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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Q&A with animal photographer Sharon Montrose

Sharon Montrose has what most people consider a dream job: She photographs adorable animals—from lions to flamingos to knobbly-kneed giraffes—and sells prints online at her store, The Animal Print Shop. But what's her job really like? Does she ever get scared? What's the trickiest animal to photograph?

Here, Sharon answers my 12 most pressing questions (her answers are surprising!)...
What's your goal during each shoot?
Capturing the animal’s charms—it can be something in their eyes, their smirk, or the way they move. The animals generally fall into two categories: Some are cute, and some are striking, like the American buffalo. I would never cute him up. I wanted to capture how majestic he was, so that when people looked at the image, they’d say, what an amazing creature! With the grown-up animals, it’s less of I-want-to-bury-my-head-in-their-belly and more what-a-fascinating-creature.

Do you get scared when you photograph animals like lions and bears?
No, it doesn’t even occur to me to be scared—which is funny because I’d never consider myself a fearless person.

Why don’t you get scared?
I have confidence in the handlers I work with, and it’s very rare that I work with a dangerous animal. I guess something could happen to me, but I could also get hit by a bus crossing the street. And when I'm shooting, it's like an alternate reality. My only focus is getting my shot, which totally distracts me from anything around me. If the studio were on fire, people would be trying to escape, and I'd still be standing there trying to get my shot!

Have you been charged or growled at?
I had a yak charge me once. The handlers told me ahead of time that if he charged, I should stay still so he would run around me. But, in the moment, my fight-or-flight instincts kicked in. I just started running. Luckily the yak ran the other way.
Any sweet moments you’ll always remember?
I bottle fed a baby tiger in my arms. A bear cub sucked on my ear. It was awesome. When you do something so much, you can become desensitized, but holding the animals reminds me to be present. Instead of focusing on the hard work, when I hold an animal, I remember how lucky I am that I get to earn a living doing what I love.
Are certain animals easier to photograph than others?
Stoic animals, like the buffalo or cow, don’t do much. They just stand there. They make it easy for me. I’m just looking for an eye or their head to tilt in a certain way. For the animals that move around—chicks, bunnies, the bobcat—I have to focus and be ready for the split second when they’re in the right position. Cats and kittens are really hard because they bob their heads a lot. Dogs are really amenable: sit, stay, roll over.

The baby animals are so sweet. My son loves the deer print in his nursery.
Parents tell me that their kids name them, blow them kisses, say good night and good morning. How cute is it that it’s interactive? People have told me that their kids now want to be vets because of them. I’m not like a doctor who is busy saving lives, but if I bring a little happiness to some little person’s life, that’s so cool.
People must glamorize your job: you take photos of cute animals. What are some tricky parts that people wouldn’t expect?
I think people imagine that’s it’s a party atmosphere, like monkeys are swinging from the chandeliers. But the set is actually very professional. It’s a lot of work coupled with the stress and self-doubt that comes with any creative pursuit. Some people think a high production level of animal photography could be done easily, but I’ve been at it for 15 years. It has been a journey and process.

Where did you begin?
Where I am now is a result of many things that I tried and failed at. First, I shot weddings and headshots, but I realized I connected more deeply with animals. Then, back in 1998, I tried to be a private pet photographer, but back then, people didn’t spend money on their dogs. It was humiliating: I took promo cards to vet offices and dog parks, but nobody called. Not one person called. Then I thought, maybe I’ll try to get a dog book published. So I read a book about how to get published, and I wrote letters to literary agents, and sure enough sold my book to Viking Press. That’s really where it all started to work out. After that, I started getting commercial work from companies like Iams and Pedigree. While building that side of the business, I wanted to do a side project, so I started an etsy store with prints from the animal series I had been working on. A couple people blogged about me, and it went wildfire. Once I realized it could be a viable business, I photographed more animals and opened my own shop. I’m still figuring it out as I go. Now I have a whole team, which is really crazy. This whole business is the happiest accident that happened to me.

