"How The Hell Does She Do That!" Q&A With Arica Dorff, Professional Pet Photographer.

Abbie and Arica met last year by happenstance while Abbie was on an adventure with the Scallywags, and Arica was exploring Hampton in her downtime, while passing through the Seacoast area. Arica was intrigued by the number of dogs Abbie had, how well they listened, and why they were there in the first place. Being a huge dog lover, Arica needed to find out more. She struck up a conversation with Abbie and learned what a unique alternative our service is to traditional dog walkers and doggie day care. Arica decided to give Salty Paws a follow on Instagram so she could see the latest happenings and daily pack pictures while on her travels.
As the seasons changed, and the year went by, Arica knew she would be passing though the Seacoast again during her annual photography road trip. She remembered this happy encounter seeing so many dogs playing peacefully and enjoying themselves. Arica then reached out to see if Salty Paws would be interested in capturing some of this joy on camera.
Arica was upfront in noting she did not want compensation for the shoot. Who is this dog loving, van life living, nature enthusiast, professional photographer lady, who wants to put in 8-10+ hours of editing screen time and dedicate hours of her limited time in the area to photographing 16 dogs, for free we thought? Is she crazy, or just really passionate. As we suspected, she's very passionate about her work and loves what she does. Simply put, Arica wanted to photograph the Scallywags being Scallywags; living their best lives, in one of the most beautiful locations New Hampshire has to offer. This says a lot about her passion for photography and love for dogs. Anyone who loves dogs this much is someone we definitely want to hang out with. A date was set, we got lucky with the weather, and to say the photos turned out amazing is an understatement. They are incredible!
It's obvious Arica lives an incredible life. We wanted to know more and figured you would too.
  • What inspired you to specialize in pet photography? 

I’ve always known I would have a career that involved working with animals in some capacity.  As a child I wanted to be a veterinarian.  After earning my college degree in Psychology, I considered becoming an animal trainer.  Becoming a pet photographer was a very natural transition for me as it combined artistic expression with working with animals and providing wall art that their owners treasure for a lifetime.  


  • Before you started to travel full time, did you have a studio or work for a photography company?

After finishing college in Las Vegas, I was working for a high volume photography studio that didn’t accept pets.  Everyone kept asking if I knew of a photography studio that photographed animals.  After doing the research, I realized in a city of over 2 million people, there wasn’t a pet photography studio so I decided to open one.  I had a 2,500 sq ft luxury pet photography studio in Las Vegas for 9 years.  I had 3 employees and shot 250 portrait sessions per year.  In 2015 I sold my studio and became a traveling pet photographer.  I now do one pet photography road trip every fall capturing pet & family portraits around the country.


  • How many days a year are you and your Bloodhound Gracie on the road?

My Bloodhound Gracie is the best traveler!  And thank goodness because we actually live on the road full time.  In 2020 I bought an empty cargo van and hired a carpenter friend to help me turn it into a home on wheels complete with a kitchen, bathroom, dining area, sunroof and rooftop deck.  My annual photography road trip is 3 months long and we take the other 9 months off every year exploring, following the weather and visiting friends and family.  

  • You’ve seen a lot of the country. Is there one location, in particular, that holds a special place in your heart?

Favorite locations are based on the weather.  Mammoth Lakes, CA is one of my favorite places in the summer for the wild hot springs, crystal clear lakes and forest camping.  But it’s not a place I want to visit in the winter with a 2WD van and freezing temps overnight.  Arizona is one of my favorite places to spend the winter for the sunshine and warm weather.  But it’s not a place I want to be in the summer with triple digit temps.  Gracie & I plan our photography road trip as well as our 9 months off around the weather.


  • How do you get the dogs to pose so well?

A combination of patience, interesting noises to get their attention for the camera and I always utilize owners as assistants during portrait sessions.  Many of my best portraits are a result of keeping pets on leash and removing the leashes in post-production editing.  


  • After you wrap up gathering content, how much time does it typically take you to edit and perfect your photos?

I spend 8-10 hours per portrait session between location scouting, shooting the portraits, editing, creating an online gallery, working with clients to figure out what sizes and where to display their portraits in their home, sending the order to print, etc.  


  • Have you ever photographed any more exotic or wild animals? Lizards, monkeys, alpacas?

The majority of my portrait sessions consist of dogs, cats and horses.  I do volunteer my time and offer complimentary adoption portraits for animal rescue groups and shelters to help homeless animals find forever homes.  Some adoption portraits have included pigs, cows, goats, chickens, guinea pigs, ferrets and rats.  I also did a portrait session years ago for a private zoo and they brought a variety of exotic animals to my studio including a spider monkey, a toucan, an otter and a porcupine.    


  • What’s the largest number of animals you’ve photographed at one time?

Salty Paws takes the award for the largest number of animals I’ve photographed at one time!  15 dogs looking at the camera in one shot is definitely an accomplishment, but Abbie & Erin are amazing dog handlers and trainers so they made my job easy!

(This picture of Arica's work just amazes us! 5 kittens perfectly posing at one time?! This is a gift, or maybe she's a wizard. Either way, Arica's skills, patience, and ability to tune in with animals is incredible.)

  • If you had to pick, what’s the easiest animal to photograph (besides goldfish)? 😉

I’ve heard countless times “my dog is hyper and untrained and you’ll never be able to get him/her to sit still for portraits”.  You might be surprised to learn that dogs with a lot of energy are often the easiest ones to photograph because they react to all of the noises I’m making and give me great, inquisitive expressions.  

(Mauzzie is crazy. Who would have thought she could look so majestic when she's not spinning around like a Tasmanian devil?)

  • What is Gracie’s favorite part about your lifestyle?

Being a Bloodhound, I think Gracie loves the new smells everywhere we go.  We rarely camp in the same spot longer than 3 days so she’s constantly getting to explore new areas. 


  • Do you have a favorite photograph of all time? If so, what makes it your favorite?

I taught an online photography workshop years ago for an international educational company.  They expected to have 10,000 photographers watching my live workshop so they organized a “crazy” photoshoot with a family of 4 people, 2 dogs, 2 bunnies, 2 ducks, 1 chicken and a miniature horse - all in a studio setting.  The “crazy” session was intended to market the workshop and was a bit of a joke on their end “let’s get a bunch of different animals in here to get people to tune in, even if Arica doesn’t capture any good portraits”.  Well challenge accepted!  We captured a beautiful family portrait with all 12 subjects posed comfortably looking right at the camera!


  • What is one thing you’ve learned about life or yourself through your travels?

I love this question.  Moving from house life into the van has given me the space for an immense amount of self growth and self reflection.   I’ve learned to slow down and really listen to people when they are talking as opposed to half listening and coming up with what I’m going to say next.  I’ve learned to stop and ask people how they’re doing - how they’re really doing - mentally, physically and spiritually. 


  • If someone wants to book a photoshoot, what’s the best way to go about scheduling one with you?

Clients interested in a portrait session can sign up for my email newsletter on the homepage of my website www.aricadorff.com.  You’ll receive updates when I start booking portrait sessions in the summer for my fall photography road trip.  You can also follow me on social media to see my road trip map, sneak peek images from portrait sessions and behind-the-scene shots of Gracie & I hiking and paddleboarding:


Personal Facebook: www.facebook.com/aricadorff

Business Facebook: www.facebook.com/aricadorffphotography


Personal Instagram: @aricadorff

Business Instagram: @aricadorffphotography 

For those parents that weren't able to get their pup signed up for the Scallywag shoot, make sure to book a session with Arica ASAP for next year. Having these portraits of your furry friend is something that you'll treasure for a lifetime.

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