What do you get when you add more than 250 dogs and over 1500 photos on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Mt. Pleasant? Easy answer! The Lowcountry Dog Magazine Model Contest at Pet Fest! The weather was heavenly, sunshine and warm temperatures made for a glorious day to shoot.
Here it is Tuesday morning and, as I sit here finally processing and uploading the last of the images taken, I am still very sore (heating pad, cold pack, heating pad, cold pack.) I can assure you, it is nothing I'm not used to, and I'm not complaining. If I wasn't sore, I'd think I had backed off and not done as much as I could have. To me the muscle soreness is part of the job. These aren't 'just dogs', these are beautiful, wonderful, spirited animals that deserve to be treated with respect and admiration. The unconditional love they give to us should be returned. While I will never be able to give them near the attention they all deserve, it was my pleasure to at least make the attempt to get the best shots I could in what little time we had together.
I think sometimes when people see me they're just not quite sure what to expect. I don't know for certain, but I did hear a few whispers about my tattoos (they are of my dogs who have passed away.) For those that didn't already know me, I think I surprised them. By laying on the ground to get just the right shots of the smaller dogs, on my knees for others, bending over, walking around. By midday so many of the dogs were obviously hot and tired and giving such stress signals*, it was more important to just get the dog comfortable and let me move. So that's exactly what I did. If I had one that just wouldn't co-operate (or maybe mom or dad wasn't quite sure what to do) the best thing is not to try to force the dog do what you want it to, but to work with the dog. Forcing an animal only causes stress, for both of you. So, I did the up and down and this position and that position and lean over here and there and well, anything to get the shot. I'd have stood on my head if I had to. I would have needed help, it wouldn't have been pretty.
All of this moving around and making the silly noises (lots of silly high pitched noises), is just another part of my job. Yes, I could've set up my tripod. Click "Next" Click "Next"... I even started to, all the time I was trying to set it up I had this nagging voice in my head, "You have to be who you are and how you are. The only expectations you have to fill are your own, and this is not the way you'll do it. Do what you do best." For once those voices in my head had some good advice. ;) So on came the kneepads, up went the hair and I became the dog (ok now I have Bill Murray and Caddyshack are now running through my mind, arrrgh!) Sounds silly to some and others will understand. To me, I shoot what I know, and I know dogs. It is who I am and why I photograph animals for a living. I love the dogs so much it makes my heart feel like it will burst right out of my chest. Getting dirty doesn't bother me in the slightest. Yes, I pay for it physically, but the multitude of happy faces, bouncy bodies and slobbery kisses are bonus checks worth far more than the muscle strains.
There were just some dogs that decided they did not want their picture taken and I did not get the best shots of them, I would love to have had the opportunity to take more time. Unfortunately the line remained very long for most of the day. Other dogs sat patiently. I got at least one picture of every dog. Some got several, others only two or three. I tried to give at least 30 seconds to each dog. It's important for the owners to remember too, even if I got their feet, or the leash, or anything else in the picture, I do everything I can to make the background nice and even. I would not post photos at all if I thought that they could not be improved, or were not already ready to go.
Some images I see from the artistic eye. I have some that all you see are the nose and one eye tongue lolling from the constant panting of the overwhelming heat that took over the day. Others show just a profile, or an angle where the eyes are only in focus, or just the nose as it sniffs the air, where the rest of the head seems just slightly softer. It relates an action, your dog doing something, being himself, just being a dog. A dog's nose is it's first line of "Hey what's that?" You'll do it too going down a road of fastfood restaurants.
There's a tremendous amount of stress on a dog when they are expected to be perfectly behaved and put in 'just so' positions in such a short time span. The owner gets stressed and that goes right down the leash to the dog. I would love to have a one on one opportunity with every dog that came in front of me this weekend to bring out the best qualities in them. With a lack of stress, a lack of such intense heat, and the ability to take time to let him or her just be themselves. I've been known to sit in the middle of a yard and just wait...and wait...and wait.
I was thrilled to see some of my previous clients, people that recognized me from other events ("Hey you're that dog photographer!"), friends I hadn't seen in a while, and even my vet's office personnel stop by to say hi. After a very long and hot day, meeting wonderful people who so obviously love their dogs (and sadly not being able to talk to them near long enough!) Pet Fest 2008 closed down. Right before it started to rain. Just like in photography, timing is everything.
While I am well known for my verbosity in writing, there are not enough words to offer my appreciation to the publisher of Lowcountry Dog Magazine, Leah England, for the invitation to do the pictures this year. Wolf and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. Our boy, Guinness Rockin' Rocket CGC was even in the breed show (*pat*pat*pat*pat* good boy!)
Given the multitude of breeds, sizes, and all else I photographed at Pet Fest, I can once again say I have yet to meet a dog I do not like. There are 1536 photos online at uniwolfprints.com from this past Saturday reaffirming it.
P.S. I love my job. :)
* Stress signals - yawning, turning the head away, averting the eyes, slightly (or intensely) pulling away, ignoring commands, etc. This can be caused by stressful situations as well as people's stress around the animal. The more stress the owner shows (raised voice, insistent commands) the more likely the dog is to react to it.