Pancake and I are on Cape Cod for a little time off, and to work on a personal project for a bit. This morning we woke up to an amazingly beautiful and fluffy snow storm. Big chunks of snow were falling and the ground already had about 4 inches! As a sensitive terrier, Pancake does NOT LIKE precipitation of ANY KIND at all - rain, snow, puddles, mist, fog, sprinklers, etc. So after putting TWO jackets on him and opening the door this morning, it was hilarious to watch him peek his head around the corner and just look so dissatisfied. It took him a good three minutes to muster the courage to run out quickly and zoom back in before shaking and trying to desperately dry himself off (drama king).
I just read an article online about a man who spent 6 years - that's 4,200 hours and 720,000 frames- photographing the same Kingfisher bird hunting it's prey in the wild. Now, that does sound a bit extreme, I agree. 6 years?! 720,000 attempts?! You'd think that after the first year or so he'd just give up, or realize maybe he needs to learn a bit more about nature photography. But I have to say, though the numbers were high and this man's approach to photography was a bit mediocre, I connected to this story because his approach is exactly the same as mine.
Do I take hundreds of thousands of frames during one dog photography session? Well, no. But I do take hundreds. And though I always ends up with a strong ratio of good images versus frames that just didn't hit the mark, I know— just like the guy photographing the Kingfisher for 6 years straight— that patience is a virtue when it comes to photographing animals. Or, really anything. You simply can't force your subject to do what you want, and you can't force the elements (when shooting outside) to cooperate perfectly, or the light to hit at just the right moment. No. When photographing dogs (and birds) you need to let go of all of that and simply be in the moment with your subjects.
Just like the bird photographer, I always photograph my dog subjects in their natural element. I meet them in their space, not the other way around. That's how a good photograph is created. This guy revisited the exact same spot over and over again for 6 years, meeting the Kingfisher in it's natural environment. And the work he created was great, because it's almost as if the photographer was invisible. Well, he probably was as he was wearing camouflage. When I photograph dogs, I teeter on the balance between being an invisible presence and being a piece of the story. By observing and letting dogs simply be themselves— on their beds, out in the yard, running at their favorite beach— I am making sure that the portrait is not about me as an artist, but simply about this beautiful animal I am observing.
The past month has been very busy in the studio, with multiple rounds of production and countless fine art dog photography prints going out the door. I love being busy, I love seeing the floor beneath my mat cutter covered in scraps, and my production table stacked high with weighted prints flattening before getting sleeved and boxed and shipped to clients.
I love seeing matted and signed black and white dog photography prints as big as my table (and my production table is enormous)!
Fine Art Dog Photography
A busy round of production is such a great way to wrap up the year. Thanks to everyone who made 2016 such a great year! Fine Art Dog Photography Sessions are booking now for 2017 in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and beyond.
Though the work I create for my clients is always deeply personal and emotional, I rarely put myself in front of the lens or open up about what matters truly to me as an individual. Yet as I finally claw my way out of what has been a very dark and frightening past week, one thing has become clear to me - artists always return to the work.
Aside from being responsible for producing beautifully printed editions for clients as the year comes to a close, I am responsible as an artist for never abandoning my creative voice, never abandoning my tools, never walking away from my role as someone who observes our society and uses my medium as a mirror for change and connection.
As the coming months bring vague promises of tumultuousness and instability, let's not abandon the work. I'm very privileged to be able to get to know each and every one of you so closely, and to live for just a few moments within the love and warmth of your connections, absorbing the kindness of your companions and the histories you've shared. There is deep power in the act of observing love amidst strife, and even more power in marking that love with a permanent reminder to refuel you each and every day.
I cherish the prints I have of my family, and the prints I have of Pancake (my sidekick who is officially in his senior years). These printed editions — these beloved objects — carry a power that can never be taken away from you. So let's continue creating work together and compiling images of love amidst strife.
