Picture perfect pooch

They're another sign of America's love affair with animals: pet portraits.

We're not just talkin' holiday pictures with Santa. We're talkin' commissioned, could-have-taken-a-vacation-with-the-money-instead photos and paintings.

St. Pete photographer Tanya Sharkey said 60 percent of her business is animals — either the pet alone, pet and client together or pet with the client's children. Dogs are the most popular subjects, although she's also photographed cats, a parrot and baby chicks.

Most of Sharkey's clients are childless or have adult children. They treat their pets as their children, she said.

Sharkey charges $99 for a two-hour session. Prints start at $69 for a 5-by-7-inch picture or $499 for an album.

"I get a lot of, 'Nobody understands me. … They can't believe I'm spending this much money on the animals,' " said Sharkey, 38, who has 10 pets and two young children of her own.

A recent client of Sharkey's, Precious Manchepalli of Tampa, said her friends tease her for babying her dog. They say she's the typical single woman with no kids. But Manchepalli, 37, has good reason to coddle her miniature Goldendoodle, Bella.

"She's actually the whole family's baby. I got her because my mom has Lou Gehrig's disease. With anyone who has an illness, you need something else in your life other than just the illness. Bella has provided that for us," said Manchepalli, an online marketing manager at HSN. "She brings a lot of joy and happiness to our life when you're facing an illness like this."

Manchepalli decided to get portraits of Bella because after her previous dog died, she regretted not having any nice pictures of him. "I wanted to capture some of those memories — and she's super-cute," she said with a laugh. "She's a ham. She likes the camera."

Manchepalli's favorite photo from the shoot is one of Bella and herself together; she used it for her Christmas card. She also ordered prints of Bella in various poses, which she displays in frames on a table at home.

And there's a close-up of Bella's face, which is on tap with the latest trend in animal photography: pet parts.

"People are really loving to see just a paw in an image, as opposed to the whole dog sitting there on a nice little settee or something. It's going away from that," Sharkey said. "It becomes more like artwork on your wall, as opposed to just your dog."

Ricklene Wren of Tampa specializes in dog artwork. A self-taught artist, Wren works from photographs to paint canvas portraits of people's pets. Wren, 41, paints mostly dogs — many of them deceased.

"It's a Chihuahua that I'm doing now. (The client) lost her, she passed away. It's in her memory. This is something that she can cherish," said Wren who has 14 dogs and used to run a dog rescue organization.

The painting's price tag? $400.

Neither Wren nor Sharkey expects business to lose steam any time soon.

"The pet industry has not slowed down in this economy," Sharkey said. "So I knew they would still spend money, but I had no idea they would spend more than the people with children."

Is Fido photo-ready?

If you want to photograph your pet, follow these tips from Tanya Sharkey of Tanya Sharkey Photography.

Make sure the animal is freshly groomed.

Avoid frilly clothes. "If it's too over-the-top, it takes away from the animal," said Sharkey, who prefers photographing pets in just their collar. If you insist on clothing, stick to simple items like a Santa hat or plain sweater.

Use treats to bribe the dog into cooperating.

Before starting the shoot, let your pet sniff the camera and photographer to get comfortable in her new surroundings. "I've even had somebody give their dog a little sedative before coming in if they knew it was high-strung and they wanted that (relaxed) look," Sharkey said.

To make your dog comfortable, let him play with a favorite toy. The photographer can always Photoshop it out later, although you may want to leave the toy in the shot because it's such a big part of your dog's life.

Don't expect a cat to cooperate. If you're going to a studio, bring in your pet's cat condo so she'll feel at ease. If you're having the animal photographed at home, the photographer should follow her around instead of trying to pose her.

Your pet is more comfortable with you than with anyone else, so help the photographer bring out the best in him.

Picture perfect pooch 02/25/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2010 10:41am]

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