What do you do behind the scenes?
Marketing, overseeing my operations and my team, creating ad campaigns, product shots for the shop, social media, creative direction, customer service, invoicing, billing, PR outreach, interviews, file management, sometimes fulfilling orders, product development, working with lawyers, dealing with contracts, hiring people, creating a press catalog, keeping up with emails, retouching files, testing prints, nursery projects...I also vacuum the shop.

Wow.
My to-do list is giant. Sometimes I’m in the fetal position at night. Kidding!

Do you enjoy the business side of things?
I’m naturally business minded. When I was six years old, I would play office. No joke. I had a cubicle at my dad’s office and I even clocked in.

What are a few things people don’t know about you?
* People assume I must be really sweet and saccharine, but I’m an honest person with a lot of edge. I swear a lot. I’ve tried to rein it in but I can’t.
* I love reality TV, like "The Bachelor" and "Say Yes to the Dress." I like to put on my “comfies”—sweats and L.L. Bean sock-slippers and watch TV.
* My nickname is Nellie among my close group of friends. When they call me Sharon, it sounds weird.
* I’m always freezing. I move around the house with a space heater next to me because my husband won’t let me crank the heat to 80 and I guess I don’t blame him!
* I’m obsessed with pine trees. Being around them, preferably in Yosemite, is my medicine. I even have pine trees tattooed on my arm.
* I secretly feel like I’m 16. Sometimes I look at my career and responsibilities, and I’m like, what am I doing, I’m 16 years old!
* On the Internet, there can be a perception that we’re all perfectly happy and never suffer, but that’s not me. I’ve got my issues. Sometimes I feel totally secure, but other times I’m totally insecure; sometimes I feel great, and sometimes frankly, I’m a total mess. I just try to take things easy–live in the moment, breathe and stay rational. I don’t ever want to take myself too seriously.
Thank you so much, Sharon! Find all her fantastic photographs at the Animal Print Shop, if you'd like... xoxo

P.S. A Q&A with the costume designer for Girls, and my own post about blogging as a career.

(Behind-the-scenes photos from our day together by Laure Joliet for Cup of Jo. Photos of Sharon holding the animals courtesy Sharon Montrose)

99 comments:

J+H @ Beyond The Stoop said...

SO adorable.....

will keep in mind when i want to decorate a baby room (many years from now, though i'm getting baby fever SO bad!!)

cheers.

Leah PS said...

This was a really interesting post! One of my favorites from the past month, easily. Keep up the good work Jo!

Rachel B.C. said...

What a fascinating look behind the scenes! These photos are truly incredible.

Jessica Camerata said...

This is SUCH a great post. And now I don't feel so bad about being full of curse words and too edgy. I love that this all stemmed from an accident too. Trying to figure out what my fashion blog will "accidentally" create for me business wise.

xo Jessica
www.mystylevita.com

Maddy from MPDaily said...

Love these. I gave two of the prints to my nephew and love seeing them each time I go to their house. I not so secretly want a BIG print for my house too.

loudfootsteps said...

What a wonderful profile! She is inspiring, and I love her work.
These are precious, and I am just waiting to have a pup of my own so I can decorate his/her nursery with these ;)

Tania said...

this was such a cool piece! i am finishing up a graduate program soon and researching different career paths, so i love these articles (even though pet photography is a far cry from what i will end up doing!). it's fascinating to hear about the behind-the-scenes of any job and about the personalities of the people who pursue them. i also loved your interview with the costume designer for 'girls.'
these are interesting and just so different from the other journalism i read and other blogs i check out. i love it!

Shoko said...

Love Sharon and her work so much! Such a treat to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at her process!

jamie said...

This is a fascinating look behind the scenes. I loved this post!

posse said...

i like how honestly sharon montrose speaks about the ups and downs of living creatively.

Leanne said...

We have several of her "Little Darling" baby animal prints for our new baby's nursery and they are so unique and adorable! Sharon does amazing work!

abracadabrababy said...

I love Nellie's work! That's what I'm calling her now that we are close friends ;) My son Leo has the adorable baby porcupine in his room. What a great glimpse behind-the-scenes. More posts like this, please!

Joanna Goddard said...

haha, I want to call her Nellie now too:)

Joanna Goddard said...

i love how sharon's prints fall into two categories: baby and adult.

the little animals are SO cute for nurseries, and the big animals (python, flamingo, buffalo) are awesome for making a statement in a living room.

