Working DogSpirit of the Working BreedsPhotography
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Capturing the Spirit of the Working Dog
in Photographs:  Part I

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By Dennis Glennon, Wildlife, Nature & Dog Photographer

Every dog has ‘spirit’ -- an individual energy, personality, and character. This is what gives each dog its uniqueness. The key to capturing spirit on film is to study the breed AND the individual dog you’re going to photograph.  Assuming you have some basic photographic knowledge, you can achieve superior results.  Even if you don’t possess a professional model camera, the good news is that you don’t need one, or a PHD in Dogology, to capture the spirit of the working dog on film.  This is how I do it…   Click for full article. 

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[ Dennis Glennon ]

The Two Considerations

Whenever I’m going to photograph a breed I haven’t worked with before, I read as much as I can about its heritage. I find out what the dogs were bred for, what their desired characteristics are and what people most appreciate about them. What is the appeal of that particular breed?

I also talk with breeders and owners about the more specific qualities of their dogs. My goal is to create an image that does the breed, and the individual dog, justice. I want to show off the best qualities of each breed I work with, AND convey the individual dog’s spirit in my image. So, research, which includes observation, is an essential part of the process and it should be done before ever picking up your camera.

I grew up with Labradors, Spaniels and Hounds, so I understand the behavior and motivations of hunting dogs particularly, having an interest and involvement with them. We now raise Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. They have a very strong personality and a great, soulful expression. Owning Chesapeakes gives me an advantage when photographing them. I already understand their energy and their traits so, with the ‘breed basics’ behind me, I simply study the body language and the eyes of an individual dog. It is very important to do this.

Knowing a breed is half the information required for capturing the spirit of the working dog in photographs. Getting a bit familiar with a particular dog’s personality is the other half, and you should never leave out this step.   Little nuances in an individual dog’s behavior can really enhance a certain shot and, many times, the dog can help you decide where to take that shot in the first place!

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My "signature photo" -- ‘Buddy’s Window’ -- is of an adorable Golden Retriever puppy named, you guessed it, Buddy.  It’s posted
on the main page of my website, and is also the image used on my business cards. 

Countless people identify me with "Buddy’s Window" and many have come to my art shows after having heard about the image just to see it for themselves.

Click for a larger image of Buddy's Window,  Dennis Glennon

What makes this image so successful is the combination of breed exemplification and individual dog concentration.  Buddy was a VERY relaxed Golden Retriever puppy. If he had been a human, he would have been one of those old men sitting in a rocking chair playing checkers on a country porch. I wanted to show off the gentleness of his breed, and also emphasize his particular laid-back nature. The image I wound up with did both, and when you look at it, you really don’t know what it is about the photograph that strikes you… Is it the cute Golden Retriever puppy with the soft, sweet face, or is it his spirit that grabs your heart?

I have to say it’s his spirit. I have hundreds of cute Golden Retriever puppy shots, but not many like "Buddy’s Window." I took the time to get to know the dog himself, and by doing so, I was able to show off his uniqueness on film and therefore set him apart in photographs, just as his personality did for him in person. Have a look at this image by clicking here for Buddy's Window.

I also urge you to get to know a dog before photographing him in order for you to be able to fade into the background during the photo session itself. As you get more in tune with the dog, he becomes more comfortable with you, trusts you to either touch him or simply observe him, and the session goes MUCH more smoothly. Even playful, friendly pups need to get used to you, or they will be more caught up in who you are, and in investigating your photo gear, than in doing what it is you want them to do, which is showing you what makes them so special.

Puppy Stuff

You might think puppies, too young yet to be formally trained to do what they were bred for, might be a challenge when trying to capture spirit on film. It’s a very common, and understandable assumption. Sure, you can get great puppy-shots:  cute images of pups smiling with their mouths and eyes open wide, but how does one get a pup thinking, concentrating, without playing, and actually showing a feature of it’s breed?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you must not get caught up in the myth that puppies are hard to photograph. Yes, they move around all over the place, want to sniff your camera, lick your lens, climb into your photo pack and climb all over you. Yes, they run all over the place, will NOT sit still, and will turn their head or open their eyes JUST as you snap the shutter, and yes, you will throw away more images than you will keep. However, if you do it right, you will have some incredible keepers!

"Working dog" pups still have the drive and desire to work, even if they don’t yet know HOW to work. It’s in their blood. Literally. Certain traits are preferred in certain breeds, and therefore, those traits are bred for, and they show up instinctually as the dog goes about its business, undistracted by you, the photographer. You don’t have to make an effort to illicit instinctual reactions, and the pup doesn’t have to be encouraged to demonstrate them.

What you do have to do is WAIT. Patience is a virtue with puppies, as anyone who has raised one will tell you. The same applies when photographing them. You must always have your camera ready. You must accept the inevitable fact that when you pull it out, your inquisitive pup is going to stop whatever he is doing and wander over to see what YOU are doing. You must expect to be EXTREMELY frustrated. Get past that, and you will wind up with some incredible puppy images.

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