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.