Amanda said...

I swear, every interview I read or see with her, she just seems more and more awesome.

Michael said...

Oh my! These are just the cutest pictures I have ever seen!!!

Jackie B. said...

These prints are all amazing, making it so hard to chose from! I really enjoyed the Q & A and getting a sneak peek at what life is like shooting animals. Thanks! -jb.

http://madewithlovebyjackieb.blogspot.co.uk/

Erica @ Acire Adventures said...

Wow! I LOVE her work, so amazing. When I have a second child I want to base the nursery around some of her prints! :)

Nichole Bower said...

I absolutely adore her work! It always brightens my day :)

Laura said...

I've been a huge fan of Sharon's work for many years now. I've been given three of her prints as gifts and have also given some as gifts. I love the simplicity of it and the way she captures the beauty of each and every animal no matter what it is. I love this sort of behind-the-scenes look at her work. Thank you for sharing it with us!

aliceinbo said...

Ohh, how cute! I thought they were just draws... lovable!

aliceinbo2.blogspot.com

quinncooper said...

I'm obsessed with Sharon Montrose's photographs, there is something so magical about the way she captures the animals on film. I love this interview it really gives you a sense of Sharon's personality and how she approaches her photography. So interesting love this series!
xo Quinn

Quinn Cooper Style

tamara said...

I like that she mentioned she's not super sweet and has an edge--I ordered one of her prints years ago and had some little question or request and got a sort of snarky answer back. I was a little hurt, but I guess it fits.

Elizabeth Lee said...

This is a fantastic interview! How fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing! :)

Sarah Clark said...

so sweet and so beautiful!!

Jessica Wray said...

I just recently discovered her work. I love her shots of the monkeys! What she does is magical!

bisbee said...

I want the picture of the baby alpaca...but it's not on her website yet. :(

Marie Frei said...

I was always curious about how Sharon got into animal photography! Thanks for sharing this interview :)

igotsapoodle said...

Fun interview. For a while I wanted to be a photographer full-time, so I really appreciated her answers to the questions about how she began and what a day in the life is like behind the scenes. It really is a tough business (especially in the beginning when you're trying to get your work out there), and Sharon's answers go to show how far you can get with some creative/unconventional thinking and elbow grease!

Lisamarie said...

I have been so obsessed with this pictures! I am dying to put some in my one-day-soon-to-be nursery.

Natalie - The Senses Five said...

This was a really great interview Joanna. I loved her list of a few things we don't know about her.

Rachel Fackender said...

What a fun and interesting read, Jo. Thanks for sharing!

Jan Halvarson said...

a brilliant idea to interview her Jo! i loved reading it as i've often had those questions myself (charged at...) and now i even love her more knowing she's frankly, a total mess sometimes, just like me! :)

samanthacdaltonblog said...

Oh my gosh! These are the cutest animals! Such an adorable idea!

Lucy said...

sharon (nellie) sounds SO awesome. i LOVE "Where I am now is a result of many things that I tried and failed at" and about how she stuck with it and became a successful business/brand that people love -- congrats! i also love her honesty and want to be friends with her :)

Sasha said...

I love everything about this. Such a fun and honest interview. I love that she readily admits to her failures - its taken her 15 years to get to where she is. Also, easy to forget that people who blog or present themselves, very often leave out the bad stuff... awesome that she is so candid about it. Sounds like you two would be good friends. Cut from the same cloth.

Did a small feature on you, today! You're my "girl crush" of the week!
Check it out. Sashapearl.blogspot.com

xo,
Sasha

17 Perth said...

I have admired her and loved her work for a while---an I love this interview! Her work is ridiculously awesome...and I lived reading more about her. Inspiring for sure!

Katie Ann said...

Wow! Amazing! I am in awe of her work and this interview.

Katie

diana banana said...

i registered for 6 prints for my twins. they're all of 2 animals in each shot, but from different series. it was fun to put together my own personalized theme from her varied collections! but secretly i want all of them.....

Melody Rowell said...

This was WONDERFUL! Please do more like this!

