How to Take the Perfect Picture of a Dog with Taylor Starcher (Episode 16)

How to Take the Perfect Picture of a Dog with Taylor Starcher

Love taking photos of your dog? Want to know how to take the perfect dog picture?

This episode of The Dog Show features Taylor Starcher. Taylor is a freelance photographer specializing in commercial, candid lifestyle, travel, and dog photography with a dedicated Instagram following.

Her photography business, tstarch, works with brands and passionate dog owners to capture stunning moments on location in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In the interview, we talk about how to take the perfect picture of a dog.

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Will: This episode of “The Dog Show” features Taylor Starcher. Taylor is a freelance photographer specializing in commercial, candid lifestyle, travel, and dog photography with a dedicated Instagram following. Her photography business, Tstarch works with brands and passionate dog owners to capture stunning moments on-location in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the interview, we talk about how to take the perfect picture of a dog. So, Taylor, welcome to “The Dog Show” today. Thanks for coming on.

Taylor: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Will: Yeah. Cool. It’s great to have you. So, you’ve been taking beautiful photos of dogs for you know, almost a decade now, so, or maybe a bit longer, but do you have a dog of your own?

Taylor: I do. I actually just adopted a puppy about a couple months ago. He is a five-month-year-old rescue hound dog. So, he’s quite the cutie.

Will: Okay. Okay. And is that your first dog?

Taylor: Yeah. I had dogs growing up with my family, but this is my first dog on my own. So, it’s been an experience. I haven’t had a puppy since I was like 10. So, taking care of a puppy is definitely a lot of work, but it’s been a lot of fun.

Will: Yeah. Definitely. So, I guess you would have got him, you know, right where everything started to happen in the world, right? So, you’ve got a lot of time at home.

Taylor: Yeah. Exactly. And that was the main reason why, I was at home all day. So, I figured, you know, why not get a puppy?

Will: Yeah. Fair enough. What attracted you to the hound dog? Was it because it was a rescue and you wanted to help, like just an opportunity popped up or was it the breed that was interesting?

Taylor: Yeah. My family actually has a hound dog, but mainly someone had posted in the Humane Society where I’m from and they had a litter that was only like six weeks old, they needed adopted. And I thought they’re pretty cute, might as well. So, I got to meet them via FaceTime and then went up and picked them when they were eight weeks old. So, yeah.

Will: Nice. So, actually, this is an interesting question which might catch you a bit off guard, what’s the…in terms of like getting a new puppy and I remember the experience quite vividly when I first applied for my first dog. As you said, it’s a bit of a shock. You don’t expect a lot of the requirements that come with it. Yeah. What was the biggest thing for you that you just didn’t expect to happen?

Taylor: I guess this was something I knew was going to happen, but the hardest part was just the potty training. Like, I mean, I live in an apartment on the fourth floor and I knew it would be difficult kind of getting him from my apartment to the elevator all the way down. But we’ve had some accidents in the hallway and in the elevator that I didn’t really think would happen, but yeah, he’s way better now. And we did the pee pads where he’d go out on the balcony in case of emergencies, but I guess I didn’t expect how frequent accidents would happen on a quick walk to the elevator.

Will: Yeah. Yeah. They need to go quite a lot, don’t they, especially as puppies. So he’s going okay now, he’s kind of potty-trained and yeah…

Taylor: Yeah.

Will: Okay. That’s good.

Taylor: He’s learning a lot better. We’ve been able to go home and see my family in Pennsylvania. So, he’s had a yard to play in and kind of understand that the grass is where to go.

Will: That’s nice. Yeah. I guess the apartment living makes it extra hard, isn’t it, for that potty training initially. Because you don’t have somewhere where they can just walk out and go. But what is it about the…like I’m not that familiar with hound dogs, to be honest. So what is it about that dog breed? Is there something unique about them that people wouldn’t know or something that you really love about them?

Taylor: I definitely think unique-wise their nose is incredible. I mean, they can smell things so far away and it’s a pro and a con. Con can be they’ll follow their nose wherever. So, you get them off the leash and they get a scent of something and they are gone. But it is really crazy. I mean, I’ll put a treat in another room and he’ll sniff it out in a couple of like seconds. So, really, their nose is very strong.

