I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Every Dog’s Dream

Every year the barrage of consumerism this time of year gets a little more intense than the year before. We need new gadgets, new clothes, new cars – on and on and on. There is nothing sweeter than the idea of a new puppy under the tree, and I am all for giving a pup a home at this or any time of year. The one thing I would urge you to do is to check out your local shelter.

There are so many dogs needing a home that there is really no need to buy from a breeder. Even if you are looking for a pedigreed pup, there are rescues for almost any type you can imagine. You would be stunned at the number of breeders who dispose of their purebred stock by dumping them in shelters when their breeding life is over. I know there are reputable breeders out there, but I have seen too many mill dogs in shelters. I know the struggle older mill dogs go through first hand, my 17-year-old Velcro still shows the signs of neglect and abandonment.

For the last couple of months I have been shooting at an amazing facility, Haven of the Ozarks. It is on about 10 acres and has smart, spacious pens with pools in the summer and shelters in the winter. The place is immaculate, and the staff – well it’s clear that the staff knows and loves their animals.

I’d like to introduce you to some of my new pals from the Haven – I asked the staff to give me three attributes so the personality points are from those who know them best.

If I could take them all home for Christmas – I would. I already have five, four of whom were rescues. There is nothing better than the feeling that you are giving a dog from a shelter or sanctuary a new life, a fresh start. I adopted a pup this summer and he lets me know how thrilled he is to see me every single day. He adds so much to my life, it’s impossible to be sad with a silly smiling mutt staring into your eyes and wagging its whole body. I gave him a home, but he gives me so very much more.

If you are thinking of a Christmas pup, check out your local shelter. If you already have a houseful of pups and want to help consider the following:

  1. Volunteer – just walking a dog every week will get it ready for a home and make it more adoptable. If you have a skill like photography, or writing, or rug making, or basket weaving – contact your shelter and offer to help.
  2. Shop on Amazon Smile – you can designate a portion of every purchase to a participating shelter, even if you are using Amazon Prime and it won’t cost you a cent – you can help The Haven by using this link – Amazon Smile. Many shelters also have an Amazon wish list – it’s so easy to just click an item and send them some much-needed supplies.
  3. Like – Haven of the Ozarks or your local shelter on Facebook. Share their posts because your friends and their friends just might know someone looking for a forever friend!

Shutterbug Notes:

I am always looking for a shady spot when taking photos of white dogs on sunny days. The perfect day is cloudy so there are no shadows or blow outs. Even more important than the light is to have fun with the pups – this is a special time for them too – they get to be the center of attention. Lavish your attention on them – they need and deserve it! 

Merry Christmas – remember this year to Adopt, Don’t Shop!

Enough About Rules – Shoot What You Love

I’ve written a lot about photography and some basic rules – having your camera with you, thinking about light, keeping things steady – but the essence of what makes you grow as a photographer is showing passion in your images. I don’t care if you are shooting with your iPhone or with a full-frame Nikon with a 600mm 2.8 Prime – it’s all just images unless you bring something to or something out of the image. When you shoot something you are passionate about it shows.

Although I strive to get all the technical points right, the highest compliment I get is when someone tells me that they get a sense of the personality of a person or animal from one of my photographs – that a still life evokes a sense of time or place. There’s nothing technical about that at all – and that’s where the magic happens, that’s when a photo goes from being a snapshot to a photograph for me.

I’ve previously posted about a project I have been working on with the local Animal Shelter. I approached them about shooting fun shots for social media in the hopes of it helping to garner interest in their dogs. If we can show a dog’s personality and not just its size, shape, and color – could this increase interest in a shelter dog? I’ve been working with their amazing adoption coordinator who has taken these images and really made a splash locally in social media – people are sharing and following and really caring about the futures of these wonderful dogs. We have had people see the dogs on Facebook and drive several hours to meet them – based on a photo!

So what does this have to do with shooting what you love? Well, I have always loved dogs, but as I get into this project I have found that I really am passionate about them and their prospects for a home. Shooting them is not easy. It’s harder to get a good capture of a dog that it is to get a bugling elk or a cardinal on a tree limb. They move fast! They are super excited to interact with people, especially people who care. I have left the shelter sweaty, muddy, and have ruined a couple of t-shirts – but it’s worth it.

Take a look at some of my pals from the shelter – can you tell that I love these guys?

Be sure to click on an image and scroll through – you’ll see the camera settings and get an up close look at these great pups!

I love how they almost always smile for me. The crazy thing about most of these shots is that apart from the car photos these were mostly taken at the shelter – often in a shady spot on the driveway or in a kennel. Throw down a blanket and you have a picnic! We try to get the dog out and away from the others and spend some time with it so that we can learn about its character, and that’s what always shines through.

