hello 3 years!

February 8th, 2011

3 years ago today, I officially launched my business.

And I officially can’t believe it.

I wrote this post on my 1 year anniversary, got too busy to write one on my 2nd anniversary, and am making it mandatory that I reflect upon finishing my 3rd year of business. So here I am, sitting on the patio of the Coffee Bean with my 32 ounces of iced Americano-goodness, unsure what to write.

Honestly, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the 3 years I would have. I know that’s so terribly cliché, but it’s true. Ok, well that might be a bit of a lie. Because apparently, I did imagine it. I found an old blog post I wrote on my personal blog in 2007, 4 months before I even thought of starting my business:

i’m a hobby whore.  10/16/2007

Well, i finally bought myself a digital SLR. I’ve been interested in buying one for the last year or so, but have been really hesitant because of my commitment issues. You see, I’m the gigalo of hobbies. I can’t seem to find one and stick with it. Like most love affairs, the initial interest is oh-so-hot and steamy. It’s all I think about all day long — sometimes I can’t even sleep because I’m in bed thinking about said hobby. And then another one sashays by, batting her eyelashes at me, and it’s goodbye poetry writing and hellooo knitting!

I look at my stacks of design books, piles of yarn, and a bagfulls of untouched embroidery floss, and hope this photography “thing” doesn’t end up like the rest of my discarded interests. I’m already having delusions of grandeur — I like to daydream about how I’m going to manage my soon to be successful pet photography business. Maeby and Zoey will be my spokesdogs, and I’ll shoot photos of LA celebrities and their menageries of exotic animals. My business cards will be printed on dog biscuits, and I’ll market my business as a ‘photo boutique’ because a ‘photo studio’ is far too pedestrian for a glamorous pet photographer such as myself.

Paris Hilton will hire me to do a sexy photoshoot of her and her new pet lemur named BabyLuv2. Angelina Jolie, now sick of adopting third world children, will adopt a pack of third world puppies and beg me to take pictures of them. US Weekly will do a special article on me, dubbing me the “Queen  of Canines” and the “David La Chapelle” of pets.

And to think, my camera is still sitting inside some Amazon warehouse in New Jersey.

Clearly, I was reading a lot of David Sedaris back then. And 3 years later, I am still in full blown love affair mode with my little “thing.” Still waiting for Angie to give up that baby addiction though.

Which brings me to more lessons I’ve learned trying to follow my passion (sprinkled with unrelated photography). Warning: This is long. That 32 ounces of iced americano really kicked in as I was writing this.

1) Dream big

As preposterous and foolish you may feel, dream big! I found that old blog post from 2007 so hilarious because now in 2011, I didn’t even remember WRITING IT! It was complete happenstance that I came upon it, and I had to laugh at myself for being so silly, so naïve, for dreaming so big when I didn’t even have my freaking camera yet! Yes, I’m admitting this now: I guess I dreamed of being a full time pet photographer before I even knew how to operate a digital SLR. But something in my heart must have known something my head wouldn’t admit. Because while I wrote that blog post as a complete joke, now I realize deep down there was some truth to it. Yeah, I’m still waiting for Angie and Paris Hilton to come knocking, but what a wild and amazing 3 years I’ve had! Just in 2010 I’ve had the opportunity to have shoots with Rose McGowan, Chelsea Handler, Lisa Edelstein, Margaret Cho, Kristin Bauer, and more. That delusional geek inside of me who wrote that silly post 3 years ago is feeling slightly validated. So please - don’t forget to honor yourself and dream big. Wildly big! You might be surprised at what happens.

2) Be YOU.

This is fairly obvious. Just. Be. You! You have your own unique vision and story to tell. Personal vision and style is something that’s always evolving, but if you don’t know what yours is, whose story are you telling? And sincerity is super important, which comes along with being authentically YOU. I think people can smell insincerity a mile away. It reeks. Desperation is a stinky cologne.

3) Inspiration Everywhere (but here)

If you’re a pet photographer, my biggest piece of advice is stop looking at other pet photographers’ work! (Says the pet photographer writing this on her own blog). These days, it’s hard for me to look at a pet photographer’s portfolio without identifying inspiration (or sadly, straight up copying) from other people. And with all this emulation and copying, what has happened is that everyone’s work is just starting to look the same. I encourage you to find other means of inspiration if you’re feeling stuck or want to evolve your own personal style.

