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

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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 V of the article.

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CAPTURING THE SPIRIT, Part V   [ Dennis Glennon ]

Shooting Set-up Shots

Some folks like to take posed, portrait-type dog shots. I do too --- when the breed, or the dog’s special spirit lends to it. However, I prefer to show a dog in a natural setting doing what they are bred for. Any set-up shots I do, such as one where props are used, or where dogs are placed on a particular surface, or in a certain environment, is designed only to emphasize and correspond with the theme of the breed and/or the dog’s special personality.

Goddess is a perfect example of a set-up shot. For this breed, the curly coated retriever, I needed my subject sitting with the light off to the side of her, ‘hitting’ her in such a way that the texture of her gorgeous coat was shown off.  Frontal light would have only ‘flattened’ the scene and faded out her coat, making the curls on it difficult, if not impossible, to see.  So, in this instance, it was best to place the dog in a position where one of her breed attributes, the thick, waterproof curly coat, was emphasized.

Click for a larger image of the Goddess,  Dennis Glennon)

The rest of the shot was set up as well. Placing the bird in her mouth and having her hold it while she relaxed, I photographed the Goddess as she looked around, alert to her surroundings, as any sound hunting dog should be. What I wound up with was nothing short of exceptional, but only half of it was due to my photographic know-how. The other half was a combination of a beautiful, spirited animal, and a well trained one. If you want to increase your percentage of ‘keepers’, those images you don’t dump in the trash basket, work with well-trained dogs.

I did a photo shoot for the Quail Hollow Hunting Preserve in eastern Pennsylvania. The owners of the preserve, who hunt train their dogs, needed some advertising images. Having trained dogs made this photo shoot easy. All I needed to do was find a flattering background for the dogs and the right light. Then I simply had the owner/handler set up his dogs for me.

Click for a larger image of Perfect Point,  Dennis Glennon

We took out a Brittany Spaniel, a Black Lab, and a German Short Haired Pointer. We released a few live birds and let the dogs go to work. As they marked and flushed the birds, I shot my film. Being familiar with the behavior of hunting dogs made this session a breeze.

I was able to photograph each of the three dogs, individually, in about 30 minutes, AND I got great shots. Having the trainer handle the dogs freed me up to concentrate on creating just the composition I wanted.

I just told him what I wanted, and then he had the dogs do it for me. The images Perfect Point and Feathered Trophy are two of the very pleasing results. One is an action shot, and the other is posed.

Click for larger image of Feathered Trophy,  Dennis Glennon
Click for larger image
of Feathered Trophy

Capturing the Spirit of Working Breeds

Certainly you want to capture the spirit of the breed AND of the individual dog when you photograph, yet I feel a truly successful photo is one that also brings out emotion in the person who views it. If my spirit isn’t stirred by an image, I have learned, no one else’s will be, so I strive to make people smile, either due to a ‘cuteness’ factor, or say "WOW!" because an image has a high degree of drama. I want an IMPACT image, one that people cannot put out of their minds.

As I explained earlier, people will tell their friends about my "Buddy’s Window" photo, inspiring those friends to seek me out and see the image for themselves. When I display Buddy's Window and his other images at my art shows, people stop dead in their tracks. Everyone has a reaction. Most people smile, laugh, and giggle. I’ve even had people pet the dog through the glass! Those who know the scent, swear they can smell puppy breath. Some even cry because the spirit of the pup in the picture reminds them of a dog who passed on. To be able to bring out such strong emotions in a viewer is powerful. THAT’S what makes an image successful. It’s is the difference between taking a picture and capturing spirit.

Dennis Glennon,

NOTE FOR DOG OWNERS:  If you’re a novice and just starting out, even using a simple point-and-shoot camera can lead to very some nice images. The PhotoTips section on my Dogs As Art website, and my free Newsletter for Novices, a private email subscription, provides hobbyists with tips like the ones in the article above.


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