I recently went through my old hard drives in my office to compile some work, rearrange some very old dog photography folders, and dig up some gems to share on social media. What I found was surprising, even to me. There were some real winners in those earliest San Francisco dog photography sessions - some, like the ones I've posted below - were too good not to share with you. These are all from the first year or two of my career, when I was just starting to establish myself as an artist, as a recognized name in the dog photography and fine art photography industries. I was shooting 100% with the Hasselblad and 120 film back then (where as now I shoot 80% film/20% digital), juggling my light meter, film, film backs, camera bag and, of course, a dog all at once. It was a juggling act I quickly came to love, and still love to this day.
I realized that if I could calmly and confidently wrangle a stranger's dog, a heavy manual-focus film camera from the 1970s that needed to be fed fresh film every 12 exposures, and make the work look good (and make it look easy) I'd be doing my job well. I never cut corners in the beginning, and still don't to this day. Doing things the hard way made me work much harder on my first few dog photography sessions in San Francisco, and set a standard that I've always followed: make genuine work, and be a genuine artist.
Some things have changed since the early years, but not much. I still use the same old clunky camera, but now I bring my digital camera as back up or if I think I'll need it depending on lighting (or if I'm photographing puppies). The creativity and curiosity I see in these early images really makes me smile - I hope you like them, too.
Though most of the time I meet my wonderful clients and their dogs in their home for our Photography Sessions, sometimes clients just don't want to photograph in their houses. And of course, I understand. Maybe you're in the process of moving, or maybe you're in an apartment that you know won't be your forever home and you just don't want to center this really important moment in your lives around a place that just doesn't feel like home to you. I get it. I've always got a few very special, very beautiful San Francisco dog photography locations in my back pocket for clients just like this. And Golden Gate Park is one of those places..... but these wonderful pathways and wooden staircases and dappled light locations are pretty secret. Maybe you can guess where exactly in the park I met Izzy the senior Chocolate Lab and her sweet family?
Justin grew up with Labs, and he brought Izzy (that's Isabella for short) into his life when she was just a tiny puppy. Then Steve came into their lives and Izzy has started growing old in the middle of a truly kind, warm and loving family. Steve wanted to get his partner a truly special birthday gift, so he commissioned me as a surprise for Justin and when we all met at Golden Gate Park this past Summer in San Francisco on a warm Saturday morning dog photography session there were a lot of laughs and smiles and, of course, tennis ball fetches.
I know it's a little selfish, but I really love private commissions that are surprise gifts. It just makes everyone feel a little extra special. Justin probably would never have given himself the gift of truly beautiful portraits of his beloved Izzy — not because he thought it was a silly idea, or because he doesn't like photography — but because giving ourselves permission to honor the things we love in such an intimate way really takes a lot of self love. And that's not easy to come by. So when clients are hesitant about scheduling a Photography Session with me I always try to put myself in their shoes, think about what is making them think twice. The investment is one thing, because commissioning an artist and curating a collection of hand-made fine art prints certainly is not cheap. But the real reason people hesitate to book a session with me is typically because they feel a little embarrassed to give them self such a meaningful gift. They'd prefer someone get them the gift instead, which I of course understand.
But you know? Sometimes we just need to splurge on ourselves. Whether it is a new fancy pair of winter boots (which I just bought for myself so my toes don't freeze while walking Pancake in the snow - totally worth it!), or something a bit more personal, like black and white portraits of your beloved animal companion. We all deserve to feel loved and taken care of, and giving yourself portraits of the ones you love is one of the most powerful ways of doing that.
As you can see, Izzy and her family love each other and we all had a very special and meaningful dog photography session in San Francisco, somewhere deep in Golden Gate Park. I can't wait to get these prints together for them.
Black and white dog photography has been my specialty for nearly the past decade, and people often ask why I don't shoot in color. First, it's what everyone else does - so why do it? I'm not interested in letting my work look like everyone else's work, and photographing exclusively in black and white lets my style stand apart. But the real reason is that my mind understands things much better without color. Black and white photography literally forces the photographer (and viewer) to create meaning in a truly pure way— because without color, all you have is tonality. And getting to play with the countless possibilities of tonality and greys and whites and blacks is just so exciting for me as an artist.