I find my inspiration reading magazines and looking at the work of photographers who are NOT shooting pets. I find so much inspiration reading art books and blogs. My brain is on fire when I visit museums. And my hands down favorite source of inspiration is watching movies – the use of color, light, and composition is a revelation. Even amazingly stupid movies can be inspirational – Dear John, anyone? And I’m not talking about Channing Tatum’s abs. The color and light in that movie were amazing. Even if the story wasn’t.

When I was in advertising school, our instructors always warned us against looking at ad annuals and ad blogs while creating work. Why? Because we’d just end up creating derivatives of everything else that already exists! Boring! Would this Superbowl spot * have been as EPIC if it was a lame copy of something else?

4) R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to you.

One of the BIGGEST pieces of advice I can give you is to respect your fellow photographers, especially those in your own town. Ever since I started my business, one of my goals has been to be as respectful as possible to my colleagues. I won’t try to squeeze my way into an event if I know another pet photographer is already committed to be there. I won’t reach out to a business if I know they already are in relationship with someone else. I won’t try to build relationships with talent or celebrities that I know are working with someone else. I won’t change my business practices just to blatantly out-compete someone else. I won’t email another photographer pretending to be a student on the east coast so I can spy and get information. This is just obvious and common courtesy, but sadly these aforementioned examples are NOT made up.

Pardon my language, but what the F*CK? This kind of desperation just reeks. It’s horrible. It’s disrespectful. It’s capitalism at its worst. There’s enough out there for all of us without having to trample on each other. Karma is a scary, raging hormonal bitch – and I don’t like to tempt her.

5) Integrity. It’s Not an STD.

I think integrity and respect are like peanut butter and jelly. They always go together, and they make each other better. If you maintain your integrity, you’re respecting yourself. If you act with integrity, you’re respecting others. The way people behave, it’s as if integrity needs to be avoided like gonorrhea. You are born with your integrity, and nobody can give it away but you. Stay an integrity virgin people! Practice Safe Integrity!

6) Have an Attitude of Gratitude

Thanks to the interwebs, it only takes a click of a mouse to look at the work of those you admire and feel like complete poop. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I was in ad school, my friend was a rockstar art director. Every idea he had and layout he created made you simultaneously want to bow down in reverence of his skills, and punch him in the face. He was the bar I was always striving to reach and the person I most wanted to be like. But every time I felt I slightly caught up to him, he was already 20 steps ahead being even awesomer. I look back now and wish I never did this to myself. And as I look at the careers of photographers I admire, I have to pinch myself as a reminder to stop doing it all over again. How can you possibly live your best life when you’re comparing yourself to someone else, trying so hard to catch up to them? Earth to Matilda - it ain’t gonna happen! All you’ll be left with is a miserable, self loathing version of yourself.

If you ever feel yourself doing this, take a deep breath and a step back. Have a moment of complete gratitude – for the talents you do have. For the clients you do have. For the amazing work you’re able to create with total bliss. Pet your dogs and be grateful for their joy. Kiss your husband and thank God for allowing you to meet your soulmate. Step outside and give thanks for fresh air and beautiful sun. Life suddenly seems so full, doesn’t it?

7) Stay Humble

This is the last piece of advice I had on my list in 2009 and it’s still so important to me. Stay humble and thankful for everything you’ve accomplished now and everything you may accomplish tomorrow. No man is an island and someone in your life, whether it’s your encouraging friends, your supportive spouse, or your loving God up above, helped you get where you are now and will be by your side as you continue on your path tomorrow.

U2 said it best - “If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel.”

* * *

Thanks for reading my novella, for enjoying my photography, your friendship online, entrusting me to photograph your pets, and for allowing me to live my best life by just being me.

Happy 3 years to following my dreams. I can’t wait to see what else is coming.

* * *


*I just found out that my fellow art director friend from Deutsch is the person that created the epic Volkswagen Darth Vader Superbowl spot and am FLOORED. I linked the ad this morning just because I loved it. But to find out my friend who is the kindest, awesomest, humblest, nicest guy in the ad industry, who is so talented and amazing without being a complete a-hole douchebag (and believe me, there are way too many of them in advertising) created this iconic spot just proves so many points of this entry! He has so much character and kindness, and now look!!!! Ryan I am so proud of you and your team. Thanks for being such a great example to those of us who aspire to create ad greatness.

