Kelly J. Russo Photography

Say Hello to Kelly J. Russo Photography

Welcome back to Book Your Pet's Business Pawspectives series. In this series, we're meeting petpreneurs from around the world and getting to know more about them, their businesses and what makes them tick.

In this second instalment, Book Your Pet’s Liam Marshall sat down with Kelly Russo. Kelly is the owner of Kelly J. Russo Photography, a pet photography business based in Houston, Texas (USA) that specializes in capturing the beauty of dogs and horses.

In this interview they discuss Kelly's passion for animals, what led her to becoming a full-time pet photographer, and her goals for the future of her business, PLUS Kelly offers her advice for new and upcoming petpreneurs.

 If you'd like to be featured in future instalments of Business Pawspectives, email for more information.

 Take a look at Liam and Kelly's chat below:

For those of you who’d prefer to read this interview with Kelly J. Russo Photography, you can find the full conversation below!

(All of the images featured in this article have been kindly provided by Kelly J. Russo Photography)

Liam: Kelly as your first question, can you introduce yourself?

Tell us a bit about your business, and where your passion for animals came from. Fill us in about who is Kelly and Kelly J. Russo photography.

Kelly: I am a pet photographer in Houston, Texas. I specialize in dogs and also horses and I've been in business for going on three years now. I started my business right before the pandemic hit (which is not the greatest time to start a business) and I never looked back. Things actually have been really great so far. 

I grew up in South Texas, on a cattle ranch. So I was always around animals growing up, but I always loved photography too. Before I became a full-time photographer I worked in wildlife conservation organizations and non-profits. I thought that's what I wanted to do. But photography was always a part of my job even when I was working in those organizations.

Finally, I got to a point where I realized this was just really what I wanted to do full-time. So I decided to take the lead and start my own petpreneur business and become a full-time photographer.

Liam: Amazing. So it's really been a combination of the passions that you've had throughout your life for pets and for photography.

What was it about that point three years ago that made you take that leap? Was there a particular trigger that happened? What changed the mindset of where you were, to make you want to go 'Now is the right time'?

Kelly: It was a very hard decision. I was working full-time, but in my spare time, I volunteered a lot with dog rescues photographing new animals and helping them get adopted through photography. And that was becoming more and more frequent.

I was spending more and more time doing that and then getting requests from people to photograph their dogs too. Then I kind of had a couple of bad experiences with my full-time job at the same time. So all of that kind of culminated in me just saying 'I think now's the time. I'm gonna just strike out on my own and give it a go.' Luckily, I had some good foundations in place, so it helped me launch successfully and keep things going and gaining momentum.

Liam: Can you tell us a little bit more about those foundations? 

Kelly: Before I started my business, I had signed up for a business academy. So I knew what kind of things I needed to have in place to have to be legally sound as a business and then to have my pricing correct and my mindset correct to be working for myself. So that really helped to kind of have the roadmap in place, whenever I decided to take the leap and go full-time.

Liam: Is that something you would recommend other people to do if they're thinking about jumping into a career as a petpreneur? 

Kelly: Yeah. I mean I think you should definitely do your research and find out what's involved in starting a business - all the tax and liabilities and legal things you have to have in place - but at the same time I also feel you shouldn't get too hung up on all those little details because in my experience action is more important than perfection.

So even imperfect action, or if you don't have all pieces of place - you don't have an email newsletter, you don't have a website all those things - it's better just to get started as much as you can and then add those things in as you go or perfect them over time as you grow

Liam: Absolutely, I completely agree. It's one of those things that if you never start, then it's never going to happen. Whereas you can take the small steps and those small actions and they'll compound over time. Those actions will have bigger results over time. So it's about taking those first steps and they may be baby steps, but eventually, if you take it one step at a time, you're going to get to the top of the hill eventually.

Kelly: And you don't have to jump into full-time, right away. It could be something you start part-time and you can just stay part-time. It's really individual how you set up your own business. So don't compare yourself to everybody and their success, it takes time. It really does.

Liam: There's that great saying that comparison is the thief of joy and I think you've hit the nail on the head there. It's all about the personal journey as a petpreneur, isn't it?

Kelly: Yeah, it really is. You look at Instagram and social media and you see amazing dog photos and you think 'Man I'm just not that good', but really what you don't know is that person probably spent 10,000 hours perfecting that. So it is a journey and I'm still on that journey and I'm nowhere near finished or where I want to be. It's just about staying the course.

