Meet the Suffolk man who photographs dogs all day
- Credit: Archant
Prior to becoming a dog photographer, Nigel Wallace worked in telecommunications and was also a target rifle shooter at a professional level.
Nigel Wallace, of Mildenhall, might just have the best job in the world. Originally from Essex, the former Olympic marksman has spent the last two years building his successful dog photography business. He explains his love of dogs, why he’s not afraid to get muddy on the job and how he manages to capture that perfect shot time and time again.
“I’ve always loved dogs,” explained Nigel. “But I’ve only ever had one, which is the one we’ve got now - a Border Collie named Darcy. We got her just under seven years ago, and it was a case of needing to make sure I was at home enough before we got her, so this is why we’ve only had the one.”
Finally having a dog of his own to dote over, Nigel quickly began to take photos of Darcy whenever the family took her out for walks – and it was then he realised he could make something more of his shots.
“I was still working for BT at the time, but I’ve always been a photographer, and I’ve always had a camera with me, for one reason or another. When we took Darcy for walks, I’d always take photos of her and I thought this is something I’d really like to do, but the opportunity wasn’t there in terms of being able to make it a full-time job.”
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One thing eventually led to another and that opportunity finally came, when Nigel’s employer at the time offered him an early retirement package following a planned restructure of the company.
“BT was looking to reorganise, and wanted me to travel quite considerably within in my role. I felt it wasn’t for me, so I was lucky enough to be offered a package to leave, which finally gave me the chance to actually put all of my efforts into what I love doing, which is taking photos of dogs.”
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As the stars aligned, Nigel finally took the plunge into becoming his own boss, and business has been booming ever since.
“It was one of those decisions that was very easy to make and I haven’t looked back. It has grown quite well over the past 18 months, and has continued to grow. Instead of being in my office 10 hours a day, I’m now meeting loads of people and all of their dogs - it’s just great.”
So what exactly happens on a dog photoshoot, and how does Nigel ensure he snaps that picture-perfect moment every time?
“Someone will contact me, so I’ll give them a call and we’ll have an introductory chat about the dog. I’ll come up with some suggestions, or if they’ve got a specific location in mind, that’s fine. Dogs like to be in an environment they know.”
With a number locations right on Nigel’s doorstep, he’s certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a prime photography spot – with some of his favourites including Thetford Forest, Brandon Country Park, Mildenhall Forest and West Stow. “There’s just so much woodland and countryside around that it creates for a really nice, unique environment - and somewhere the dogs love to be in.”
Once Nigel and the client meet on location, it’s all about the dog, and making sure everyone’s having a good time so the camera can capture the most natural and candid shots of the pooch.
“We’ll just take the dog for a walk, and have a good explore and chat, and then at the right times, I’ll set up portrait shoots, or running shots where I’m lying on the ground and the dog is running straight at me. Their ears are up and they’re in full flight - it’s just brilliant. We can also do jump shots, where I’ll find an old tree log and capture the dog mid-flight. I like to get a real mix of different scenarios that we create as we go around on the photoshoot. The dogs are having so much fun, they sometimes won’t even know I’m there.”
While each shoot generally takes between one and two hours, Nigel says he wants both client and dog to have a good time, and there’s no rush whatsoever to get that perfect shot.
“I like to get the owners involved in the shoot, and I never clock watch - my time is the client’s time. I also always make sure the health and safety of the dog are top priority. If the customer is happy for the dog to be off the lead, I make sure I know the location we’re at, what dogs are around and that if we’re shooting near where a road is, we move away from it. At any time, the own can put the dog back on the lead if they need to.”
Nigel only takes photos outdoors, and as he doesn’t rely on studios or artificial lighting, he has his favourite times of day to shoot – preferring to get the dogs out during the morning and afternoon, in order to avoid the harsh light that can come with shooting in the middle of the day.
“You always get the nicest light at either the beginning or towards the end of the day. At this time of year especially, between 9.30am and 10am, you get a nice, soft, golden light coming through, and it really picks up in the autumn leaves which look stunning at the moment.”
With Britain being a nation of proud dog lovers, it’s no surprise that Nigel has worked with a number of clients who wish to have professional photos taken of their pets for a myriad of reasons. These include dogs who may be approaching those final years, or owners who wish to capture a puppy’s earliest moments.
“We take photos of the pup when it’s just a few months old, then eight months old, and then a year or 14 months old. It’s really sweet to see that growth of the dog into an adult pup, and I’m doing that with a husky at the moment who’s just had its second shoot. People just love their dogs, so I’ve also got repeat customers who will want shoots in different types of settings.”
While he will happily photograph owners with their pooches, Nigel’s main area of expertise is dogs – and over the years has found there’s no such thing as a dog who is too difficult to work with.
“Dogs have different levels of training, but that’s all part and parcel of it. I don’t mind if somebody says their dog won’t sit still or isn’t very good with commands – that’s the character of the dog and you shouldn’t have to change them for the photoshoot. I’ll work around the dog, and capture its character, no matter what it’s like.
“I’ve even had a dog pee on my camera bag before. It was a two-dog shoot, and while I was photographing a black lab, the other dog, a little pug, was sniffing around my bag. He then snuck behind me and obviously he needed to go, so thought my bag was the best place for it – but that’s just the hazard of the job!”
Following a lockdown that saw Nigel forced to reschedule all of his spring and summer shoots during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, he’s finally able to get back out there - and thanks to his job taking place in the great outdoors, he will easily be able to socially distance away from the clients.
“It’s not like having a studio shoot, where you’re confined indoors - we are at reasonable distances, easily over the government guidelines. There’s no real risk of any close contact, but if people want to take additional measures, they can do.
“I’m just so glad to be out there again - there’s just nothing better than rolling around on the ground, getting eye-level with the dog and them running towards me. I get up and I’m covered in mud, but it’s brilliant. The clients see the work that goes into my shoots and they’re wowed by it, and that in itself is the reward.”
Ahead of Christmas, Nigel is also doing gift certificates for anyone who would like treat their friends or family to their very own dog photoshoot. “It’s a unique present to give that dog lover in your life - it certainly beats getting a pair of socks!”
To find out more about Nigel’s work, visit www.nigelwallacephotography.co.uk