Karen Weiler figured out what kind of a photographer she wanted to be at a friend’s wedding. The bride and groom did not draw her down the aisle of wedding photography, but it was four photos she captured of her friend’s dog on the couch before the big event that would define her trajectory.
Posh Pets was born and Karen became a professional pet photographer. As an entrepreneur in a furrier and cuddlier niche than most, Karen has unique skills, challenges, and experiences that just don’t come up when you work with humans.
Follow Posh Pets Photography (@poshpets) on PicsArt, and read our full interview with Karen below to dip your paw into a world of pampered poodles and fluffy kittens.
From photographing that dog on the couch at your friend’s wedding, what was the road that connected you from there to Posh Pets?
It was my parents’ 35-year anniversary. We always celebrate their anniversary, but seeing as this was a milestone year, my sister, husband and I got the idea to do something big. The evening culminated in a limousine ride to the Four Seasons Hotel in Yorkville, a swanky address that is a favorite of the stars.
The Four Seasons also boasts a Very Important Pet (VIP) program, which meant my parents’ two shih tzus, MacLeod and Anthea, could stay with us all. Those dogs walked through the hotel lobby, head held high, like they belonged. The next morning as we all gathered for breakfast, MacLeod was staring out the window, watching his ‘subjects’ below. We said to him, “Aren’t you a little posh pet?” It sounds cliché, but I knew I had picked the name of a future business.
Why did you choose the word “posh?”
I suppose it is a part of my British heritage. I was born in London, England and, while I have lived in Canada for long enough to lose my accent, I’ve kept some of the expressions. Elegant, stylish and timeless…these words guide the Posh Pets brand.
How do you figure out what way you want to capture an animal when you first meet them?
Private commissions with a client’s pet always start with a pre-session consultation where I find out what their goals are for the session. It’s important to know the types of images they are looking for. For commercial clients, they will have very specific goals of the types of images they want.
In either case, when I first meet the animal, I always sit down on the floor and let them come to me. It allows them to meet me, see my camera, and enjoy a treat (if they are allowed). I usually end up with them sitting on my lap. At that point, we are friends and things are going to be just fine.
What special skills does it take to create a portrait of an animal, as opposed to a person?
It’s important to me to encourage and direct an animal, but to never force or push them beyond their comfort zone. The session should be fun for all involved! So, while I cannot ask an animal to look left or hold a particular position, I can certainly create the situation where they focus in a certain direction or move across the frame. It also helps to get to know your subject well enough that you can anticipate where they might move or look next.
Not to be forgotten are the beauty of completely natural images. When a pet naturally interacts with their human, you can create images that showcase their relationship.
I actually spend most of my time directing and managing the humans. Pets in particular feed off the energy of their people. If their family is wound-up and stressed about how the session is going, the pet is going to pick up on that and will often react negatively to it. Thus, we always have a little discussion at the beginning of any session about expectations for the session and how to just let things unfold. Silly, unexpected things have and will happen, but that’s just part of the fun.
Who makes for easier subjects, cats or dogs?
Dogs are usually eager to please. They are invariably interested in you, their surroundings, the treat in your hand, and any noise they hear. That can be a great benefit during a session, but it does mean you need to manage the distractions—no easy feat when you are in a public area with people and other dogs walking by.
On the other hand, cats will make you work for an image. Every. Single. One. But, they have personalities and are often stereotyped and overlooked. Maybe because of this, I love working with cats!
You also use your work to help animals get adopted. Can you tell us a bit about these efforts?
Yes! Homeless and unwanted pets are very precious to me—my husband and I have adopted four cats and each and every one has been an amazing pet. Sometimes, shelter and rescue animals get a reputation for being somehow damaged. It doesn’t help potential adopters see past the stereotype when the adoption photographs are out-of-focus, dark images of a bewildered animal in a sterile kennel.
Each week, I go into Toronto Animal Services and photograph their available adoptees. In addition, I support a number of local rescues. It’s my goal to help the viewer to see the animal as a potential pet. They always say that it was the photograph that made them drive to meet the animal.
In fact, I belong to an organization called Hearts Speak, which is a global network of animal artists who provide their time and professional services, pro bono, to animal welfare organizations in their communities. The impact on a global level is astounding.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Playing, cuddling, and receiving kisses from my furry clients! No bad mood can survive a Posh Pets session.
However, I also love the look on my clients’ faces when they see their images for the first time. The way they smile, laugh, and sometimes cry tears of joy when they see before them their pet, with all of their little expressions and nuances, captured forever… The sad reality is that we will most likely outlive our pets. Memories of our furry family members, at every stage of their life, are so precious. When my clients say, “I am so glad we did this,” that is my favorite part.
Do you have any pets yourself?
Absolutely! I grew up with a very proper little shih tzu named Winston and soon after getting married my husband and I adopted two shelter cats, Ripley and Lady Jane. They both lived until they were 17 years old. We now share our lives with Baxter and Panda, two kitties that I originally photographed for their adoption photos and then decided that they needed to come home with us.