Kelly J. Russo Photography. A behind the scenes shot of Kelly on an equine photoshoot. The photo is taken from behind as she is crouched on the floor to get an angled shot of a horse in the distance.

Liam: Where do you want your business to grow to eventually in the next 12 months or couple of years?

Kelly: I've heard from other photographers that this year has been a little tough for a lot of people in terms of, just clients and business. I'm not sure if it's something with the economy or... we had a heat wave here in Texas, so most people aren't wanting to be outside photographing with their dogs. But I'd like to see myself, besides getting really regular clients and regular bookings, I'd like to get more involved in perhaps local businesses and also maybe media in Houston as someone who can provide information, not just about photography and pets, but maybe training or how to work with your pets or, just become more of a petpreneur in general.

Liam: At Book Your Pet we're all about sort of helping petpreneurs to make their businesses bigger and better and more sustainable as well. One of the things we always say about sustainability is being able to diversify your services. So as much as you are a pet photographer, the great thing about any pet service is that they all sort of tie into each other. What you're saying about training there and being able to advise outside counsel to other businesses - it all ties together because you'll have that training experience from being able to get the dogs to sit and pose. So being able to diversify those services is a really great point as a petpreneur to see that continued growth and carry on that journey.

Kelly: Exactly. It really's really about a community as well. There are so many other small petpreneurs here in Houston that I'd like to partner with so we can promote each other's businesses and kind of just build that community. It's not all about the large, pet stores. There are a lot of local businesses and small business trainers, dog walkers and groomers that we can all support each other. So I think that's something I'd like to work on more in the coming year is really getting those connections made.

Liam: If you don't know already Book Your Pet has actually launched a membership platform, and as part of that platform, it's all about building that sense of community as well.

Kelly: That's wonderful.

Liam: It's not only what you said about giving the resources to help people with the things you touched on, like the business structure and the financials. We've got all of those resources, but it's also about connecting business owners with each other, to support one another and build that sense of a global community. Not just a localized, but a global community of petpreneurs and passionate pet people who just want to see animals happy and healthy and well cared for in the world.

Kelly: Yeah that's exactly right. That's exactly what I'd like to move toward as well. So that's really exciting to hear.

Liam: Going back to your photography, you said you specialize in dogs and horses. How did you come to decide on those two sides of the coin?

Kelly: It's kind of funny. So dogs have always been kind of my spirit animals. So I spent a lot of time photographing like I said, rescue dogs and then my own dogs and I was just obsessed with creating some really memorable images. But then I attended a workshop about pet photography and one of the speakers was talking about equine photography and she kind of went through a sample photo shoot. I was just thinking 'I can do that'. so, I reached out to some friends who I knew had horses and asked 'Can I come out to photograph your horse and try it out?' and they were more than happy to let me come out and practice. Then they told all their friends and I kept doing more and more and then I started offering that as a service in my business.

It's been really great because in the summertime in Texas - it gets really hot here - so in the cooler months is when I photograph dogs the most, but in the summer months, when it's hot, is when horses actually look their best because their coats are very shiny and sleek they've lost all their winter coat. So it kind of balances out where I do a lot of horses during the summer, and off months, that I don't do dogs and dogs the rest of the year. 

Liam: That's really something that I've never would have thought of as making it an all-year-round business. Because you do get, in other photography professions like wedding photographers and things like that, it does seem to be that quite a seasonal vocation for a lot of people. So being able to figure out how to make an all-year-round profession, I think that's really quite clever.

Kelly: Thank you. 

Liam: Since becoming a full-time pattern, what has been the most rewarding part of running a pet business for you?

Kelly: Gosh, probably being able to give my clients these moments in time with their favorite pet. Especially when - I've had several clients who've reached out to me later to say that their pet has passed on and they're so grateful to have these images of their dog or their horse that they can look back on and kind of relive those moments in time when they still had them with them. So that's really rewarding to see and just to know. People are so emotional about their pets and just seeing their reaction when they see these pictures, when I do a reveal, it makes me feel good to know that I'm making them happy that way.

Liam: Do you do those reveals in person?

Kelly: I do sometimes in person but a lot of times it's over Zoom because Houston is a pretty large city. So sometimes clients are all over the place. So it's a lot easier to do it over Zoom. I do it like a slideshow with music and I kind of watch their reactions as they're looking. So it's kind of fun.