54 Responses to “hello 3 years!”

  1. bogart the bad Says:

    Shine! Happy 3 years and may you have many more. great advice to photographers and to people in the creative field in general.

  2. Simone Says:

    Dearest Grace,

    This is the most stellar advice I’ve ever read. And I read every single word. I especially love that you proved if you follow your heart and DO WHAT YOU LOVE - everything falls into place. I’m so happy to know you and to be a part of your magical journey. You are my inspiration. Always.


  3. johnwaire Says:

    great post! happy anniversary grace — i’m better for having read this and making your on-line acquaintance…

  4. Linda Kuo Says:

    Perfect. Said it all Grace. Wish I knew you. We are of like minds and soul. I can relate to every single thing you wrote. I have so many interests that I felt like a dilletante all the time and I still like to shoot everything and find I can’t choose often times. I had to finally quit the violin but no time and kitting is on my list too.

    On integrity and feeling like you’re the only one who knows what it means sometime. Well most of the time. When I was a yoga teacher, I had teachers taking my class and literally writing my sequence down and teaching it to their class. Then they would get credit for a new sequence or great thought out theme. And these are supposed to be “enlightened teachers” My husband was annoyed and asked me if it bothered me. I said “yeah for sure. But I realized that they aren’t the source. They don’t own it even if they are regurgitating it. It’s not the same because they didn’t create it, and they can’t create something new at that level”

    Congratulations on living your dream. I hope to be in the same shoes someday soon.
    Linda Kuo

  5. Emilee Says:

    Congrats on three amazing years, Grace! Your work is stunning and inspiring (but I do understand your inspiration warning!). Thank you for all of the great advice that you’ve taken the time to share with us. Keep up the incredible work, and here’s to this next year in business being even better than the last! :)

  6. Lisa Rodriguez Says:

    Simply put you are my pet photography goddess. I commented on Facebook & had to do it hear as well. You are a tremendous inspiration & such a refreshing person. I love reading your posts. I’ve been dreaming my own big dreams & it brings hope that this “Serial Hobbyist” can too turn a lifelong love affair into a full blown “relationship” and business.

    Thank you.

  7. steve Says:

    hi grace.

    congrats on 3 years!! i’ve been a fan since i started my own pet photography business 9 months ago. you and Jamie from Cowbelly have been big sources of inspiration with your positive energy and honesty. thanks for sharing your wonderful images. taking your advice, i’ve learned to not look as often at other pet photographer’s work, because it WILL make you feel inadequate. developing your own style is key in this business.

    i can’t wait to see where i’m at in 3 years.


  8. Renee Says:

    You are SO funny. Seriously. I laughed out loud at that entire first part of your post because it was so witty and clever—plus, how freaking cool is it that you found an old piece you wrote before it all began!

    ‘6) Have a Attitude of Gratitude’ was by far the best advice I’ve read in a while. I know it’s terrible to compare, but I do it more than I should. People like me for me, so I should too. That really picked me up today!

    I can’t believe what you have accomplished in such a short period of time. (I was pretty certain you came out of the womb with a camera!) I hope I look back on my three year mark later this year with lots of joy and pride too.

    Thanks for writing this, and congrats on all your success!!!

  9. Maria Says:

    Congratulations on three years Grace. Not only are you the ultimate in talent, your story and advice are inspirational. Thank you.

  10. chris torrens Says:

    Hi Grace.

    Congratulations on 3 years of success (on your own terms) and countless beautiful photos.

    I remember when you left the ad agency life. Truthfully, at the time, I didn’t really get it. I understood that agency life was a grind and not very creative but I didn’t understand your dream. I remember saying to myself, “she’s leaving to take pet photos?” Shrug.

    In retrospect, it was pretty short-sighted of me. In the last years, I’ve seen your photos crop up everywhere and I have been charmed by all the work I have seen.

    Hats off.