Will: That’s cool. I guess for you as a photographer, if you’re like going on a hike or exploring with him, maybe he might take you to places you never thought of finding, right?

Taylor: That’s very true. Yeah. If he’s off-leash he’ll end up in the middle of the woods.

Will: Yeah. That’s cool. So how did you get into doing photography, and I guess dog photography as well, like what brought you into the industry?

Taylor: Yeah. So, when I was around 10, my grandpa loved to travel and loved to take pictures and he gave me my first camera and we kind of traveled all over the U.S. together as a family and did a lot of landscape and travel photography is kind of my first passion into the industry. And then as I kind of, you know, kept getting better, I photographed our family’s dogs for fun. And I love people, I just don’t necessarily love people’s photography. And I wanted to do something where it was a full-time job. And so I started photographing my friend’s dogs and other family member’s dogs and then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, which is a very big dog city and kind of built this like social media for it and it kind of blew up. And so, yeah, it was pretty cool and I started doing that full-time for people that just wanted to photograph their dogs and ended up working with some brands, and then it progressed from there. I worked with more and more brands and they’d send me products and, you know, I’d message locals and say, “Hey, can we just set up a photoshoot with some products that I’ll throw in there? You get to keep all the pictures.” And yeah, it’s been really, really fun for me.

Will: That’s cool. I can definitely resonate with that, you know, like the human versus dog photos, right? Because there’s something about dogs, which I guess is just…to anyone that’s a dog lover, like they see a beautiful photo of a dog making an expression or doing something and it’s like, they’re immediately attracted to that. There’s some sort of connection because they just love dogs. So, it wouldn’t be the same if you just saw a photo of someone you didn’t know, right?

Taylor: Exactly. Dogs, I mean, they just have this way of this universal connection with people. So, I think, yeah, anyone seeing a dog on their feet is not going to be upset.

Will: Especially your photos, I must say. Your fade is like absolutely stunning. So, I don’t know anything about photography, so forgive me if I’m not using the proper technical terms, but like the vibrant colors and like the crisp, natural lighting that you have in your photos is like, it catches your attention straight away. Like on your website, you’ve got the portfolio page where it’s like all the pup photos, I think that’s how you call them. And like just scrolling through that page, it’s like getting lost in an Instagram feed, right? It’s amazing. So, I guess somehow you figured out how to take these beautiful photos of dogs and got better and better at it over time, but what is it that makes the perfect dog photo? Like if I want to take a photo of my dog or, you know, any of the dog owners out there, like how do you take a great photo of a dog?

Taylor: I will say as much as I’ve seen great iPhone pictures of dogs, and especially there are dogs that are famous on social media for just getting posed with products and stuff, the shutter speed of a camera makes all the difference in terms of just getting that perfect shot because I can take a couple of hundred photos and you get that perfect one of it eating the treat or licking something or jumping in the air. So, I will say that’s the trick is to get that perfect shot. But I have told people, I mean, if you want to get that perfect shot and your dog is treat-motivated, that is my number one recommendation is to have their favorite treat, preferably probably something strong-smelling that they’re going to really want to get. And even if they’re not trained to say their stay, they’ll normally listen to you a lot better if you have a treat in your hand and you’re holding it above the camera, or, you know, you go throw it and then you photograph them if they come back or vice versa. So, treats are…yeah, that’s like the number one thing. Every photoshoot I go to, I always have some sort of treat for the dog to know that they’ll get some if they listen.

Will: Yeah, that’s funny. When we try and take photos of our dog, we do use treats, but she does this thing where it’s almost like she doesn’t want to look at the treat because she thinks she won’t get it or something like that. So, it’s a bit of a challenge of like having the treat in the right spot where she’s not looking, but she’s still looking at the camera.

Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. I always put it right above my lens so they’re normally looking right at the lens, but they’re actually looking right at the treat because they really want it. So, yeah. For sure.