Liam: What does a typical shoot look like for you? Because I think, again, going back to one of those classic sayings, a lot of people always say, especially in film and TV, to never work with animals or children. So combining the lens with the animals - How do you find that? Can it be a bit chaotic sometimes? Or have you developed particular methods to be able to get those perfect shots?

Kelly: Yes, to all those questions. The best thing I can do is try and plan in as much as possible. I have a planning call, maybe more than one, with the client and try and get to know their personality and also their pets' personalities as much as I can. Whether the dogs are nervous around you, places where they're reactive or if they have a thing about certain colored-haired people, or whatever it could be. I try and learn as much as I can.

Then I use that information to determine a location for the photo shoot. If the dog is reactive or really shy, I try and find a place that's really quiet and out of the way. We may do an early morning versus an evening so there are less people around.

Then once we get to the session it runs as smoothly as possible, and I let the dog lead the way. So I have in my mind certain shots I want to get in certain places but really if the dogs are not into it, I'm not going to force them. I have lots of ways to get their attention with noise makers, squeakers treats, or things like that. But sometimes, if they just don't want to look at the camera that is totally fine, we can still really make beautiful images of them looking off into the distance or whatever.

A lot of it's opportunistic too because you don't know until you get out there that something really special might happen. Especially when you have the owner and the dog together. I try and capture those 'in-between' moments, too. So when they're not even posing or not even thinking about the camera, they're just focused on each other and that's when you get the really great pictures.

Liam: I suppose with those not-so-staged images, they're the real ones that show the intimacy in the bond that they have between the pets.

It really sounds like every shoot is going to be a completely personalized service when it comes to what you're doing, which is fantastic. When people are booking with you, they know that their photos are going to be unlike any other photos and it's great that you really listen to what the dogs are telling you, as well as what their parents are telling you.

Kelly: I've done young dogs that are really active, and I always tell clients that I have a very fast shutter speed, so they can be as wiggly as possible and I promise I will still get some pictures of them!

Liam: You obviously have a lot of experience and know all the tips and tricks to capture those photos, but going back to when you started - What do you know now that you wish you'd have known then?

Kelly: Gosh, so much. I guess specifically about photography, I wish I had more about lighting and that kind of thing. Photography is all about light and how it falls on your subject. So I wish back then I was more knowledgeable about seeing where the light falls so I could capture the best image that way and not rely so much on editing.

Now I'm in a place where I can let the light in the camera do most of the heavy lifting. So I don't have to edit as much - I get it as right as possible in the cameras as I can.

I also wish when I started out I had spent more time with the clients, learning more about their dogs. This is the workflow process that has evolved over time. So in the beginning, I wasn't as thorough with some of my clients and getting to know them and those details before the session as I am now. I really take the time now to get to know them and really create that experience.

Liam: Do you have a different process you go through with the horses? Is there a different set of boxes you have to tick with the owners?

Kelly: It's very similar because horses also have their quirks. Sometimes for horses, I have an assistant (who's my husband) and we use different things to get the ears pointed, or for the horse to look a certain way. So I find out what the horses are sensitive to ahead of time because every horse reacts differently to different stimuli and horses are huge animals and you have to be more safety conscious with the big animals like that.

So I really try and make sure that we have everything in place. The owners know what we're doing, so they can keep tabs on what the horses are feeling and their cues so they can tell when we need to take a break.

Liam: You mentioned a little earlier that when you started out friends would ask you to take pictures of their pets and then it was friends of friends and that word-of-mouth trail led to the business building and growing. So obviously that for you is a very powerful marketing tool. But are there any other avenues that you've gone down in terms of the marketing to get the name and the business out there to help it grow?

Kelly: Yeah, probably one of the biggest ways that's helped me is partnering with businesses. I will go out  - and not necessarily all pet-related businesses but garden centres, or regular stores - they may sell some pet products, but I'm just trying to get my name out in front of a wider audience. So I try to partner with businesses as much as possible and then they help promote the event and then I can get email addresses and kind of grow my audience that way.

A professional photograph captured by Kelly J. Russo Photograpy showing a brown horse stood in a field with it owner, a blonder female in a pink dress, hugging it.

Liam: What advice would you give to somebody who's at the beginning of their journey as a petpreneur? Whether they've not quite taken that leap and they're just thinking about it, or they've just jumped off that cliff edge, and they're going for it, all guns blazing. What advice would you give them having been in their shoes three years ago?

