PhotographMyDog - Jane Ambler’s thriving business
PUBLISHED: 10:28 15 June 2015
Jane Ambler’s clients don’t just ‘sit’ for portraits. They often run, jump and roll for PhotographMyDog. Sandra Smith finds out more
Relaxing in the spacious drawing room of Jane’s Little Kimble home, it quickly becomes apparent that this unpretentious and informal house, just like its owner, radiates an aura of courtesy and conviviality.
Jamey, an attention-seeking Irish Terrier, bounds in from the garden and is calmly beckoned by her owner and offered some timely fuss before settling in a sunny spot. The ease with which Jane relates to people and dogs is tangible. And I soon realise this is a gift which lies at the core of her thriving business.
“When I initially talk to customers on the phone they can be nervous because they are protective of their dogs,” Jane explains while pouring me tea. “So first I get to know people in order to figure out what they want from a shoot. Or, if they prefer, I’m just left to get on with it.”
I had wondered whether our meeting would be dominated by photographic jargon and technical detail. Could I pitch my questions about aperture to the correct level? Perhaps my limited knowledge of exposure times would be met with a flurry of specialist knowledge which I would be obliged to research.
But there is nothing intimidating about Jane. Nor is her technical expertise in doubt. Having browsed an extensive portfolio of images and action shots depicting man’s best friend, a proficiency with her Nikon is indisputable. Just as crucial, however, are social skills which make the 54-year-old already seem like a lifelong friend.
She is keen to explain the philosophy behind her approach. “Each photoshoot is fun. I allow two or three hours but don’t get my camera out to start with. I want to see the dog in its natural environment and with its owner. By the end of our session – in which I take hundreds of images – the dogs are just themselves.”
Surprisingly, PhotographMydog began a mere five years ago. Having been born and raised in Liverpool, after leaving school Jane moved to Oxford to attend secretarial college. Her first career peaked during the 10 years she was based at Buckingham Palace as Personal Assistant to the Duchess of York. Relocating to Buckinghamshire in the late Nineties culminated in full time motherhood and the eventual rekindling of her two passions: dogs and photography.
Jane picks up the story: “My husband, Christopher, suggested I turn my interests into a business. I’d never had my own company before but eventually I was persuaded. It was exciting! Since then my family and friends have been very supportive and I’ve gained a lot of business by word of mouth.”
At this point she leads me into a dining room filled with an array of products adorned with images of clients’ pets. Apart from canvasses portraying close up and action shots of dogs, there are cushions, aprons, mugs and trays. Customers, it seems, want their dogs emblazoned on all manner of household items - and Jane is happy to oblige.
“The interesting thing,” she explains, “is you see your own dog in a particular way, just like a child, and capturing those characteristics is my challenge.”
Given that Jane is predominantly an outdoor photographer, I wonder how frequently our unpredictable weather affects her work.
“I don’t need a bright day as that creates too many shadows, but rain is to be avoided. When a customer makes a booking we put three dates into the diary and use the best one. I like to see dogs in their natural setting and aim to capture the dog as its owner sees them, not in a sterile environment.”
After each session, Jane whittles down the images to 20-30. These are then prepared in electronic form for each customer to browse and choose. Hard backed books are understandably popular for they provide a medium which showcases a range of photographs. They are also intensely personal and make the perfect gift or keepsake.
The breeds Jane deals with vary from Pugs to Rottweilers. When I spot a postcard showing an adorable litter of nine chocolate brown Labrador puppies neatly lined up and lapping milk from china bowls I wonder how she manages to persuade her four legged clients to be so cooperative?
“It’s a challenge! Last summer I did some commercial shoots and photographed the top 20 breeds from the Kennel Club in different settings. I didn’t know until people arrived which dogs they would bring. On my first day I had these nine chocolate Labs and nine Cocker Spaniels. There is never a typical session. Each job is different so I deal with it differently – that’s what is so lovely. And I can always learn more.”
Studio shots and Photoshop do not fall within Jane’s remit since she prefers to see animals bounding across a field and leaping over hedges, even if that does entail spending much of her time lying on the ground in order to capture them in motion en plain. “I’ve learnt to use my body rather than zoom,” she smiles, “and when I’m working, I’m more fly on the wall.”
The approach may be laid back yet large scrap books in which every client – human and canine – is recorded with a page devoted to each photographic session and images and orders meticulously documented is testament to her diligence.
One of the most likeable things about Jane is her modesty. She has created a business which combines her greatest delights yet is appealingly unpretentious about her success. In addition, she has developed a business-like approach without downgrading her femininity – a tricky combination to achieve – whilst her determination and professionalism are as admirable as the canine images she so expertly creates.
During my morning at Kimble Brook House I have learned much about photography. Mainly that it isn’t just down to camerawork, more importantly, it is knowing how to capture the moment.
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