There are some dog photographs in my portfolio that people always stop at and ask me "How'd you get that shot!?" So, I've decided to start a new series on the blog talking about those images, and answering that very question. I'm starting with an image that I show frequently at exhibits and events, and one that I love to talk about.
This portrait was part of a fine art dog photography commission for a wonderful client in the San Francisco Bay Area. They had one very old cat (far left), one adult Maltese (second from left), a young Miniature Poodle (second from right) and a spritely and bossy cat (far right). And, as you can see, they were all the same size! What a visual play on dogs and cats and personalities. I knew it would be a great session as soon as I walked in the door.
I spent two hours or so photographing all the animals all over the house. First- the cats on their own on their favorite chez lounge. Then the dogs together out on the porch. Then we went to the park and I photographed the whole family (well, minus the cats) running around and having a great time. At the end of the session I knew I wanted to spend a few more moments photographing in my clients' home.
During our Creative Consultation, I asked my clients (as I always do) what the most important part of this project was to them. They told me that their animals were their family, their children, and they commissioned me so that I could create a photograph of their crew as a whole. Because though each animal was so unique, they really did get along at times. My client said that she'd love to get a photograph of them all together, though she doubted that was possible. I agreed that with four animals, it would be difficult. Though I couldn't promise I could make it work, I always, always take my clients' words seriously. So after the park I quietly went back inside and popped myself down in a bright reading nook off the master bedroom where the dogs had retired after playing.
I loaded my Hasselblad with one last roll of film, and had one extra film back loaded and ready by my side. I framed up the edge of the couch, light so nicely by the diffused window light, and pulled in my focus. And then I literally waited silently. I didn't call to the animals, or talk to my client. I ignored everyone as I waited patiently, knowing that if I were quiet and still enough I just might be able to catch the entire crew together in one spot finally. And then, I saw that oldest cat come over from the corner of my eye. She jumped up next to the two dogs and grumpily curled up. I was about to resign to the fact that three animals was probably the best I could do when suddenly the second cat jumped up on his perch and started swinging his tail. It was a very magical moment. We all sat quietly in our spots while I shot through 24 frames (that's 2 full rolls of medium format film on the Hasselblad) to make sure I landed on the perfect moment.
And that is how I created the portrait at the top of this post. No, the animals aren't stuffed. No, I didn't pose them. No I wasn't holding a bunch of treats in my hands or even telling them "STAY STAY!" I was being myself, and they were being themselves. And we all were calm and participating in the creation of an image equally. And, it paid off. This image was turned into an enormous edition for my client, and has been featured in all three of my dog photography studios for many years.