Giulia said...

this is so so interesting! joanna, please keep doing these amazing interviews!

Liza said...

What great insight on what goes behind the scenes in a photography studio. Wish I played "office" as a child. She's pretty amazing!

brittney elizabeth said...

I am obsessed with alpacas! The little one in your photos above is soooo cute! Will that soon be added to the print shop? LOVE.

Janet said...

I cracked up at her space heater comment! Too funny. Too awesome.

Erin Aitali said...

Joanna, this is so great! I really love the baby alpaca (?) she is snuggling with, but I don't see a print featuring that animal on her website. Do you know if this is new work and I should just stay tuned?

Thanks!

Jessica Quadra Andrews said...

This was so great! Thank you for sharing. It's actually refreshing to hear that someone as successful as she is can still have her highs and lows. Really enjoyed this.

laurenfoode.com said...

I was sorry to see this post end! Love the photos, and now I love the stories behind them. Bravo.

Brittany said...

This is such a great interview, and I really love when you interview people in enviable careers, so we can see their day to day life. I can't wait to read more! :)

Alyssa said...

The theatre I work for employs many animals for our shows and my boyfriend bought me the baby lamb print for my birthday because he knows I love seeing the animals at work!

Sarah and Renuka said...

These pictures are adorable! And I can always appreciate posts that give the world a behind-the-scenes look at someone's amazing job!

www.pocketfulofperspective.tumblr.com

Bea said...

I love these prints and can't wait to have a gorgeous nursery to hang them in. One day soon, I hope...

Great interview too, I'll admit, I thought it'd be such a dreamy, cute, fun career so it's really interesting to see how much work goes into the business side of things!

http://thegoogleyear.blogspot.com.au/

Sara said...

SO cool!!

Tamara Watson said...

Thank you so much for this post! I have been a Sharon Montrose fan for several years, in fact, it was inspiration from seeing her work that started me on my path to open a pet photography business. Sharon discussing all the attempts and failures was comforting beyond belief. It's a tough hustle to be a thriving pet photographer and I have doubts every day. Reading this Q&A gave me relief from a few of those doubts today. :)

Sarah said...

I've told my husband many times that a session for our pup with Sharon is on my absolute wish list of dream gifts. It's just amazing what she captures and I would love to see what came thru with my girl. But thank you for the look behind the camera. She's right, from the outside, all looks rosy, but she's human. And I absolutely believe that I'm 16 (instead of 34 - yikes!) years old. Sometimes I can't believe I live with a boy!!! :)

Jen said...

This is such a great interview. I love her work and I really like her camera! I am always appreciative to hear from successful photographers that even they have their glitches and issues and everyone started from somewhere.

Megan said...

I loved reading this so much. Sharon is such a talent.

tahsinthegood said...

great q&a. i love the baby animal prints so much, (my fave is the giraffe...) its nice to get to know the talent behind the lens!

JLAS said...

Awesome post, thank you. And thank you Sharon - I have 5 prints in my home (4 in front entry and one in kitchen) and love love love them. And you know what? I am totally not an animal person! There is something so lovely about Sharon's art, though - almost magical. And her answers were so wonderful - what a great conversation with a REAL person. How very refreshing!

fromtheloftabove said...

this is one of my favourite posts, ive always loved her work - she takes great photos. i totally love animals and found her so inspiring! thanks jo and sharon!

Maiz Connolly said...

Such a great post! I loved seeing and reading about the behind-the-scenes. The baby animals are SO cute, it's hard to stop looking at them, but I also thought that the pictures of Sharon with her camera were great, too. What an all around fun post about an honestly inspiring artist!

BIKBIK AND RORO said...

O my goodness, I LOVE this! What brilliant work -- thank you so much for sharing :)

Mary Beth Hamilton said...

Great post! I feel extremely lighthearted just reading about Sharon's work. What a great job! The baby animals and little darlings series on her website... too die for.
my morning coffee

S Carow said...

LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. OBSESSED. I will definitely be spending over $5000 over the course of my lifetime buying these portraits.

Sandra Carson said...

Wow these all are so sweet..:)
very natural and adorable
Thanks for sharing..:)
kiddicare

Isabell said...

