September is National Pet Memorial Month, and as someone whose business was started as the result of my own loss, I thought it would be a perfect time to talk about how we can honor our very best friends. For me, Maggie was my business partner, my workout trainer, psychologist and my confidant (she was always the first to know about that new pair of shoes, and how much they actually cost). She gave 14 years of immense joy to my life, and when she was gone, I felt the need for something personal to honor her that I could place among all the photos I had. I also felt lost and alone in my grief over Maggie; it seemed as if no one else could relate.
I didn’t know her then, but Sarah Ernhart, of SarahBeth Photography, actually can relate. Sarah’s work is largely pet portraits and commercial work; in fact, she did the photography for my new website; but that is not all she does. So, I wanted to share a conversation I had with Sarah about some of her most rewarding work that she appropriately calls,
The Joy Session.
So Sarah, as someone whose business was started because of the loss of my first dog, Maggie, I understand the need to not only capture one last moment of joy, but to capture the joy we had for 14 years before it’s gone. Unfortunately, I didn’t know you then, but fortunate to know you now and have a chance to talk about your Joy Sessions. So, for starters, can you tell me how you started this particular part of your business?
Shortly before Christmas in 2009, I had a photo shoot with a woman named Joan, who was living at home in Hospice care, and relied on the companionship and day-to-day help of her Service Dog, Joy. A friend of hers booked the session as a final gift. She was so blessed to have Joy come into her life and told me Joy was her “gift from God.” And taking these photos had given her something wonderful to look forward to. Her apartment was filled with the word “Joy” in artwork and pillows. She even wore a “Joy” sweatshirt during our session.
Despite her declining health, Joan was a breath of fresh air for me, and helped me realize my photography can really be meaningful and important in so many ways. For so many people, their pets mean the world to them, and I’m able to capture tangible memories of their relationship together. All Joan wanted was beautiful photos of her and Joy, and to experience a photo session that celebrated their lives together.
Was that when you realized your work had another purpose?
I realized they sparked the idea to offer photo sessions specifically for pets that are nearing the end of their lives. But I didn’t know what to call it; “Emergency Session” was the first thing I could think of, but it sounded so cold and impersonal. It wasn’t until I did another session a few weeks later with another dog, Griffin, that I remembered Joan and Joy. I couldn’t think of anything or anyone I’d met who embodied such love and such a deep connection with a pet as they did.
Since Joan and Joy’s shoot in 2009, I’ve had over 100 Joy Sessions, and they tend to be some of my favorite sessions. I love hearing stories of how people came to choose their pets (or how the pets chose them) and all the funny, quirky things they do. They can be emotional, but for the most part, I’m able to stay pretty focused and professional. These sessions really are for people who want to celebrate the happiness — the joy — their pets have brought to their lives.
So, what is the most rewarding part of your Joy Sessions with your clients?
Many of my Joy Session clients will shed a few tears at their session, or when talking about their pets. But when they cry because of a picture I took, because that image is exactly how they want to remember their pet, that’s the most rewarding part for me. Capturing images that let you re-live those moments, to feel again what you felt at that point in time, is an amazing thing to do, and I feel lucky that I’m able to do it. I love watching a client see their final product for the first time… large wall pieces and albums are the most impactful. And I’ll often hear from other people who are affected by some of these images; of people they’ve never met. Creating images powerful enough to make a total stranger stop and feel something is also incredibly rewarding.
With such a full schedule of other clients’ work, how do find time to take on these special sessions? And what should someone know who is now thinking of calling you?
Joy Sessions are offered at a reduced price from my regular sessions, and I try to fit them in whenever they’re needed. It’s great if we can shoot while your pet is still looking and feeling good, but I’ve also had many sessions with animals that are much closer to the end. And if you choose not to (or can’t) invest in a professional photo shoot, please take out your own camera or smart phone, or have a friend come over and get a few pictures of you with your pet while you can. I promise you won’t regret it.
To contact Sarah, you can find her at: http://www.sarahbethphotography.com
And for more information about Resources concerning Pet Loss, visit our “Giving Bark” tab and click on “Resources”.