Photographing Dogs

Photographing Small Dogs

Thursday, July 25, 2013

It is easy to design high-key lighting schemes to photograph small dogs in a studio environment.

A few days ago, a client brought Boo-Boo, a 14 ½-year-old Pomeranian, to the studio. Prior to our session, we discussed his temperament and distinguishing features. I think it is important to gather information about a dog and his/her owner at least a couple of days before the shoot. A window of even only a couple of days allows me to think about lighting, lenses, and an idea of how to arrange the studio. Although my dog portraits are minimalistic, they do require a good amount of preparation.

My family has a small collection of stuffed dogs and two real ones–a young eleven-pound Chiweenie, and a senior 40-pounder mixed-breed. My favorite stuffed dog is Snoopy. My wife got him about forty years ago; they were inseparable throughout her childhood.


Either real or stuffed, our dogs help me prepare for a gig. I like stuffed animals; they do not demand treats or get restless. Snoopy is great for testing out lens and lighting combinations.



Boo-Boo's Photo Session

Boo-Boo and his human arrived right on schedule. The entire session from beginning to end, including final review of the images on an off-camera monitor, took less than an hour.  Due to my prep work and having an assistant available to help manage Boo-Boo, the shoot went smoothly.

















Afterwards, I rewarded myself by taking a nice long nap. Odds are that Boo-Boo did the same.


Little Guy the Dog Muse

Sunday, May 27, 2013

We have two dogs, Jazz and Little Guy. We adopted Jazz from a shelter in Dedham, Massachusetts, almost eleven years ago. She is a sweet, mellow Heinz 57 kind of a dog. I owe much to her. She enabled me to experiment with lighting, cameras, and behavioral psychology to hone my craft. She prefers not to work as a studio model anymore. She is old and arthritic.


A year ago, we adopted a Chiweenie named Bailey from a Dachshund rescue organization in South Florida. Bah Bailey—what a stupid name for a feisty eleven-pound Chiweenie. Within a week, we were calling him "Little Guy." He quickly caught on to his new name.

While Jazz is a self-assured forty-pounder, Little Guy is always slightly anxious. He is the type of dog that reacts to the sound of a person sneezing three houses over.  Annoying? Yes. He sometimes pushes us over the cliff. Cute? Yes. He cracks us up with his repertoire of facial expressions, consistently stinky breath, Napoleonic complex, delightfully tactile coat, silly antics, and independent spirit. His vocalization skills are beyond impressive. I daresay his range spans four, five—maybe six octaves. He talks in his sleep. He is the silliest canine friend that I have ever had. I love him for that.


A couple of months ago, my daughter Helen and I took him to the local dog park. Of course, he pulled us along into the area sectioned off for big dogs. Much to our surprise, he headed straight towards the agility course. Helen and I looked at each other in amazement. Human passers-by could not help but comment about his prowess. He was the toast of the park. He outclassed all of the other dogs.


Not to diminish my love, admiration, and appreciation for Jazz, Little Guy presents a wider range of artistic possibilities as a photography subject. Perhaps it is his kinetic nature, or maybe he is simply an absurd creature who presents endless photographic opportunities—in the field and in the studio.








































Little Guy inspires me to push dog photography to new heights. Jazz helped me learn how to capture the essence of a dog's personality in a studio environment. Little Guy is teaching me how to break the boundaries and take dog art to new and interesting places.

Between muzzle and tail, every dog has at least half a dozen stories to tell. Thank you for helping me expand my vision, Little Guy.


Dog Park Tales and Dog Totem

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dog Park Totem*

Dog Park Tales

We took Jazz, our mixed-breed bow-wow, to the dog park on only two or three occasions. Although she loves people, she is ambivalent toward dogs. She is a rescue dog. Judging by her poor doggie social skills, I assume that her puppyhood was far from ideal.

Books on dog behavior stress the importance of a pup's need to interact with other dogs, especially littermates. The first six weeks are crucial. This is the time puppies learn the boundaries between playing and fighting, and dominance and submission. A puppy deprived from socializing with other dogs does not develop the neural pathways normal dogs do. A dog's brain is hard-wired in puppyhood to enable it to negotiate the complexities of canine society throughout adolescence and adulthood.

