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.