You can help with this effort – if you are on Facebook go over and like The Haven of the Ozarks Facebook page – and share if you are so inclined. If you love dogs and love taking photos – contact your local animal shelter about helping out – great photos can really make a difference!

Shutterbug Notes:

  1. You can’t give up when a pup is uncooperative. The shot of Rex in the grass was taken after following him in a large pen for over 20 minutes in the heat and humidity last July. We were muddy and exhausted, but we kept trying to get him to make eye contact – he was so excited by our attention that he was a bit hyper. That last shot was the one. I get a real sense of his playfulness and humor from that shot. I’m glad we didn’t give up!
  2. I use the pronoun “we” a lot because none of these shots were taken by me alone. An Adoption Coordinator, Carolyn, leads, cajoles, tempts, and plays with these guys while I chase them around with a camera. Notice that they are almost all on leashes – if we are out of a kennel, they are leashed for their safety and Carolyn is on the other end of that leash. She also wants great shots and doesn’t let me give up too quickly.
  3. Shooting dogs with white hair or spots can be challenging in direct sunlight – that’s why we shoot in shade to prevent blow outs. If you can get an overcast day then shoot all you can, but in the real world of a busy shelter you have to shoot when the staff has time or when new dogs come in.
  4. Check out my settings – I shoot with the fastest shutter speed I can with the light available. Shelter dogs don’t pose, and you’re lucky if they sit when they are excited to spend time with you. I use the fastest lens I have at a wide to medium focal length. I shot most of these with a 14-40 mm 2.8 lens. Fast glass really serves you well when you want to get the best shots in all lighting conditions.

Let’s Focus on Finding Jagger a Home!

I’m continuing my series on the amazing shelter dogs who need homes available at the Good Shepherd Humane Society in Northwest Arkansas. Photographing them has been such a joy – really getting to know pups like Boots (who has been adopted!) and Shakespeare (who is far too cute to be at the shelter much longer!).

Today I want to tell you about Jagger.

The first time I visited the Good Shepherd facility I noticed Jagger. He seemed focused on me, the visitor to his world. He was in a large shady pen that is more like a small backyard than a kennel. There were two other dogs in that space with him, but he seemed to be the man in charge. He looked to be some type of pit bull mix, with eyes that almost smiled.

I returned the following weekend to photograph the first set of dogs and Jagger was in the pen I was going to use to shoot in. He was easy to handle as they moved him to a temporary location while I shot the others first. As the last on the list on a hot day I was thinking that he was probably like me, a little tired from the morning rush, but he was not at all tired – he had been waiting for his time with me and he gave me the whole show.

Jagger is a dog with amazing focus. He has razor-sharp reflexes.

He is dead serious – about playing.

Jagger fetches and flawlessly catches treats in mid-air. His accuracy is astounding.

His heart is huge.

His need is great.

I recently learned that this gorgeous boy has spent his entire life at the shelter. He has never known a home except for that small yard. No wonder he seemed to be the man in charge. Here’s where looks can be deceiving – yes, Jagger is intense – but he is also gentle, and sweet, and careful. He’s very well socialized and loves other dogs. He loves going on excursions, and he accompanied a staffer to an art show last week. He loved the chance to get out and meet people. He deserves a chance at a real home with a real family.

So if you are serious about adopting a dog who will be serious about devoting his whole life and energy to you – Jagger is waiting to meet you. Don’t make him wait to long, he’s more ready to come home.

You can learn more about Good Shepherd and all the dogs available for adoption here:



PS – I am not trying to promote my blog when I encourage you to share, I would love it if you would share this post on your blog or on social media. I need this fella to finally find a home.

Shutterbug Notes:

Jagger moves quickly when playing – I used continuous tracking auto-focus and burst shooting. It allowed me to increase the odds of getting an action shot in focus. I also pushed up the ISO to 400 – on a sunny day the trade-off is a no brainer – very little noise. This allowed me to shoot with a fast shutter speed – 1/800th second. I switched up the aperture depending on whether we were in the sunshine or shade. Most of these shots were at f4.

Much Ado About a Little White Dog

My last post was about a new project I am doing with the local animal shelter – I am taking fun photos of dogs in an effort to help them get adopted. I wrote about Boots, and adorable pup who has since been adopted. The idea is simple – take some photos of a dog having a great time and the shelter can use these on social media and promote these pups and find them great forever homes. Those sterile clinic shots just don’t give you the mental picture of a pup fitting into your life, so let’s try some lifestyle shots of dogs at play.

Shooting them was more challenging than I had anticipated. The first dog we photographed was a scrappy fella named Shakespeare. He looks to be a Chihuahua/Terrier mix in my completely amateur opinion. He caught my eye the first time I visited the shelter – he seemed to be the lord of the manor – master of all he surveyed when I captured him in a holding pen.