Poor Jazz, she is oblivious to the social cues and etiquette that normal dogs possess. Her third and final visit to the dog park ended badly. Jazz unknowingly antagonized a big dog. He lost his temper and bit her tail. There are multitudes of veins and arteries that traverse the length of a dog's tail. The bite was a bloody nuisance. Whenever Jazz wagged her tail, the bandage slid off and her blood splattered everywhere. It took a couple of days for the scab to form.

New Cameras and the Dog Park

Every three of four years, I replace an old camera with a new one. Digital technology moves along so fast that the shelf life of modern-day cameras is about equivalent to that of breakfast cereal.

Prior to this past Saturday, the last time I visited the dog park was to test a full-frame Sony digital camera in 2009. I wanted to try using the Sony outside the studio. Mostly, I wanted to see if the autofocus was fast and accurate enough to catch dogs-in-motion. The Sony really did not work well for that application. No matter, I purchased the camera mainly for studio photography. It is so much easier to control a canine subject in a studio. High-speed strobe lights freeze action—dogs are twitchy.

A couple of days ago, I went back to the dog park to test a new full-frame camera—this time a Nikon. My daughter Helen, and our recently rescued Chiweenie tagged along. The dog must have received coaching from his previous owner. He took to the agility course with aplomb. He was the talk of the park.

I went off on my own to test the Nikon. I used a 70-200mm zoom lens. The camera did not disappoint. It captured dogs-in-motion without a hiccup. Oddly, I prefer the static shots to the action photos. Aside from noticing improvements in digital photo technology, as evidenced by the new Nikon, I noticed that I am slower, stiffer, and creakier than I was during my last dog park excursion with the Sony. Woe is me.

*Dog Totem

I assembled "Dog Totem" from the pictures I took with the Nikon at the dog park. Dog park tales and dog totem: done. And now good news about wiener dogs and photography:

Wake up Orlando, Tampa Bay, and Lakeland! Wiener dog photo sessions are half-price at Top Dog Studios during the month of May. Schedule an appointment today— only five slots available. Call: (863) 607-9059.

The Wet Dog Across the Pond

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Every so often, a gift falls from the sky or drifts in from cyberspace. This gift arrived via the photography website that I have been visiting for years—The Luminous Landscape (LL). It is a wonderful place to visit, especially if you are interested in photography, photographers, tech-talk, and camera gear.

Every so often, I upload one of my dog pictures onto LL. My favorite place to post is in the section called "The Coffee Corner" located at the bottom of LL's discussion board page.

A few weeks ago, while checking out LL, I saw an excellent picture of a dog. I liked the image so much that I emailed the photographer to ask if I could show it on my blog.

The photographer, Jim Pascoe, emailed back. He gave me permission and attached that picture along with another.

I love the mood this picture evokes. It has the "feel" of a 1930s English film, a la Hitchcock.

Hello Robert

I enjoyed reading Jim Pascoe's reply. His note contains a pleasant blend of humor and irony.

"Hello Robert,

Funny enough, I was thinking of you when I uploaded the picture to Luminous Landscape, because I believe you are the guy who sometimes posts dog related stuff onto the site, and I am not really an animal photographer.

Glad you like the picture though, and I have attached two different ones for your blog. I was photographing two little boys in the New Forest here in England. Mum had brought along our dog who was making a nuisance of himself by running around in and out of the stream nearby—generally getting in the way as they (dogs) do! It was a muddy, wet, and grey day. After the shoot, mum strapped the boys into the back of the Land Rover and shut the dog in. As we were standing around chatting, I noticed the dog poking his head out of the vehicle window and looking around the woodland car park in an interested way—I was just inspired to point the camera at him. He was wearing a fluorescent yellow collar so the mono (B & W) conversion was an easy way out!

For the technically minded, I took the picture with my old Canon 1Ds mk3 and a Zeiss 50mm f2 macro lens (manual focus). The aperture was f2.8. Because it was quite dark, the ISO was 800.

I am available for dog portrait shoots in the US, subject to travel costs and accommodation of course! Hah, hah!

Best wishes, Jim"

Top Dog note: The wet dog across the pond pictures are among my favorite dog photos found on the web so far this year. If you have an interesting dog picture, please tell me about it in the "Leave a Reply" section below. I will respond with instructions on how to send a jpg to TDI world headquarters.


Close Dogs Plus Eyeshine

Friday, February 22, 2013 

Yesterday, for the first time, Jazz let Little Guy into her bed. We adopted Little Guy around six months ago.

