Photographer Debra Bernard Shares Her Wide Lens of Experience

by | May 2024

Behind the lens of the popular @indy_puppy Instagram account is Nyla, the Bernards’ 3-year-old vizsla.

Behind the lens of the popular @indy_puppy Instagram account is Nyla, the Bernards’ 3-year-old vizsla. Photos: Debra Bernard

Professional Maple Grove photographer catches cute quirks and expressions.

With a sleek, tawny coat and innocent olive-green eyes, 3-year-old Nyla is hardly camera shy. Whether she’s showing off a trendy floral scarf or staying cozy in a pretty-patterned crochet sweater, owner and professional photographer Debra Bernard keeps this vizsla pup in tip-top shape. Nyla’s fan base is ever-growing, too, with nearly 14,000 followers on her Instagram page @indy_puppy.

Nyla Dog in Sweater

Bernard’s pet photography first took off in 2012, when she, her husband and their two children moved back to the United States after living abroad for four years.

When work brought Bernard’s husband to the Twin Cities, they settled on a home in Maple Grove. Being new to the community, she was a bit hesitant to restart her photography business. On a whim, she began by taking pictures of their dog, Indy, and sharing photos of him on social media.

“My daughter was entering her freshman year of high school. She really wanted a dog, and that’s when Instagram started [as an app],” Bernard says. “We didn’t really know what it was. That’s how @indy_puppy started.”

When Indy, the original pup behind the Instagram account, lost his battle with cancer during COVID-19, it took about a year before the family felt ready to welcome a new dog, Nyla, into their home. “It’s a little crazy with her. She’s fun to photograph, I can tell you that,” Bernard says.

While Bernard’s carved out a niche for herself through her pet photography, she stays busy with senior portraits, family photos and lifestyle photography as well. Setting up a photo shoot with pets, she says, is sometimes easier than it is with people, because there’s less prep involved.

“You just start photographing them. You can catch all their quirkiness. You can catch their great expressions. They’re not self-conscious,” Bernard says. “They’re just beautiful creatures. When you look into their eyes, you see their soul. I just love it.”

Often, Bernard brings a high-quality treat or a squeaky toy along to hold the dog’s attention. “I always want that focus on the eyes. Catch light from the eyes, it just makes for beautiful photos,” she says.

It takes a lot of patience too. If you’re tense at all, Bernard says, the animal will pick up on it right away. “I think dogs know if you’re a dog lover. They sense this stuff,” she says.

She says, “Don’t get worked up; be on their level. If that dog is literally lying down, you gotta lie down with the dog. You don’t want to overpower them.”

During the pandemic, some of her pet photo sessions, or poochtraits, as she calls them, were featured in the Wall Street Journal as part of the The Front Steps Project. At the time, hundreds of photographers around the world participated in taking photos of quarantined families.

“All of the families I was photographing, safely from a distance, had dogs, and I thought it would be cool to take a photo of just their dog on the front steps,” she says.

Her photography portfolio extends well beyond household pets. Bernard and her husband are originally from Washington, D.C., and were raising their son, Austin, and daughter, Alexis, nearby in Maryland when her husband received a job transfer to the Middle East.

“We moved to Dubai in 2008 before his company brought him to Minneapolis,” she says.

During Bernard’s time overseas, she provided photography for a company in the U.K. On one occasion, she traveled to a school in the Dhading District of Nepal to take student portraits. Living abroad also allowed her the opportunity to travel in nearly 30 different countries. She says it was a surreal experience being out in the desert, capturing photos of exotic animals.

Debra Bernard Camel Photograph

“The camels are just out walking. Someone owns them, but the camels are just walking to you,” Bernard says. “And the best shot you can get, if you can, get super low. The camels are so tall and massive. Literally, they’re wild.”

Benard has been to Kenya twice on safari in the Maasai Mara as well. “I’ve photographed some crazy stuff on my safaris. Some of my favorite shots are probably camels,” she says.

Debra Bernard has photographed animals all around the world, including cheetahs, elephants and giraffes in Kenya.

Debra Bernard has photographed animals all around the world, including cheetahs, elephants and giraffes in Kenya.

Her photography has been featured locally in the book Secret Twin Cities by local author Julie Jo Severson. Another photo, taken during the aftermath of the Minneapolis riots, was published in the book The Year Time Stopped, displaying the global pandemic in photos. She’s also the lead photographer for the Twin Cities-owned dog gear company, ROCT Outdoor. (Read more about ROCT Outdoor on page 14.)

Debra Bernard Photography
Facebook: Debra Bernard Photography
Instagram: @debrabernard
Instagram: @indy_puppy


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