Martin Apera is a professional photographer and animal-lover. He volunteers regularly at PAWS Chicago and Chicago Animal Care and Control. Martin started his pet photography business, AMSTAPHY, Pet Photography in 2013. He excels not simply in making his clients’ pets look handsome, but in emphasizing the aspects of their personalities that make even a stranger see what their human buddies love most about them. Whether they’re stoic protectors or lovable goofballs, Martin is an artist you can trust to bring out the best in your furry friends.
When did you decide you wanted to get into photography?
After I left my last job, I wanted to work for myself and I was trying to figure out where to go. I always thought of myself as being creative; I went to school for video editing. I was into making movies, thought about making documentaries, stuff like that…then I found out that doing all that stuff, you have to work with a team, and I wanted to work by myself. So then I was like, “okay, what’s something else I know how to do?” Since I already knew how to use DSLR’s and stuff like that, I realized that I could do photography. Like most photographers, I went into it not knowing exactly where to take it. I started looking for a niche market. I asked myself, “what am I most comfortable with?” Like, what do I like photographing the most? That was actually the main reason I left my last job – I wanted to do what I wanted with my work. I realized I really like photographing animals, dogs in particular. I never grew up with dogs, but being around them, working with them, volunteering…it just always came natural to me. I talked to a lot of trainers at the places I volunteer for, and they gave me tips that helped with the photography. There aren’t a lot of photographers in this area who specialize in pet photography, so I realized I found my niche.
I understand you volunteer with PAWS Chicago and Chicago Animal Care and control, among others. Can you talk about your work with them?
I started my company in 2013, and soon after I signed up to volunteer at the City Shelter, and then from there I got to meet a lot of other great rescues. They reach out to me, I never say ‘no.’ I help out with them, and other local shelters, too. Lately I’ve been helping them out with photography stuff they need. They reach out to me, I always help. Like, if they need products or services to raffle out to raise money, I’ve done that plenty of times.
I got inspired from seeing other photographers around the country helping out, helping animals, and that made me want to get involved, too. Now I’m hoping to inspire others to do the same.
What has been the best thing about running your current pet photography business, AMSTAPHY?
I guess…just meeting the dogs [laughs]. Just meeting the dogs and cats and stuff…it’s like, the best job. I’m just around dogs and cats all the time, and I get paid for it.
I like it when clients get creative, like giving them hats or ties or things to wear. I like serving the clients. The emotion I get from looking at my own work of my own dogs, that’s what I want for them, so I try to give that to them.
What does the name of your business, AMSTAPHY, come from?
It comes from my dogs. The first one I rescued, her name is Bella. She’s an amstaff; that’s short for American Staffordshire. So it’s like, “amstaff” and “photography together.”
Actually, a lot of people, they see the name, but they don’t know how to pronounce the name. So I’m thinking of doing a contest where they film their pet talking, or…moving their mouths, but then they say the name of the company, so it looks like the pet is the one talking. That way, they can get to know how to pronounce the name. It’s still in the design stage, but I think that would be a funny thing. It wouldn’t be just for me, either; I think it would give the owners a way to be creative. It would be fun, seeing that.
If you could work with one animal you haven’t already, what would it be?
It’d probably have to be, like, a big cat, like a tiger or a lion. I think they’re magnificent. Not even just working with them, I would like to be just…in their presence, I guess. I think they’re beautiful creatures.
Where do you want to take your work?
Right now I do mostly private clients, but I’ve started working with a lot of companies, doing product shots. I did work with Bark Box, PAWS Chicago, like when they need photography work for their marketing materials…brochures, posters, holiday cards, things like that. Right now I’m working for a toy company. I did a model search recently over social media, contacting friends to see if I could photograph their pets and stuff…so now I’m just working on photographing them all.
I did a few shoots yesterday, and when we were done I gave them like a bag full of doggie toys. The dogs were so excited, they were like little kids [laughs]. I was like, ‘man, I gotta do this every time now.’
As far as where I want to take Amstaphy…the one problem I have is when I get calls from people who are hesitant to get photos of their dogs, and then there’s like an accident, and they want me to salvage some photo of them from their iPhone or something. I’m a photographer, you know? I can’t really do much with that. They want something to remember them by, but all they have are these old, crappy photos. I feel bad, so I want to get that message out: don’t wait until they’re all grey, or until it’s too late. I want to show my work more, so that hopefully people are more motivated to jump on it. This photo I have of my dogs in my studio, this brings me pleasure, and I want other people to have that too. That’s my job I guess, to convince them not to wait until it’s too late.