  11. Twitter Trackbacks for hello 3 years! | shine pet photos | modern pet photography [shinepetphotos.com] on Topsy.com Says:

    […] hello 3 years! | shine pet photos | modern pet photography shinepetphotos.com/blog/?p=344 – view page – cached 3 years ago today, I officially launched my business. And I officially can’t believe it. I wrote this post on my 1 year anniversary, got too busy to write Show influential only (3) $(’#filter-infonly’).change(function() { var el = $(this); var url = document.location.href; var checked = el.attr(’checked’); if (checked) { document.location.href = url + ((/?/.test(url)) ? ‘&’ : ‘?’) + ‘infonly=1′; } else { document.location.href = url.replace(/[?&]?infonly=1/,”); } }); […]

  12. Ruth Says:

    Wise words Grace! Happy anniversary/birthday. Here’s to many more amazing years of Shine x

  13. Christa Says:

    Grace, I’m not going to lie - you’re a huge inspiration for me! I just love your work and your attitude. Congrats on three years! I hope someday I can be as successful as you!

  14. Stacey Says:

    Happy Anniversary, and congrats on all that you’ve accomplished! I love that you wrote that blog post while your camera was still shipping - how telling and wonderful your intentions were! XO

  15. Candace Says:

    Congratulations on hitting the 3 year mark! And a toast to your next incredible 3 years!

  16. Kerry Says:

    Huge congrats, Grace! And what a wonderful post too, your every word rings true. Especially the part about inspiration; I am not a pet photographer but I adore your work and am constantly inspired by your DOF, the doggie smiles and soulful eyes… not to mention your work ethic, which is applicable across the board. Thanks for being awesome, heres to the next 3 years, and many more! xx

  17. sarah Says:

    awesome post grace! you’re an inspiration to so many of us and i wish you 3 HUNDRED more years of being wildly successful :)

  18. Brittani Says:

    Awesome, awesome blog post! Great advice from someone who dreamed big and accomplished big goals. Congratulations on your 3 successful years in business, I can’t wait to see all of the other cool things you do in the future…your work is one-of-a-kind!

  19. Nick Says:

    Congrats on reaching the three year mark and many more to come!

  20. Leigh Says:

    congrats Grace ! so happy for you and all your success. glad you took the time to write on your 3rd anniversary. you have many lessons to share.

  21. Trude Says:

    Congratulations on your well-earned success! I agree wholeheartedly on all of these. Any photog who can stick to them will be a-okay! Especially when it comes to karma - actions WILL come back and bite you in the ass! :)

  22. Michael Says:

    Congrats on your 3rd anniversary!

  23. Julie Says:

    Congrats on three years Grace! Your blog post is full of good stuff.

  24. Mindy Says:

    Congrats unnie!! It always amazes me that what was a hobby for you during our Jasmine Ave days has turned into such a great business for you!! You have always been so talented in whatever you do and you definitely deserve all the success that has come your way!! You are an inspiration!!!

  25. Chung Nguyen Says:

    You’re awesome! Happy 3rd Anniversary!

  26. scruffy dog photography Says:

    the calendar says three years, but your work and your heart clearly say a lifetime. you are exactly where you should be, Grace. huge kudos to you, girl.

  27. Kim Hartz Says:

    I was forwarded this post by a friend who is also a pet photographer like me. This is a fabulous post with a wonderful message. Thank you for sharing!

  28. heaven Says:

    happy 3 year anniversary! : ) the pets and pet parents you touch are so lucky to have you. I read the novella and loved it. One of the hardest things for me EVER has been to not compare and feel like poo. we all have a voice to share… and as i once read, ‘if you are called to be an artist, than BE an artist’. whatever that pull is for you, it’s yours and no one elses… and it matters. thanks for the reminder.

    all that said… still a huge juicy fan of your work.

    and maybe after 7 years of doing every type of photography besides what I want to, I’ll jump in and surround my days with furr and slobber.

    *cheers* clink* *clink


  29. holly Says:

    Awesome grace. You know every time I read something you write, you are so eloquent. I am extremely happy for you and congrats on the 3 years. I’m playing around with my dslr but maybe not enough. Awesome advice. :DDDD

  30. Shauna (Fido & Wino) Says:

    What a great and inspirational post! I feel all jazzed up now. Thank you :)

    Happy 3 Years to you!

  31. Sara Says:

    Grace, your name truly exudes and transcends through your words of wisdom. I agree with you wholeheartedly and I think these are all perfect guidelines for living life - not just photography! So, so many congrats to you, love! xx
    p.s. Did you intentionally place the photo of Beverley Mitchell from 7th heaven after writing about being an integrity virgin? If so, loved that - too funny!

