Growing Old with You: Documenting the Life of Pets
Pets spend their whole life with their owners, and many owners cherish this by capturing milestones and memories in different stages of their pets’ lives. Many owners treat pets like their own family and have ventured into documenting their lives as a great way to archive photos and videos. While it’s true that pets are always picture-worthy no matter what they are doing, it takes extra skill and creativity to document their growth in an artistic way. YT, the creator behind @themiyagram on Instagram, shares tips and tricks on how she does this and how Miya, her photogenic Pomsky, has risen to become, albeit unexpectedly, quite the social media star.
Miya has captured the hearts of thousands of Instagram users. Tell us how you started the account. What was the motivation behind it?
There’s a huge, friendly, knowledgeable pet community out there on Instagram. You can find anything—from the usual cute dogs, training tips, feeding tips, small awesome local businesses, gorgeous photography accounts, to the latest dog gadgets. There was so much I wanted to learn from this community! So, I started @themiyagram on Instagram, to have a dedicated space for my growing interest in these things.
At first, I didn’t post because all I wanted to do was silently follow other dog owners and their training journeys, or local businesses for feeding and accessories. Soon enough, I wanted to participate in the community and join discussions and build connections with people, so I started posting. I began taking photos with my mobile phone—all my earliest photos are still there!
Did you expect it to gain as many followers as it did?
We didn’t start the account with the intent to gain followers! Gaining followers has certainly been an unexpected one. I have not done anything in particular, to be honest. We just continued focusing on our dogs, their training, and our photography! In fact, I’m still always surprised if the dogs get recognised while out on walks.
As a social media influencer, a lot of followers are looking out for the next posts of your dogs. How do you plan your content?
I don’t plan my content! It’s often down to what we are doing that day, or whatever the dogs are doing, are something I’d want to share! My photos are usually posted based on what I feel like editing and captioning, to keep it interesting for myself.
Understand that keeping things spontaneous creates more authentic photos and better captures the personality of your dogs. What is your thought process when you are creating content? How do you make it interesting for your audience?
I was never a creative kid growing up; I always thought creativity was something I didn't have. However, picking up that camera and just giving it a go showed me that I could be, which came as a surprise even to me!
There’s still so much to learn, and I think that’s okay. I’m motivated by exploring new ideas and techniques and preserving our memories along the way. I am still learning how to tap into my creativity. Ideas usually occur to me randomly, when I’m on the move or doing some mindless activities, like cleaning the dishes. I take down my ideas on my phone, so I don’t forget them and can explore them properly later! Sometimes I am inspired by other photographers, even non-dog ones, other times, I am inspired by dog tricks or training that I see, and they generate a photo idea.
It’s important to me to enjoy the process.
It’s interesting to know that you were “never a creative kid growing up.” How did you discover your creativity through the camera?
I didn’t have many photos of Kiyo as a puppy and a young adult, so I wanted to capture more of Miya as she went through those phases. However, I still don’t have that many photos of Miya as a puppy because we were just so busy trying to keep up with her mischievous puppy mind. She needed so much attention back then! When I did find the time, I used my mobile phone, but over time, I started wanting to do more in my photos, like trying action photography, and exploring different styles of photography.
Once I picked up my first camera, it was so exciting to see the world through my lens and notice different details, angles and framing. Sometimes, it would be very frustrating, because things just didn’t line up, and I’d have nothing to show after trying the entire morning. I’ve deleted so many shots! But occasionally, you’ll capture a golden moment that makes the failed attempts worth it.
How do you make photo shoots fun for your pet?
It’s important to recognise that while you might want to take photos, the welfare and comfort of the dogs need to come first. For instance, it can be difficult for a pet to do tricks outdoors with so many distractions. We practice a lot of the tricks outdoors without photographing them first, and that’s something people don’t always realise that happens behind the scenes. I build my dogs’ confidence in the tricks outdoors, and then only do we try to capture it on camera. Our dogs enjoy trick training, so any opportunity to practice their tricks in different environments is fun for all of us.
A lot of our photos are taken on walks, so the dogs are still enjoying themselves exploring in between photo opportunities. There are plenty of times when the dogs are not in the right mood to hold a pose, so I put the camera aside and focus on the dogs instead. Other times, I choose to take more candid shots. It is my responsibility to recognise when they are starting to show signs of boredom or tiredness, and end on a good note.
One thing I recommend is to be familiar with your pets and their habits. For example, if they are most active or engaged during the day, then that’s when you are most likely to have the most fun with them and see their personalities really shine through in a photoshoot.
