Once in a while the stars align and your favorite weather shows up (cool, slight breeze, bright yet cloudy, beach vibes), your favorite people show up (my two good friends Nat and Bill, of the famous The Labs and Co - pet photography + design + ad work), your brain is running on all five cylinders and everyone is just relaxed and happy to be together in the most genuine way. For this artist - that is pretty much as good as it gets.
Over the many years that I have known the lovely Nat and Bill (and their wonderful dogs Corbin and Willow) we have traded services back and forth as needed, because that’s just what friends do. Sometimes I’m in a jam (well, quite often really) and I need some amazingly designed piece of marketing drawn up, so I call Nat and Bill. Sometimes Nat and Bill need help with a creative side project, so they call me. We’ve photographed each other and our respective dogs over the years, watching them each grow up, grow into themselves, and age as gracefully as possible. It’s a special relationship and that makes the work always special, too.
When I was in San Francisco for dog photography clients recently I met up with Nat and Bill and their ‘heart dog’, Corbin at Dillon Beach. Dillon Beach is a beautiful, calm, fairly quiet beach about an hour above San Francisco that allows dogs to run free (or, I think it’s legal at least….). As always, I asked Nat and Bill what would be the most special and meaningful location to photography Corbin, who is getting up in years and has battled (and overcome) a handful of old-dog illnesses already. They immediately said ‘Dillon Beach!’ and I’m thrilled that’s where we met.
Even though I’ve known this family for many years, I still have a responsibility to create a calm, warm and creative environment in which to make our work. From the second we got in the car to drive to Dillon Beach, I was working in an intentional yet subtle way to keep all humans and dogs at ease - everyone gets a little self conscious in front of the lens, even dogs, so I work to keep the energy calm and easy before we even begin photographing. That way, when it’s time to pick up my camera my subjects feel connected to each other, to me, and there is a strong level of trust that flows between everyone. I do this whether I’m photographing old friends or brand new clients - it’s an invisible process that is at once challenging (wrangling people is always much harder than wrangling dogs - for me, at least) and deeply satisfying.
Clients often ask me how I create such intimate and relaxed portraits - and the answer is by working hard behind the scenes to build an environment of ease, trust and comfort. It starts from the very second clients find me online, and flows into how I interact with each dog photography client - each of our conversations, each marketing piece they receive, how I sell them on my work and the way I want them to feel when they receive their final printed and matted photographs. Sometimes I feel like a puppeteer, in the best way. Other times I feel like a dog trainer that is training people - by mirroring the behavior I want to see in my clients (calmness, kindness, honesty, joy, creativity), I am subconsciously telling my clients what I want from them. This session with Nat and Bill and Corbin and Willow was a great example of this process - it’s easy to be calm and joyful when with friends and my energy kept their energy in that sweet spot of adaptability, trust and playfulness.
What a fun session this was. Thanks to Nat and Bill for trusting me to visually articulate the emotions wrapped up in watching your heart-dog grow old, and for running around on the beach for hours on end without complaint.
Corbin and Willow - you are very good dogs.
If you’re living with a senior dog, or want to schedule a beautiful San Francisco Bay Area dog photography session on the beach, click below to get the conversation started. Can’t wait to hear from you.