Kelly: It's a lot of work. I guess instinctively you know but you don't realize how much work it can be. It's not like, as a photographer I thought I was going to start my own photo business and I was gonna be photographing all the time. Really, photography is about 20% of what I do, the rest is the business side so you really can't neglect the marketing, pounding the pavement and making connections and partnerships. I mean, that's just as important as the actual service you provide, So, make sure you have a balance as much as possible.

Liam: Absolutely. It is one of those things, as you say, where you don't quite realize, how much admin goes into running a business, especially when you're just one person, because you could be spinning so many plates all at the same time. You're not only a photographer but your marketing, you're finance, you're tech, you're everything.

One of the great things about what we do at Book Your Pet is that our software is designed to take that pressure off of the petpreneur. Our live booking software not only presents a place for people to come and find and book your services without having to do endless back-and-forth messaging, but it markets to a new audience as well. It has reporting features so it saves all of your admin. It's got so many features that help to take care of that side of things. So, as much as admin can be daunting for new petpreneurs, it's not something for them to be fearful of.

Kelly: I wish I had this tool when I first started!

Liam: I'm gonna ask you to make a choice here. If you could only photograph dogs or horses for the rest of your career, which one would it be and why?

Kelly: it's hard. I guess I think dogs have a slight advantage as they tug in my heartstrings a little more. Just because I just love dogs. I don't personally own a horse at the moment, so maybe I'm leaning more toward dogs right now. Seeing that bond they have with their owners - I know horses do as well - but it seems like dogs are more expressive in their love. So yeah, I think it would have to be dogs .

Liam: Can you think, has there been a favorite photoshoot of yours or a favorite dog that you photographed who's being particularly, excellent on the shoot that or it's just sort of stolen your heart with their do eyes?

Kelly: Hosh, there's been quite a few. Obviously, the ones that go the smoothest are the dogs who are really well-trained. They'll stay in sit and, everything on command. But it's really fun to see the ones that are just happy with life in general. There's been a few of those in my time as a full-time photographer where they're just happy to be outside, they're just happy to smell the grass. They're just happy to say hi to you. They have so much joy. So those dogs are really fun to photograph because you never know what you're going to get.

One of the reasons I started my business was I photographed rescue dogs, and also my own dog, her name is Harriet, and she's kind of like that. She's got that personality where she's just joyful and she's kind of my muse. I practice new techniques on her all the time.

Liam: With all the different kinds of dogs and the horses that you meet. No two days can be the same. How do you deal with that as a person? Are you the type of person who likes to have variation?

Kelly: Having a workflow in my business is really helpful to keep things consistent, and on track, and like you said, I do like the variety. This weekend, I'm photographing a dachshund on Saturday and then a horse on Sunday. So it's kind of fun to have that variety, but at the same time, I also know exactly where they are in my workflow and how things are supposed to progress from start to end. So that kind of a routine helps keep me grounded.

Liam: In terms of that workflow, are there any particular systems that you use at the moment or how is it that you organize your diary in your time? 

Kelly: So I use a variety of software, but Trello is probably one of my biggest things that I use for almost everything. I have set up boards for a client workflow from inquiry to photo session to finish. Then I also use that for marketing and also ideas and just things I need to get done. I can move things along a pipeline and basically have it set up. So that's probably one of the biggest things I use. Just keep organized.

Liam: We'll wrap this up here, but before I let you go, tell us what's next for Kelly J. Russo photography. What have you got coming up? Are there places where people can come and find you and meet you? And where can people find and follow you online as well, if they want to make inquiries or see your work?

Kelly: So my website is, and that's also my Instagram handle, so you can always reach me there.

Coming up, I have a lot of seasonal sessions. So even though we don't have a lot of seasons here in Texas, I am doing Christmas and fall autumnal-type events coming up. So you can find out more about that on my website. And other than that, I'm just trying to, get through the busy season of the rest of the year and then start planning for next year.

Liam: Do it all over again, bigger and better we hope.

Kelly: Yeah exactly.

Liam: Thank you so much for joining us today Kelly. We'll be spotlighting Kelly over the next two weeks across all of our platforms.

Do you want to be featured in future editions of our Business Pawspectives series? If you’re a pet business owner, get in touch today by emailing!