Much ado about who's the boss!

Much ado about who’s the boss!

My first impression was that he was completely unflappable. He reminded me of my Jack Russell Terriers who pack so much authority into a tiny package. When I learned he would be the my first customer I was pretty excited – I love a dog that owns the place!

What I discovered is that Shakespeare is shy and a little overwhelmed by the larger world. At first he couldn’t get enough of the running and playing. But suddenly he was aware that he was in a very large yard so he carefully came back towards me to check things out. We had some treats and he wasn’t sure about me at first, but after a few minutes he let me pick him up and he was a pure snuggle bug. I loved his energy and sweetness!

If you or someone you know is looking for a friend that will forever be true, the Shakespeare might just be the pup for you.  Contact the Good Shepherd Humane Society and ask about him – he’s a real character!

Also – feel free to share this post. The more people who see Shakespeare, the more likely he is to find a home!



Shutterbug Notes:

Shakespeare is small and pretty quick on his feet so I used a fast lens build for capturing the action. I set the ISO up to 400 knowing that in decent light there would be no issues with noise with the aperture open to f2.8. I shot most of these at about 1/1000 second.  I switched up the aperture depending on whether we were in the sunshine or shade. My best shots seemed to come after I had earned his trust – so take your time with a more reserved subject. Let them get comfortable and let them to their own selves be true.

It’s a Dog’s Life

Last weekend I got the chance to do something I have wanted to try for a very long time.

Nothing makes me smile like a dog smiling at me.

Nothing makes me smile like a dog smiling at me.

I contacted someone at my local Humane Society after seeing a post on Facebook about getting fun shots of shelter pups that show their personalities. The adoption rates increase dramatically when you see a shot of a pup having fun and enjoying the experience versus a shot on a cold tile floor in a dog run. In my pursuit of wildlife, my favorite shots are those that capture a bit of personality or interaction with the viewer. If I can do it with a blue jay, I thought, how hard would it be to do it with a dog?

Well, it’s a lot harder than I thought. First off, every dog needs to do a sniff test on any new area. We had a large fenced grassy field, but it had held different dogs over time, so every new pup needed time to take it all in. Some of them needed a very long time. One dog never looked up at all in the first 30 minutes, but others made a quick lap and then focused their full attention on their new friends with the camera and treats. It was a blast and the time spent actually helped me to learn a bit more about their personalities.

The Good Shepherd Humane Society is a no-kill shelter. Recently they took on a shelter in a neighboring town that had once been a kill shelter. The added facilities are great, but with this new addition they have to take in any dogs caught in the city and hold them. If they are unclaimed, then they can adopt them out. This means there is a constant flow of new dogs and cats into the facility. They have even sent dogs to other parts of the country that lack adoptable pets. It’s a noble work and I was glad to get to learn more about it – it confirms to me the need to adopt rather than buy a pet. There are so many that need homes.

With that said let me introduce you to one of my new friends – this post is really for the pups and it’s purpose is to get the word out about these terrific animals. I will post about all the pups I met in the days and weeks to come.



Boots is a lovable pup. She has a beautiful brindle coat and is very affectionate. She is submissive to other dogs and is a high energy puppy. She was torn between running for joy and sitting close by to see if there were treats on the menu. We were glad to see her enjoy both!

Be sure to scroll through to see camera settings and to check out Boots’ amazing eyes!

If you or someone you know is looking for a companion that will adore you from the minute you meet and will enrich your life by sharing hers with you – then Boots just might be the pup for you, Contact the Good Shepherd Humane Society and ask about her – she’s a keeper!



Shutterbug Notes:

Boots is active so I decided that I would photograph her in the same way I would shoot a bird or a deer – I used continuous tracking auto-focus and burst shooting. It allowed me to increase the odds of getting an action shot in focus. I also pushed up the ISO to 400 – on a sunny day the trade-off is a no brainer – very little noise. This allowed me to shoot with a fast shutter speed – 1/1000th second. I switched up the aperture depending on whether we were in the sunshine or shade. Most of these shots were at f4.

The Photographers Eyes

I’ve always been intrigued by cameras and composition. I trained as a fine artist and focused on life drawing and painting with a side of ceramics. In college photography was a discipline I had to study for a year to satisfy the requirements of my BFA. I did really enjoy it, but it was not my “go-to” discipline. I learned the mechanics and even did a few professional shoots here and there. A camera was a tool in my designers toolbox. This all changed for me in 2006, but to tell the whole story I need to go back a little further.
When I was 17 I wrecked the family car. I was coming out of a construction zone and just when traffic started to speed up the car in front of me stopped for a dog crossing the road and I plowed right into it. I didn’t realize that I was so close. Afterward my mom decided to get my eyes checked out. It turns out that I had a slight crossed eye that could have interfered with my depth perception. Along with this the doctor discovered that I had cataracts. I was born with them. They were unusual in shape and not very common. I had 20/20 vision, and really didn’t notice anything. The doctor said that they might never be an issue.