When you take away color, you are forced to focus your imagery and let the strength of your photographs rest on composition, emotion and connection. This is what I love most about photography. Here's a great site I ran across that echoes those sentiments:
The holidays are just around the corner, and that means it's time to start thinking about the perfect gift for dog lovers. Trust me, there will be more lists about 'perfect gifts for dog lovers' on the internet in about one minute than you can even count. Companies love to get onto these lists, and I have to say— I've been on a handful of them over the years. It's a nice honor!
But most of those 'gifts for dog lovers' lists are full of cheap toys and pet products. You know I'm not into that kind of stuff. So, here's my suggestion for you: get your loved ones a Fine Art Dog Photography Gift Certificate this holiday from our studio. I guarantee you, it will go over well.
Gift Certificates from the studio include a Photography Session, Presentation and Curatorial Meeting, and a selection of prints that you and I will customize specifically for the recipient. I'll then send you or the recipient your personalized Gift Certificate in the mail, and they'll have all the information they need to get their project started. Dog Photography Gift Certificates never expire, and are such a special way to give friends and family the chance to celebrate their beloved companions.
Let me know if I can help you put together aa really special, unforgettable gift this season by contacting me through the contact page.
Diane Arbus has long been one of my photography heroes. Her grainy, intimate voyeuristic work lit a fire in me when I first became interested in portraiture, and I find myself constantly turning to her for inspiration and cosmic support. The Met in New York is currently showing a never-before-seen collection of Diane Arbus' very early work, all done on her 35mm camera (not the medium format square portraits she is so known for, which came later). These prints and negatives were hidden in a storage space for years, then uncovered in 2007, and the exhibit began to take shape.
I can't wait to visit this exhibit when I'm in New York for New York dog photography sessions in September and November. Getting to stand in front of a hero's work is one of the most incredible feelings, and always recharges my creative batteries. Let me know if you want to come along!
Here's another photo I get questions about all the time. It's a true, long time favorite of mine and always catches people's eyes when they look through my portfolio. This is an image I created for one of my very first clients, believe it or not, in a backyard in San Francisco.
My client had a Bloodhound, a Pitbull and another hound mix. They were all pretty rambunctious, yet also a bit people-shy at the same time. So, I was really on my toes during the entire dog photography session. I wanted to keep the dogs and my client calm, yet I knew that if I showed any stress or anxiety the dogs would quickly pick up on it and avoid me. So I played it cool and simply observed them and their human interacting, being so sweet with each other. My client mentioned that the Bloodhound and Pitbull and been with her for so many years, and were not getting old and dealing with some health issues. So for her, a portrait of them together was her main goal.
After trying to get to sit together in a relaxed way, and continuing to fail, my client had this crazy idea of putting them on leash and wrapping their leashes gently around the fence she was in the process of installing in her yard. Her yard, by the way, was all dirt because she in the middle of putting in fresh grass. So we had to bring out Minnie (the Pitbull)'s favorite soft pink blanket and lay it down so that she'd sit still. It was a real circus out there for a few minutes but as my client was wrangling both her excited dogs I stepped back, loaded a few extra rolls of film, and framed up this portrait. I focused on the Bloodhound, closed down my aperture to make sure I pulled in as much focus and detail as possible, and simply waited for my client to step out of the frame.
As soon as she did, the dogs looked worried. I wondered if this would even work at all. But as always, I waited patiently and quietly with my hands holding my Hasselblad (with the waste-level view finder) as still as I possibly could. My hands were shaking soon after because that is a heavy camera, and my palms were sweating. All of a sudden the dogs started singing, and everything fell into place. It was the hound that got it going, and then the Pitbull chimed in. Their song was soulful and scratchy, and beautiful to watch. I stayed in my place and shot through two whole rolls of film, just letting the dogs move through the moment, making sure I landed on one or two great portraits.
The result is above, and it's pretty great. I made an enormous edition of this for my client's home, and kept one in my studio ever since.