  32. Christine Says:

    congratulations on a very fabulous three years my dear…. you are so inspiring, lovely, talented, and beautiful to boot! :) love your journey… it is SO not cliche. and such generous words of wisdom. thanks for sharing, friend! you deserve all your successes and more. xoxo

  33. Greg Says:

    Happy anniversary Grace. You have a unique gift, thanks for sharing it with us.

  34. Fido & Wino » feeling guilty, grateful, stressed and jazzed Says:

    […] found this post by Grace Chon from Shine Pet Photos really inspiring. She bought herself a DSLR 3 1/2 years ago, […]

  35. Stacy Gardner Says:

    I appreciate your post. It seems to me that you have pointed in the direction of “the secret to life.” Rock on!

  36. Anne Burton Says:

    Congratulations Grace on your anniversary! I absolutely love looking at your wonderful work and reading this post was an inspiration and a delight. Thanks so much for sharing!

  37. Virginia Oxford Says:

    Hi Grace, thank you for this great entry. You’re such an inspiration to me. I love that you’re able to do what you love, live as a creative person and encourage others to do the same if they want to. Thank you!

  38. kristie kulik Says:

    You talent, your success, your honesty on the blog…you really are an inspiration!

  39. Peaches Says:

    Wow, what a sincere and inspiring post! Look how far you have come and just imagine all the places you will go :)
    Thank you for sharing your adventure and reminding the rest of us that there is nothing wrong with setting goals and dreaming big!

  40. sylvia Says:

    what an honest and inspiring post! i don’t know if the day will come when i could/would leave the security of my day job, but i hope that in three years, i’m happy and fulfilled, with a portfolio half as wonderful of yours.

  41. Denver Pet Photographer Says:

    I totally agree with being respectful, but at the same time I will say that it’s important to stay competitive. Meaning this is capitalism, and other people are going to compete so you’re going to always have to be bringing your A game.

  42. Kimberly Says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I find myself constantly comparing myself to others but I will now take your advice and cut it out already! Congratulations on your success!!!

  43. Mary Says:

    Congratulations! Love the words of wisdom, “Integrity is not an STD”=)

  44. Lauren Elizabeth Says:

    Wooooohooo, you GO GIRL! You are such an inspiration to me, not only because of your beautiful photos, but because of everything in this post. I admire how true you are to yourself, your personality and love of animals just shines (no pun intended) through your work. Keep up the fantastic work!

    Lauren Elizabeth
    Ruffles Art Studio

  45. Jami Graham Says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I died when I read this but it’s inspiration. I’ve always liked photography, and loved it plenty of times, I actually even interned for a photographer. I’ve been joking with my husband that I’d love to be a pet photographer! Oh…I’m super jealous about shooting Chunk! I have a VERY straight lady crush on Chelsea Handler!!

    Thank you for this post! Congratulations on 3 years of an awesome business!!

  46. Petsimply Says:

    CONGRATULATIONS on 3 yrs. Your work is wonderful and what great advice!!! Thanks for sharing!!!!

  47. Liz ~ elizabeth&jane photography Says:

    <3 this and <3 you. Going to keep this bookmarked for when I have a bad day. Congrats on 3 years, here’s to many, many more!!!

  48. Not just another pet photog | The Daily Toki Says:

    […] you have a few minutes, check out Shine Pet Photo’s blog, where Grace talks about launching her (now three year old) pet photography business.  It’s […]

  49. Karin Newstrom Says:

    Great post and congratulations on your success! I love your work. :)

  50. Pia Says:

    Wow.. Thanks for the inspiration. Plus I really enjoy your amazing work. Keep it up!!!

  51. Cristina Alt Says:

    I’m so so happy that I was reading tofurious today! I can’t believe I was missing out on your beautiful work and wise words :) Can’t wait to discover more on your blog.

  52. Jamie Fisher Says:

    You are awesome. !!! :)

  53. Fostering Stray Cats Says:

    Check out this article on tax deductions for fostering feral or stray cats. Pictures in your site are great.

  54. Karen Says:

    Grace - I don’t even remember how I stumbled on your blog a couple of years ago; but when I did I became a regular visitor because your photos just make me so damn happy! Though I’m on the other side of the country and have never met you, I’ve been genuinely happy to witness your progress and success. I’ll be sharing this post of yours with friends because it is so well-stated and so applicable to everyone, regardless of their pursuit. Rock on! :-D

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