Meet Penny Wills Pet Photographer

Photography by Penny J. Wills

Meet Penny Wills Pet Photographer…

When I met Penny in 2008 she had just moved from a Pentax camera system to Nikon, and was on the threshold of opening a Pet Photography business. Penny knows pets!

Penny is the proud owner/parent of 5 dogs and 14 cats. In addition to this she has fostered abused and abandoned pets for her local Breed, and All Breed rescue groups. She has competed with her dogs in Agility, Obedience, and Conformation competitions for years and photographed her pets throughout their competitive lives. This is where she honed her keen sense of timing to get the perfect action shot. Through the years friends would ask her if she would take photographs of their dogs and Penny loved it. Over time it evolved into a small business.

The last 3 years she’s worked hard at building her business into a full-time career. Her warmth, love for animals, and her skill as a photographer have taken her from being on the threshold to crossing it.

Q. Give us a little bit about your background, a mini biography where you were born or grew up.  Where are you living now?
I grew up in Windsor Locks, Ct. I went to a Vocational Agricultural High school with a major that started in Animal Sciences, but switched to Plant sciences instead. I went to Springfield Technical Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Landscape Architecture. After spending a few years in that field, I moved inside where it was warm and dry! My husband and I own a hardware store in a lovely little town in the northwest corner of Connecticut. We live about 3 miles from where I grew up.

Q. How would you describe yourself as a photographer, and what sparked your interest in photography?

I have always been interested in photography. My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic camera. The kind with the square flash cubes that clicked into the top of the camera. I took some great pictures, but film in the 70’s was horrible at turning orange from aging. My first “recent” camera was a Pentax K1000 film camera. I loved that little camera, it went everywhere with me.  As a photographer, I’m still learning. I will probably be always learning. There is so much to learn study and work on.

Q. How did you get your start in the field of Pet photography?

I have white dogs. Nobody can seem to take decent shots of white dogs.  I was bound and determined to get good shots of my dogs. I had professional photographers take their photos, and they were either over exposed with blown highlights, or they were out of focus.  I do have two of those blown highlight/out of focus photos hanging on the wall, they are a reminder of what I do not want my photos looking like.

Photograph by Penny J. Wills

Q. What is your favorite kind of Pet photography, and what is it about that type that interests you so much?

My favorite type of Pet Photography is Studio work. I love formal portraits. I could spend hours in the studio shooting. There is something about portraits that speak to me. I lose all track of time in the studio. If I have a bad day at work, my husband can always tell. I grab the camera and head to the studio. I’ll emerge hours later, quite refreshed.

Photograph by Penny J. Wills

Q. Describe to us your first real “Event” that you shot professionally; where were you, what you were you feeling, what was it like etc.?

The first real Event I shot was this past January. It was an Australian Shepherd Regional Agility Specialty. This was my first break into shooting events. I also brought my portable studio and did formal portraits in between the runs when the new courses were being built. I had a lot of fun, but those were very, very tiring days. I was not expecting to be at the trial site at 6:30 in the morning, and not leave until almost 10 pm that evening, just to return at 6 a.m. the next day. I shot over 2000 photos in 3 days. In comparison now, that was being very frugal.  That agility trial got my foot in the door to shoot my first Conformation show (think Westminster Dog show) this past June and will be shooting in October.

Photograph by Penny J. Wills

Q. What is the most exciting thing about photographing Dogs in action?

The answer is the question. The most exciting thing about shooting events is capturing the dogs in action. The dogs’ expressions, their body language, they are just like people, you can empathize with them. The thrill of victory or, the agony of a dropped bar. Most of my action shots are Agility trials, so there is plenty of opportunity for great action shots. The best shots are the emotional shots. A novice dog’s first trial, a high award received, a dog’s last run before being retired, those are all events that have high emotional appeal to their owners. Those runs you go out of your way to make sure you capture some of the emotion in the photo. Usually somebody from the host club will give me a hint that something important is going to happen so I can prepare

Photograph by Penny J. Wills

Q. When you started what was your biggest dream?  And have you accomplished that?

My biggest dream is to have my own studio. I’m still working on that one! I have not decided where we will be and where my studio will be located. We are considering moving from Ct to Arizona, so, we’ll see.

Q. Who’s your favorite Pet photographer, and who do you draw inspiration from?

That is a tough question. I have so many. I would have to say I’m honored to call some of the most famous pet photographers in the country (except Helmi, she’s world famous) as friends. Helmi Flick, Preston Smith, Julie Poole, Jill Flynn, Jim Garvie, just to name a few.  They are all wonderful people, down to earth, answer my many questions, proof read contracts with me, and are fun to just chat with.

Q. What is it that you like the most about shooting Pets aside from other types of photography?

I love pets, all pets. In a Pet Photography workshop that I gave recently, the number one tip I gave was Patience. You must have patience when dealing with animals. I love interacting with the animals. They cannot speak, but if you are patient, they, through their body language, can tell you how they feel. That is not something that everybody gets, even their owners. That required a lot of study on body language, for cats and dogs, my main subjects. Does that cocked ear mean the dog is happy? Or that the cat is upset? There are very subtle tell-tale signs that are in plain sight if you take the time to read them.

Photograph by Penny J. Wills

Q. What has been your favorite shoot so far?

hmm, I’ll have to think about this one. I would have to say the lady who invited me to her home in Rhode Island to take photos of her dying dog because in her words “You’re the only photographer I trust with my dog.” It was a delightful drive to her house, we could not have asked for better weather, and she was an extremely gracious host. Her dog would not sit or lay still, so we scrapped the “formal” shots and went with the flow. I followed her dog around the yard and captured candid moments instead. Moments such as the cat washing the dog’s face, her lying in the damp grass with dew all over her nose. This goes back to one of the previous questions, about shooting the action shots. It’s not the action or the lack of that makes a good photo great, it’s the emotion behind the shot. I believe that to be true of all great photographs, not just pets.

Photograph by Penny J. Wills
Photograph by Penny J. Wills

Q. What’s on the horizon for Penny Wills?

That is a good question. I am broadening my horizons and moving into the category of Fine Art. I was recently approached to provide photos for a local doctor’s office. Reception room, waiting area, two exam rooms and offices. This is a huge jump for me, and one I am looking forward to. This will be a public gallery of my work and I’m very excited.

I plan on keeping the pet photography business going, but in addition to action/event, and portraits, I will be offering Fine Art Portraits and Prints.

To see more of Penny’s work go here:

Copyright © Deborah M. Zajac.  All Rights Reserved.


4 thoughts on “Meet Penny Wills Pet Photographer

    1. Audra, thank you so much for reading the interview and taking the time to write a comment! I appreciate that immensely.

      Penny, has been a wonderful friend, and inspiration to me these last 3 years that’s for sure.

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