Beautiful Pet Images and Photography Tips from Sarah Bourque

Sarah Bourque is an award-winning pet photographer based in Victoria, British Columbia who provides fun photo shoots of furry friends that aren’t posed in a studio, but out where a pet is doing what they do best. Bourque’s images are beautiful and authentic, and her passion for photography and animals is reflected in her work.

Prior to focusing on photography full-time, Bourque worked as a toy designer for 8 years. Her background in design inspires her to continue pushing the creative boundaries in her work by trying new things and getting involved in unique photo projects. Bourque enjoys taking pictures of all types of pets, as each adorable, furry face offers unique characteristics and a joy that continues to remind her why she loves the work she does.

wally and roops

Bourque is a talented photographer, but what really stands out in her work is the genuine personalities she’s able to capture in every pet she photographs. We asked her to share a little more about how she got started as well as any tips she might have for pet photography.

How did you get your start in photography and what made you focus on pet photography? Any other subjects in photography that you love to shoot?

I’ve always enjoyed photography but in 2011 I got a Canon T3i. It was my first DSLR and I was smitten. We were living in Edmonton at the time and had our 2 lovable pups, Walter (aka Wally) and Rupert (aka Mr. Roops). I started using them as my models and was so excited by the dog joy that I was capturing in the photos. They are very boisterous and full of mischief. I knew very quickly that I had found my calling.

adorable dog photo

I have no formal training in photography, so I decided that from the start I would put the camera in manual mode and teach myself everything I could. Let me tell you, the combination of a fast moving white dog and a lot of snow will make you learn very quickly about what your camera can do. That little camera and I had a lot of adventures but after 6 years it was starting to get a little tired. I realized I needed an upgrade and started saving my nickels for a full-frame. I did a lot of research and decided on a Nikon D750 and I was able to purchase one in March, and I love it! It’s really fast and great in low light.

I really enjoy macro photography, so my next piece of gear will be a new macro lens (I’m a sucker for backlight and dew drops). I found that once I started seeing the world as a photographer, I was noticing so many details that I might have previously passed by.

golden retriever

You’ve received quite a few features and awards for your photos. Which one are you the most proud of or meant the most to you?

The first time I saw one of my dog photos in a magazine was an amazing experience. The one that will always stand out was Walter making the cover of Photography Monthly (a magazine that was based in the UK). They had come across my work online and had asked if they could do a feature, and of course I was really nervous during the Skype interview. This all happened around the time that we decided to move back to Victoria from Edmonton and I would focus on pursuing photography as a business. In the midst of the move, I received a message saying that they has chosen a photo of Walter for the cover of the magazine, it was so exciting! I took that as a sign that I was on the right path, and Walter took it as a sign that he was a supermodel and therefore deserved more treats.

dog and snow

What are your top tips/tricks for taking great photos of pets?

There are a few things I always do when I take pet photos.

  • Get low. Don’t be afraid to get on the ground and get a little dirty. This allows a great perspective of the animal, especially with action shots.
  • Use a fast shutter. I never like to go below 1/1000 sec, especially when there is a lot of running and jumping. I boost the ISO as much as I need to to get a crisp shot.
  • Keep a pocket full of yummy treats and a squeaker (if you don’t have a squeaker, be prepared to make a lot of goofy noises to get them to look at the camera).
  • Learn a bit of Photoshop. I do 90% of my editing in Lightroom, and I find Photoshop a little scary. However, I made it a point to learn how to remove leashes. I watched tutorials online and every time we went for a walk, I made sure to get an on-leash photo to practice on. It can be time consuming but makes a world of difference in a photo. Safety is really important and not all dogs can be off leash, so it’s nice to be able to tidy up the photos after the fact. This technique also works well with dirty whiskers and eye goobers.
  • Be patient, flexible, and remember that animals will do their own thing. I always take a few minutes to let them check me out and get used to the camera. I pretty much let them guide the photoshoot and I document their awesomeness.

cat picture

What advice do you have for owners to come prepared for a pet photo session?

Bring some of their favourite treats, take them for a short stroll beforehand (if their pets are energetic), and do any primping they might need. Walter and Rupert tend to get dirty whiskers, so I would just give them a quick brush. I also let owners know that photo sessions are meant to be fun and showcase the unique personality of their favourite furry friend.

horse in stable

Pets are really special, which is why it can be really tough when they pass away. What are your thoughts about losing a furry friend and how do you incorporate your photography into these situations?

I think it’s beautiful to capture memories of your pet, as they are so special to our lives and have such an impact on our hearts. I offer a special senior photo session for pets that are getting on in years. We might hang out in their backyard or go for a leisurely stroll at their favorite park. This also applies to pets that aren’t doing well. It’s so sad but there is so much love for these furry creatures that are in our lives for such a short time.

sarah bourque dog picture

See more of Sarah’s beautiful pet images on her website and Facebook. She also has an ongoing project about shop dogs in Victoria, as she loves going into a store and being greeted by a furry employee. Check out that gallery of photos here.