Every time I moved to a new city and got a new eye doctor, they would ask it if was OK to bring in all their staff to see my cataracts, they were very unusual, something you might only see a couple of times in a career. One doctor even asked to photograph them – I finally got to see what the fuss was about. They looked like tiny galaxies, circular with swirls radiating from the center.

Now spring forward to 2006, my eye doctor had advised me that I could really benefit from cataract surgery. He suggested that once I began to lose the ability to focus (we all start to experience this in our 40’s) that I seriously should consider it. By this time I was living in a rural area and I was having difficulty driving at night. It never occurred to me that the culprit might be my cataracts, I assumed it was the lack of street lights. I had the surgery one eye at a time. I was the youngest person in the office by about 30 years. None of my fellow patients could imagine me having cataracts. The surgery only took a couple of minutes, and for those seconds between when they remove your old lens and when they replace it with a new one, my field of vision was filled with swirling rainbows through liquid – it was vivid and beautiful.

The next morning when I went out into the sunlight I was stunned by what I saw. I had always had 20/20 vision. I could see details and contrast just fine. In those first moments that morning I realized that I had never really seen color before. I never knew that a lawn was filled with thousands of shades of green and that each blade of grass both cast a shadow and caught a touch of sunlight. I never knew that the parking lot at work was made up of hundreds of greys and browns – I had always seen it as just kinda black. Before my surgery I had taken photos of mostly still life and everyday objects. I loved finding a new way to see something ordinary, but now my eyes were overwhelmed with the vividness of the world around me. I upgraded my camera kit to better capture the color and began to take my camera everywhere.

After work and on weekends I began to seek out color. Autumn leaves, sunsets, spring flowers, songbirds. The first time I had a show locally, a reporter asked me what inspired me and seemed surprised when I said color, since I had so many wildlife shots and landscapes. The subjects of my beloved still lives became more colorful. Color is the unifying theme of almost everything I shoot.

Today, I cannot even imagine the dullness of the world I lived in for so long without knowing it. I live for color and in the spring time when the Ozarks are alive with color. Currently I have a show up here in Eureka Springs called Harbingers – I collected works shot between February and April to represent those things that usher in a glorious spring after a long cold winter. I’ve mounted each on canvas over hard board and fixed then onto stretcher bars exposing the wood sides. I wanted to try to take the technical photography and give it a warmer hand-crafted feel. As spring has blossomed here I continue to add to my Harbinger library – and it’s no surprise that the images are filled with color. The images used in the show are in the slideshow below. Scroll through to see the images larger and to see camera settings.

Shutterbug notes – I chose my current camera set up partly because of its dynamic range. Moving to manual really give you a lot more control over color. Moving off auto gives you access to all the features of your camera and let’s you get the most out of it. Try seeing things in a new light, you might never want to go back to your old ways of seeing the world around you!

What does the Fox Say?

One of my favorite things about life in the Ozarks are the random encounters with wildlife. These encounters happen often up on my mountain – songbirds, squirrels, hawks, and deer all circle around the Stonehouse, careful to steer clear of the patrolling terriers in the lawn. A few years ago we had bear sightings up the road. I spotted a black mountain lion passing through one time. These occurrences are alway magical, but not unexpected anymore.

My friend Candy lives about a mile and a half from me on a golf course community called Holiday Island. You may have seen Eric Estrada pitching lots on late night infomercials a few years back. It’s beautiful spot carved out of the wilds of the Ozarks – but it’s considerably less wild than my mountain. They have restaurants, grocery stores, and a club house. One night Candy and I were driving from her house to mine. We were passing the clubhouse when we spotted some visitors. There on the parking lot next to the putting green were three little faces looking back at us. Candy maneuvered the car to give me some light while I took photos with my flash – oddly enough they were not at all bothered by the car, the flash, or me. At one point I was shooting two of them grooming each other when I glanced back and caught sight of the third one sneaking up behind me. Their curiosity overwhelmed any fear they had.

Their manner reminded me a lot of my shy pup Kirby. They were cautious but curious. I almost wanted to just sit on the ground and let them come to me – but we were in the middle of a street in the dark in the middle of the night. After about 20 minutes they tired of us and moved on across the putting green. Something more interesting awaited them in the dark of the golf course.

Since that night I have seen them several times. I spent some time with them at the bank parking lot one evening, but without Candy there to point the car headlights at them I didn’t have enough light to photograph them. I saw them sleeping in a driveway the other day – soaking up the last of the warmth of our Indian Summer.