Will: What about other elements? Like how do you get like the right lighting for a photo and that kind of stuff?

Taylor: That’s another thing. You know, I tell people, if you do indoor, I don’t typically do many indoor photoshoots. And if I do, there’s always a huge window or some sort of natural light source because that’s the key in terms of just being able to edit and brighten them and really showcase the product with the dog’s face or whatever. But I always tell people, outdoors is probably the way to go, whether it’s a park or your backyard, or even on the street, you know, like I live in a city and we just have a lot of sidewalks and everything down there. But yeah, outdoor lighting is…even if it’s not sunny, I think people think if it’s cloudy, you won’t get a good photo, but especially if you’re doing post-editing, you can so easily increase your exposure a little bit, add a little color, and the photo looks a lot better. So, yeah, I’d say natural light is always a go-to for a good photo.

Will: Yeah, of course. Yeah. Just like ads for whatever reason it is, it just like brings out all the features, doesn’t it, when you get a nice photo in the natural light. What are some common mistakes that people might make when they’re just taking photos of their dogs or just taking photos in general, if they’re not, you know, a professional like you?

Taylor: Yeah. I think the number one thing I always say before photoshoots is take your dog for some sort of walk. Like even if it’s just around the block or you play with them in the house or something because it’s very…especially if you’re in, you know, like a smaller space for the photoshoot, like if you’re in the city and they have to be on a leash, I cannot recommend wearing them out a little bit because…I can recommend that because if they have a ton of energy, they’re not gonna want to sit still and get their picture taken. So, I think like kind of getting all that energy out and then letting them cool off and whatever is the perfect time to snoop in there and get some photos. And yeah, like if they’re sleeping, that’s also prime time because they’re probably going to just be relaxed and you can sneak up in there with your phone and get some cute photos. But yeah, I definitely think energy level is good if you’re in a huge park, but if you’re going to be somewhere where they’re on leash and they want to play with all the squirrels or talk to all the people or whatever, you definitely want to try to get some of that energy out.

Will: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Keeping them still. Because this is probably going to be, depending on where you’re taking the photos, there’s probably gonna be a lot of stimulation around, right? Unless…

Taylor: Oh my God. Yeah. For sure. It gets crazy.

Will: Yeah. So, I guess that might lead us into my next question. What’s like the funniest story you’ve got from a dog photoshoot or the silliest story?

Taylor: Yeah. No, it’s so funny because, I mean, you really see the dog’s personality every time, but I think some of the funniest ones are when the dog decides to bolt to chase a squirrel or a person or another dog, and then we all go running after it and we’re trying the treats. And even if the leash is on, the owner might not have been looking and leash gets yanked away. But I photographed some older dogs that by the end of the photoshoot, they did not want to move. They just were laying down and they were like, “I’m done. This has been fun, but it’s time for me to take a nap.” So, yeah, definitely by the end, dogs are…they’re ready. They’re like, “All right, this has been good, but I’ve got time to just take a little nap.” So, yeah. Those have been some funny times.

Will: Is it usually you and the owner or like other people like with the dog?

Taylor: Yeah. It’s typically, normally just one person, but sometimes like if it’s a husband and wife with their dog or something, they’ll both come. But it’s very helpful… I think another misconception is people think I just have the dog by myself and I do all of this. It’s very helpful when the owner comes because they truly know everything about their dog and they know, hey, my dog, isn’t going to sit and stay or they’ll talk to their dog in their special little ways. So, that’s very helpful when the owner is there to help me out.

Will: Yeah. And you need to focus on taking the photos, right? Otherwise, it’s like, if the dog’s running off and…

Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. Because I’ll tell them, I’ll be like, “Okay, you hold the treat here and I’m going to just take some photos.” And I love some of the owners will get in with their dog and play with them a bit. And those turn out great too. So, yeah.

Will: Yeah. You must’ve seen and been exposed to so many different breeds as well. Like is there any strange breeds that you’ve photographed or is there any breeds that you probably wouldn’t want to like after photographing, maybe you don’t want to have them anymore?