Speaking of photo shoots, let’s talk about the technicalities of the job. What are your considerations in preparing for a shoot?
For themed shoots, I conceptualise the photo, then identify the props and the tricks I need from the dogs, and train them in those tricks if it’s something new! I’ll also start thinking of a location that suits my idea, and then pick a day to try it out, which also depends on the weather. My themed shoots sometimes take a couple of sessions to complete because I might get home and find that the shots I took didn’t work for my idea, or the dogs didn’t feel like working that day, or I need to refine a trick more.
While they’re trained, we can’t forget that they’re dogs and they have moods, and unlike human subjects, we can’t reason with them. If they don’t feel like performing, we don’t force them into it and on those days, we simply take a walk. It’s really important to place their welfare first, and keep it fun.
What are your go-to gears for the shoot?
I love my Sony set up. The Alpha 7C’s Real-time Eye AF, which is available in many different models, was a natural fit for my fast and small subjects! I tend to shoot low down, so the swivel screen is a huge help in framing my shots and keeping my eyes on the dogs. When I’m out with the dogs, I usually have a lot of stuff with me—their water bottle and bowl, treats to reward them, their leashes, plus a camera bag! So, the light weight and maneuverability of the camera are among the top considerations.
Lenses I love include the FE 85mm F1.8 (SEL85F18), the FE 24mm F1.4 GM (SEL24F14GM) and most recently, my FE 12-24mm F2.8 GM (SEL1224GM). I pick the lenses I use depending on the location and the type of shot I’d like to try that day!
What are your usual camera settings when shooting pets indoors? How about when outdoors?
I don’t have professional lighting equipment or a lot of space at home, so if I am shooting indoors, I try to capture them in an area with the best lighting. I would also try still portraits, rather than action/motion shots, because of space and light constraints. I usually like to use a longer lens, to produce that background bokeh and separation (i.e. blur out my messy home), so I typically go to either my SEL55F18Z or SEL85F18, take the shutter speed down to around 1/100sec or lower and accept the ISO.
Outdoors is where the fun starts! If I’m trying for city shots, I like my wide angle SEL1224GM, to really capture the feel of the city while allowing me to get up close and personal with Miya and Kiyo. Action shots call for my SEL85F18 in the best light possible, so that I can open the aperture and still maintain a high shutter speed of around 1/1600sec or more.
It is important to emphasize that there is so much to learn still! There are a lot of variables to balance out, and I’m still finding my way through it too.
You have an impressive collection of work under your belt. Out of all the work you’ve put out, which one are you most proud of? Which is the most memorable and why?
Two things come to mind. First is my Sony Alpha Creators 4.0 work because I did not expect to get very far with it. It was my first experience with an official photo contest, and I ran against some good photographers! The contest was intense but the experience of working with an internationally reputable brand like Sony, whose products I have used and trusted over the years (from cameras, to headphones, to even PlayStation), was well worth it.
Second is the high-quality photos of my dogs that I treasure. I picked up my first camera because I was looking through old photos on my phone and I regretted not having high quality photos of our senior dog Kiyo—who is now 13 years old—as a young dog. I have many phone photos of her, and they seemed fine at the time, but when I look back on them now, they’re grainy, pixelated, and low-resolution. I was shocked to realise how badly they’ve aged over the years. Now, with my camera, I know I’ll have high-resolution, quality photos of both my dogs that will last over the years. I’m very proud of the memories I’ve saved since I’ve picked up photography.
There are also shots I’ve taken of tricks I love, like their hug trick! It’s difficult to nail this trick outdoors with a lot of distractions, and now that Kiyo is older, I want her to take it easier, so we don’t do this trick as often as we used to!
Nowadays, more owners are setting up accounts for their pets on social media. What tips do you have for these people who are producing a dedicated page for their pets? Do you have any advice?
At the end of the day, pet social media is about the pets, and their mental and physical wellbeing need to come first.
When shooting, it’s important to keep it fun, recognise how to motivate your pets, how to engage them, and recognise their abilities and limits.
If your dog is eager to work with you and learn, you can also introduce some interaction in the photos by teaching them to do some easy tricks (beyond the usual sit/stay/down). Some simple trick ideas include putting their head down on command, holding an item, or crossing their paws! I also try to use my environment in my photos, to really create a cohesive mood or look.
The most enjoyable part are the memories you are creating with your dogs when working with them and capturing their personalities as you preserve those moments with them through photography.