Working DogsThe Spirit of the Working BreedsPhotography
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Capturing the Spirit of the Working Dog
in Photographs: Part II


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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 Ph.D. in Dogology, to capture the spirit of the working dog on film.  This is how I do it…  Click for Part II of the article.


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CAPTURING THE SPIRIT, Part II    [ Dennis Glennon ]

In a future article, "How to Photograph Puppies," I will share my tips and tricks for getting great, general puppy images, but for now I will give you a wonderful visual example of breed exemplification and individual dog concentration as the method for capturing the spirit of the working dog on film.

I will start with one of my favorite breeds, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The desired traits of this breed include alertness and an intelligent expression. You can capture both, as well as a dog’s unique personality, in a Chessie pup simply by following the rules. Know the breed, know the dog, and have a camera ready.

One example of following the rules is the photograph I've titled Timber.

It's a fantastic autumn portrait of a young Chesapeake pup investigating a fallen tree, yet instinctively poised for action when alerted to a sound in the distance. 

This is a very distinctive image that I worked over two hours to get. 

Click for a larger image of Timber,  Dennis Glennon
.

Waiting for the Right Moment

Another superb example of how an enchanting puppy image can be achieved, simply by waiting for the right moment, is a photograph taken on winter afternoon when no photo session was planned. It is of my very own puppy, the irresistible Ichabod Crane…

Whenever I would leave the house and Ichabod was playing in the yard, he would come over to the fence that surrounded it to say goodbye to me. At three-months-old, he already understood that when I left home, I might not be back for a while, as I am frequently taking extended trips for photo expeditions and art shows. So, when I walked out of the yard and to my truck, ‘Icky’ would either stick his head through the fence slats or jump up and try to get his paws to the top rail to see where I was going. I always got the feeling, from his expression alone, that he was asking me not to go; telling me to stay home and play with him instead. No yipes and barking squeals; just a sad, soulful stare as I headed out.

One particular day, I was packing my truck to go on a winter photo excursion and Icky was out in the yard enjoying his first experience with snow. We’d just had a wonderful winter storm and everything was covered with thick fluffy white flakes. Icky was pushing his nose in the stuff, trying to find the ground he knew must be hidden beneath. He would bulldoze through the snow, picking his head up at any distraction. Like a true hunting dog, he was more intent on seeing what was going on when he heard a noise, than to be concerned about this strange cold stuff all over his face.

Each time I left the yard to put something into my truck, Icky would stop investigating this new stuff called "snow," rush over to the fence, push his head through the slats, and watch me. His cute little puppy nose was covered with snow, but he didn’t seem to notice or care. His only concern was me.  I felt SO conflicted about leaving, and so touched by his endearing expression. And I was affected by it too, in a way that moved me. The look was ‘pure Chesapeake,’ a natural result of Ichabod’s breeding:  pensive, slightly melancholy, and thoughtful all at the same time.

The last thing I packed that day was my photo gear. As I was putting it in my truck, I couldn’t resist taking a quick shot of my boy as he stared at me, wondering where I was going, why I had to leave at all, and silently begging me to stay. I grabbed my camera and clicked, thinking Jody might enjoy seeing Ichabod’s adorable snow-kissed face. I took only three shots because I was at the end of a roll of film. I then packed up my camera and went off on my adventure.

I didn’t think about the photos until I got home from my trip and saw the images developed. One was especially captivating. It warmed my heart, and I knew Jody would love it. I proudly handed her the photograph, the best of the three shots, thinking she would be pleased and surprised at my gift. She was… but she was more surprised by the distinctiveness of the image itself, and surprised me by suggesting I sell it. The photograph, she pointed out, had the qualities I seek to capture when I photograph dogs:   breed exemplification and individual dog concentration.

I had not taken that shot with the intent to create a limited edition print. I had taken it purely because I saw something in Ichabod’s eyes in a moment that stirred my soul, and it was precious; something I wanted to share with Jody and have for myself. After all, he was ‘our boy’. But Jody realized the image showed so much more than "our cute little Ichabod". It conveyed spirit, and she insisted I share it with others.

The photograph now called Ickabod's First Snow has become a big hit. It is one of my very best sellers, as many dog enthusiasts, especially Chessie lovers, appreciate the depth of Ichabod’s expression. They see it as indicative not only of this dog's mood, but also of how very expressive the breed is as a whole.

Click for a larger image of Ichabod's First Snow,  Dennis Glennon
.

Click for Chessie Chat The photograph became the cover shot for the Year 2000 Holiday issue of one of England's Chesapeake magazines and is a frequent request as a donation when I offer prints to animal assistance organizations. Yes, Ichabod is a true working dog! He helps to raise money for rescue groups. Boy, am I glad I had film loaded in my camera that winter day!

 

What makes the image successful is that I was able to compliment the breed, while showing Icky’s individual personality on film. His expression is priceless. Capturing it was simply a result of paying attention to how that expression made me feel. But it was also the result of clicking my camera when the dog was relaxed enough to SHOW me his spirit -- that which is of his breed, and that which is his alone.

Ichabod is now one-and-a-half and, though he is much bigger than he was in his photograph (and now able to jump OVER the fence!), he still has the same sweet, soulful expression.

 

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