Great Interview and documentation – thanks a lot!

justabitreally.com said...

her baby giraffe photographs were the first items I purchased for some son's nursery! so inspiring to hear more about the woman behind the lens. thanks!!

Nomadic D. said...

Loved this post. And not just for the adorable photos of those baby animals (though, not gonna lie, it helped). I found it really truly inspiring, to read about someone who's not just found her own path, but made it herself. Finding what you want to do and then nudging around until you've created a space for yourself, a need or what you want to provide, that's really inspiring. Thanks for a great post!

www.nomadicd.com

Emily said...

GREAT interview. I've enjoyed her work for quite a while and you did a wonderful job really capturing her, and the truth of her work.

Hayley said...

I agree with everyone else - great post! She seems like a really awesome, honest person - and I love the images!

Molly said...

Great article! I adore her photographs and will be buying some prints in the near future for my 1 year old's room. Thank you so much for the fun read :)

Emily Sloan said...

I've been watching these adorable photographs spread like wildfire around the web over the past few years, and it's great to meet the woman behind all the cuteness! What an authentic interview, a breath of fresh air and a testament to sticking to your knitting!

Nadya Sagner said...

She is amazing and inspiring. Thank you for doing this!

Mary Giordano said...

What a great genuinely honest interview! She sounds like an amazing woman who loves what she does. The section that talks about how she got started really gave me hope as I am working on starting my own photography business while being a full-time nurse. So many people settle in their lives and their career - we don't realize how important it is to do what we love. Success will find those that pursue their passion because of the drive and persistance that comes with being happy.

Shine on!

www.megiordanophotography.com

jm said...

Superb interview! I love these animal prints - just beautiful! She sounds like an amazing person.

meresy_g said...

I'd like to see that she donates some proceeds of her sales to animal conservation organizations seeing as how some of the species she photographs will likely be extinct within the lifetime of the child whose nursery these are purchased for. I see no philanthropic connection. Also, while they are adorable portaits, I can't help thinking of the terror these animals experience being taken from the environment they live in, making the trip to a big city and being hauled into a studio with lights and noise and people.

Gab Mesina said...

I wanna do this when I grow older!

http://gabmesina.blogspot.com

Lynford Rozario said...

Great photo shoot..;)
loved it
Android Developer

Shoko said...

meresy_g, Sharon does support animal rescue groups through her work. From her website: "The animals photographed for this series are real live animals, raised (and most rescued) by loving, experienced, and dedicated animal keepers and handlers who care for them as their own and ensured their welfare while being photographed (in studio or outside at the facilities where they live, then photoshoppped into the backdrop). Through this series, we help support several organizations devoted to animal rescue, educational programs, and nurturing wildlife."

Mercedes said...

I LOVE this interview.....thank you Joanna & Sharon!! My absolute dream job ever since I was old enough to know what a camera was, is to be a professional photographer, and I would photograph animals in the wild or in a studio, like Sharon. To know how she first started, and that she's been working to get where she is for 15 years is a HUGE inspiration and motivation for me!!! These types of "behind the scenes" interviews fascinate me and it's always so great to learn how much hard work people put in to their careers and the outcome! Thank you!

Hola Bikini! said...

You are my hero!

Maddie said...

nellie's is one of my mom's best friends. i love her so much and i was on set when she shot the zebra and monkey, it was insane

Harvey Edwards said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harvey Edwards said...

Beautiful work, Don't stop creating as they are our juice of life for those creative souls that express through the work that transcends words. Regards, Harvey Edwards www.HarveyEdwards.com

christina kober said...

I've been a huge fan of Sharon's work since stumbling on her book of daschunds. Now I own 3 of her prints. It was wonderful to learn more about her story. Very inspiring.

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Andrew James said...

I love all the pictures here, not to mention those cute baby animals. Sharon seems to be an amazing woman, great interview!

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DiploNerds said...

Oh my gee! I am obessed! Many of these prints will be in my future. LOVE the giraffes, they are my favorite animal. The elephant is amazing and for some reason I just love those donkey ears!

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Andreas Weiss said...

OMG ... these pics are amazing. Can't beleive that you bring a buffalo in the studio ... :-)

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