Anyone who owns a dog can tell you–these are pretty goofy creatures, and it’s hard to properly capture their spirit in a photograph. For every shot of your pet posed on the couch, or rolled over waiting for some belly scratches, there are countless shots you might have failed to capture of the way your dog looks in mid-yawn, or when she licks her muzzle after eating a bowl of kibble. We love our pets all the more for their quirks, but catching the dog’s full personality with your camera can be a tall order.
It’s a challenge that photographer Elke Vogelsang relishes, though, and her work–in which she captures amazingly expressive photos of both her dogs and the pets of others–demonstrates that a dog’s personality is something that can best be captured in the little moments.
Vogelsang’s work is remarkable for the things she catches. The way a group of dogs look as they all howl–or maybe yawn?–in unison, or the things that they do with their tongues after they get a treat, aren’t easily documented. But she has some tips for how to do it, if you want to get some unconventional shots that truly showcase your furry pal.
“You need patience and must be willing to observe, wait for the perfect moment, and shoot lots of pictures. Get down on your knees or stomach, and be willing to get your clothes dirty. During a photo session with a dog, you’ll hardly ever see me standing. I lie on the ground, trying to make the dog look straight into my camera while I’m on eye-level with the dog.
Try to attract your dog’s attention with sounds. Usually, muted sounds will work better than loud ones–try humming, whistling, whispering. If possible, ask somebody to assist you. Trying to take pictures while entertaining the dog is like juggling with too many balls. Tell your assistant to throw a ball in the direction you need, or to hold a treat above your camera.
Knowing dogs and what they like, how they react, and what motivates them the most comes in handy. I always try out different angles, different approaches, and try to get really close. It’s got to do with patience, lots of treats, and lots of pictures.
I’ve got three dogs–Noodles, Scout, and Ioli. They are my favorite models, and lots of pictures I present show them. But I have quite a few customers with canine models, and I take my time for every dog. A photo session usually lasts at least an hour. During this time, I try to figure out what motivates the dog most, what I can do to get a certain look. Usually the clients are more nervous than their dogs–then I have to try to calm the client down. Most people think it’s not possible to get a decent picture of their dog, but that’s not true. You just need a concentrated-but-relaxed atmosphere–otherwise, you only get pictures of a nervous or stressed out dog. As I also take pictures of dogs looking for a new home, I know how to handle fearful dogs, or dogs who can’t stand still for a second, so I guess I’ve got lots and lots of practice. Dog owners should also practice in a calm environment–never use pressure.