EYESHINE Tapetum Lucidum Top Dog Imaging Tampa

My camera's strobe light reflects off of Jazz's tapeta lucida causing a lovely eyeshine effect. Methinks turquoise compliments her complexion. To learn more about eyeshine, click here. It is impossible for me to ignore a decent picture of close dogs plus eyeshine.

Aristocratic Dog

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I am a professional dog photographer. I have learned that different breeds generally exhibit particular dispositions. For instance, Basset Hounds are mellow, Fox Terriers are frenetic, and Great Danes will eventually hold a pose once they settle into a position. However, a dog's breed does not always coincide with how it will behave in a photo studio. Among the many variables that determine the pace and flow of a photo shoot are a dog's age, health, phobias, sociability, restlessness, etc. Experience is the best teacher. Over the years, I have devised workarounds for all types of canine traits.

Upside down dog photograph Tampa

Every so often, a dog throws me off balance!

About a month ago, a lovely young couple brought, Oliver, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix to my studio for a portrait. I immediately liked Oliver for his looks.

As it turned out, Oliver challenged the patience of his owners and the strength of my back. The session lasted over three hours. I spent a lot of time prone on the studio floor observing the dog through the camera viewfinder while we—three humans—cajoled Oliver with treats, praise, and incantations.

Moody dog photography

It occurred to us that Oliver did not want to have anything to do with having his picture taken. However, we humans had an unspoken agreement that we were not going to let a seventeen-pound dog rule the day. Although I tend not to anthropomorphize dogs, Oliver acted the part of a stubborn and cranky aristocrat.

I improvised a pillow by wrapping a thick old wool blanket in green satin. I set it on the floor. Oliver found it hard to resist. The aristocratic dog settled down and mugged for the camera.

Aristocratic dog photograph, Orlando

Working Dog Goes on Strike

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jazz is our ten-year-old mixed-breed pet dog. For the past five years, I have run the photo business out of my home. Jazz and I mostly spend the workday at opposite ends of the house. She prefers to snooze and lounge in her doggie bed in the dining room, next to the tall windows that extend almost to the floor. This spot offers Jazz a view of the day-to-day events that unfold along our quiet street. She is my watchdog. Her vocabulary consists of six barks–one for the postal worker, one for the FedEx guy, one for our neighbors' fluffy white dogs, one for solicitors, one for clients, and one for when Sara, my wife, comes home. It is convenient having a dog with a repertoire of barks.  She tells me if I need to get up from my chair, pull away from the studio, or ignore whomever is at the front door.

Jazz is also great to have around for those occasions when it is helpful to have a warm body to sit and pose. A wee bit of cheese or a biscuit is all it takes to entice her to the studio. She models for me when I need to test lights, cameras, and lenses. Her attention span is limited to about five minutes, which is usually about the amount of time it takes to run a test.

She is a canine helper, my working dog.

Today, during the morning commute from the master bedroom to my office, I glanced over to Jazz's spot by the window. Sara had not opened the vertical blinds yet. Jazz had somehow managed to weave herself in and out of four or five of the vertical slats. Wanting to capture this novel sight, I quietly and quickly walked across the wide expanse of carpeting to my office and grabbed a camera. By the time I got back to the dining room, Jazz was gone. I presume she advanced to the living room in my wake, while I was en route to the office. Stealthy dog she is.

Upon returning from the dining room, I found her sitting next to an ancient stain she had left on the floor, near the coffee table. She gazed right through me. I aimed my camera at her. She wanted no part of it and strode back into the dining room. I followed her. She tried to ditch me by going underneath the dining room table. I crawled under the table and squatted across from her. Every time I put the viewfinder up to my eye, Jazz averted her gaze–no early morning photo op. She dissed me.

After a couple minutes, she stretched out, rolled onto her side, and assumed her naptime posture.  I snapped four or five close-ups of her nose–big deal. "Working dog goes on strike," I mumbled to her.

Sassy Dog and Funny Noises

Monday, July 11, 2011

It is time to rearrange the studio.  

Instead of gazing at this picture of my messy studio, sit back and watch a movie about a sassy dog and funny noises. Here is a movie that my summer intern, Jake, produced. It is about getting a good photograph of a dog that does not care to pose for the camera.


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