My job is to get them to relax and be themselves so that the camera can capture their personalities. When that happens, it shows in their faces.
8. Do you undertake your business/website on a full-time basis or are you also working whilst you get it up and running?
I am currently only taking the occasional job as I have been recovering from cancer treatment. I am hoping to be back to full time by the holiday season and have shows booked starting in late September.
9. Tell us a little about your typical day and what is involved in running the business/website.
It really depends on what sort of shoot I’ve got scheduled. A private shoot takes an hour or so, but a show can take the whole day or even two days. For a private shoot, I need to make sure all my gear is packed, charged, cleaned and ironed the day before. When I schedule a shoot, I ask the client to take their dog for a nice long walk beforehand or make sure their cat is in the house or give the rabbit/hamster/rat/etc a groom, whatever is appropriate. When I arrive, I like to have the animal in another room so that hauling in the equipment doesn’t scare them. Plus it’s much safer to be setting up heavy and/or delicate equipment without pets darting about underfoot. Once the stage is set and the camera is ready, I spend some time getting to know the animal. With dogs, this generally means a few biscuits and ear scritchies. With cats, it can mean anything from baby cuddles to tempting him out from under the sofa with tuna. Cats are the most challenging of the domestic animals, but I do find them the most rewarding usually.
So, once the pet is happy with me being there, I see if they are willing to get on the posing table. Some will, some won’t. If they won’t, we pull the table out and get down on the floor. Harder on my back, but my primary goal is to make sure they are as relaxed as possible. I have an assortment of whistles and noisemakers to attract attention, this is to get them to look at the camera. I know that sounds simplistic, but a lot of animals want to look at their owners, not me. The noise has the added bonus of putting some funny looks on their faces. Always good!
I generally have about four to six poses for each animal and I usually end up taking around ten photos on a basic shoot. I try to work as quickly as possible because animals get bored very easily and often turn fractious after about ten minutes. Obviously there are exceptions, like my cat Pixel, who would rather have her photo taken than just about anything else. After the photos are done, we pack up the equipment and go home to edit. I then put the photos on my website where the client can choose which ones they want printed and I then put together the CD, screen saver, prints and key ring. The editing can sometimes take a couple of days, depending on how many photos I took, how much editing they need and how much else is going on. Putting the package together generally takes under an hour. Then it’s either posted or hand-delivered to the client.
Shows are a very different affair. We generally get up at the crack of dawn, re-check everything we packed the night before (I find inventory lists an essential!) and then grab a good breakfast because we often don’t have a chance to eat during the day. Once at the site, we unload, pitch the marquee if it’s an outdoor show, set up the tables, printer, laptops, backdrops, etc and make sure we check in with the organiser. Once everything is set up, I leave the hubby in charge of the setup and I go out to hand out cards and let people know we’re there. I take a big pouch of treats and it’s generally empty by the time I get back. I love that bit! By that time, people are usually ready for the show and know their schedules, so the ones who are free come round to start asking about photos. We have a sign up sheet with numbered tickets to dispense when it’s a really busy show and if it’s a small show, people usually just drink their tea and chat until it’s their turn. Every show is different, but I’ve rarely had time to finish a cup of tea at one.
At shows, what people want are prints. A memento of their baby winning the red ribbon, or blue, or anything. That means we do the editing and print out photos on the spot. There’s no time for refinement, so we have to make sure that the backdrops are completely wrinkle-free, that there are no bits of dog biscuits on paws or snout, that people haven’t stood in front of the flashes or have their hands on collars. I can do a private shoot by myself. A show needs anywhere from two to six. We get the animals up on the table, make them look cute, snap and edit. If we aren’t fast, the clients lose interest or have to be somewhere else. Now, that’s quite disheartening I know, so here are the good points – you know how when you go to dog or cat shows and you see all those gorgeous animals and you just want to snuggle them all and you’re not allowed to because you might muss their fur or give them something? I get to. It’s in my job description. I come home covered in fur and slobbery kisses.
10. What advice would you give to others who are considering running a craft based business/website?
- Have a good chunk of money saved up to tide you over or have a life partner with a decent job who doesn’t mind being the only wage-earner for a while. Worrying about money stifles creativity.
- If your craft depends on certain equipment, have back ups of them and take them to your shows. You can’t go home to get the spare if something breaks at a show.
- Learn how to do your own website to save money, but do it properly, take a class and study good web sites. If you’re not good at it, please hire a professional. A professionally done website is expensive, but a poorly done homemade one will drive away the punters before they even look at what you’re selling.
- Don’t be afraid to charge what you are worth! I’ve met so many crafters and artisans who were charging pennies over what their gear cost to make because they were afraid people wouldn’t buy it otherwise. If you are that nervous, do a few charity sales first. Once you have a few shows, exhibits, fairs, etc where people gush over your stuff and bite your hand off to buy them, you will be more confident. Remember, if they could do it themselves, they wouldn’t need to pay you.
11. How do you sell your wares – through craft fairs etc or through your own website and or Etsy or other shops. Please let us have the links to these.
12. Finally, if people want to learn more about your business/website do you have a Facebook page or Twitter profile where they can learn more?
My main web site* is http://pawprints.humblehouse.co.uk
My Cafe Press* shop is http://www.cafepress.co.uk/PawprintsPhoto
Pawz for Thought’s web site is http://www.pawzforthought.org
Pawz for Thought’s Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/reqs.php#!/pages/Pawz-for-thought/29860956909?ref=ts
*A quick note about the web site – I was in the middle of revamping it when I got too ill to continue, so it’s rather a mess right now. I will be getting it finished over the next month. The Cafe Press shop is in the same spot as well, so while it looks rather bare now, much more will be ready to go up over the next couple of months.