There are few things I’d rather do than photograph dogs. It’s the perfect mix of so many of the things I enjoy; not only do I get to spend time with dogs, I get to spend time behind the camera, and I get to see the dogs’ owners’ faces when I show them the results.
Imagine, then, my excitement when FURminator® asked us to produce their 2012 product catalog. The combination of shooting dog photography, marketing a great product line, and designing this piece was a pinnacle for me.
Dogs have distinct personalities, and part of the joy of photographing them is in figuring out what that personality is and how to capture it, so the morning that York, a golden retriever, was scheduled to arrive at our office, I wondered what his personality would be like. Would he be independent and aloof, insecure, confident and engaging, or some unique combination?
Fortunately, York ended up being sweet, affectionate, confident, and willing. York’s personality made things a lot easier, but all dogs, even the friendliest goldens, present photography challenges. York was so friendly that he wanted to bear hug one of our graphic designers, so my only hope was to catch York off guard with some random element of surprise. Luckily it worked.
I’ve never completely analyzed my method for photographing dogs. I’ve built up enough knowledge and experience of both dogs and photography over the years that I mostly rely on instinct, but even instinct relies on method. Here are a few elements of my method:
• Get on the dog’s level. This normally involves contorting into all different shapes. I always expect for my muscles to be sore the next day, but it’s worth it because it allows me to see into their world for a brief moment.
• Surprise. Creating moments of surprise allows me to capture those enduring looks that owners love. Capturing this moment in a photo stops time and allows us to celebrate and enjoy the beauty of our pets’ expressions.
• Exercise patience. That means being willing to wait for that moment when personality, surprise, and focus meet.
• Focus on the eyes. In dog photography, it’s all about the eyes.
• Work the angles and the depth of field. Though the larger part of dog photography is a matter of capturing a moment, the use of positioning and focus to nudge that moment into being is key.
As for the rest? I chalk that up to feel, to intuition, a result of owning five dogs. It’s being able to sense and react to subtle movements, to know when the dog is about to give me a great look or if she needs a chance to play for a moment or be walked around in a circle to reset the frame.
It’s hard to describe, but when I’m behind the camera, I experience quiet. No matter how chaotic or energetic the surroundings, my focus narrows and I lock in to angle, focus, and feel. People call it the “zone”; whatever it is, it’s addictive. The power of possibility takes over, and anticipation builds until the shoot ends, at which point I all but run to the computer, upload photos, and smile.