Taylor: Honestly, I mean, I’ve been lucky, every dog I’ve photographed has been very sweet. There’s been a few that don’t want their photo taken. They kind of don’t care about me, but I think I can work that to an advantage because I kind of let them play or do something on their own and I just sneak around taking photos of them. But yeah, growing up, I was exposed to a ton of different dogs from my family to all of my friends. So, I think I’m pretty used to some weird breeds. I photographed a very large like Husky type dog in Charlotte, and it’s about 90 degrees every day lately. And he was exhausted by the end of the photoshoot because he’s, you know, accustomed to the colder weather. So, yeah, I think that was interesting to try to keep him hydrated, but be able to do it for the duration of the shoot.

Will: Yeah. Like they just got so much fur, don’t they?

Taylor: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Will: Yeah. So, if people that are listening to the show today could take away one, you know, major tip about dog photography, or taking photos of their dog. What would you recommend?

Taylor: I would recommend the treats, being outside, getting some of that energy out. And I guess like even if it’s not a picture-perfect photo, I really do say this to people all the time, it’s so important to capture those memories because, you know, we want our dogs to live as long as us and sadly they don’t. And I think having those photos and videos of them truly is so important and something that you can look back on forever. So, even if you feel like it’s not the perfect photo, I keep taking pictures of them because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, you know.

Will: Yeah. That’s a great point. I think that must be the number one reason that people create photo albums or, you know, take photos of their dogs and stuff because, you know, inevitably they’re not going to live as long as us, which is a sad thing.

Taylor: I know. I wish they could live for 100 years. It’d be an awesome life.

Will: Okay. So, I want to hear a bit more about your photography business. So, you’re based in Charlotte, right?

Taylor: Correct.

Will: So, you work with dog brands and other brands, but also dog owners. So, what would it look like if I wanted to get, you know, some photos of my dog taken with you, you know, what would that process look like?

Taylor: Yeah. So, since my Instagram has been my primary source of recognition, and meeting people, and stuff like that, I normally have people message me or they can go on my website and shoot me an email and we can discuss like where they’re looking for location, how long of a session they’re looking for, you know, if they want their family involved, if they want just their dog. So, I definitely point people to either my website or Instagram. But yeah, I mean, I’m totally up for whatever. So, I’m always like message me, if it’s a crazy idea, we can work with it. And yeah, that’s normally how it goes.

Will: So, I guess brands or businesses would be getting photos done for like social media, or their marketing, or maybe their website, or something like that. What are some of the reasons that an owner might get some photos taken?

Taylor: Yeah. Like an owner of…just an owner of a dog?

Will: A dog. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Taylor: Yeah. So, mainly, I’ve had people come to me just because, I mean, it’s hilarious. I’ve had some dog influencers who have 70,000-plus on Instagram and they are like, “Hey, we actually, this is his business. We need to get constant content.” And so, they want…like in Charlotte, we have all these beautiful murals and just very pretty areas. So, we’ll walk around the city and get some of these really cool backdrops. And that’s really fun for me because when I, you know, see them posting about it and they’re legit businesses advertising their dog. But other reasons are yeah, they want these memories and especially some of the owners want to be in them and remember their dog. And I’ve worked from puppies all the way to, you know, very old dogs that their owners are like, “We don’t know how much longer they have to live.” So, they’re really important for them. So, it’s very fun for me.

Will: Yeah. That’s cool. Okay. So, where can everyone find out more about what you’re doing? You spoke a lot about Instagram, I know you’ve got a couple of different pages, but where’s the best place for people to go?

Taylor: Yeah. For Instagram, my username is tstarchdog and my website is just So, that’s the best place I can send people and then they can kind of go from there in terms of my photos, so.

Will: Yeah. Perfect. Well, I’ll definitely share those in the show notes because everyone really needs to check out, especially your Instagram feed because it’s like you get lost in it for days.

Taylor: It is a lot of fun. I love it. It’s a good job.

Will: Cool. So, Taylor, thanks so much for coming on “The Dog Show” today. It’s been a pleasure.

Taylor: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

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