I did it, I finished the 6 month Dog Photography Challenge with my fellow professional photographers from all over the globe. We had a new brief every two weeks for 6 months, that’s 12 shoots. I challenged myself further by photographing dogs I do not know, where possible, in locations I haven’t been to before!
As a horse rider and dog owner I really know the value of lessons and learning. To keep pushing myself to help create a better understanding with my ponies and my dog. To help us get the best relationship, to work together in a more harmonious way. This rings true with my professional life too, as a full time photographer running my own business I need to be on top of my business, what is new, how to move forward, keeping up with technology. There is also the creative side too, not just taking the photographs but the thought processes behind the images.
I set myself personal challenges within my photography but to be fair, they go to the bottom of the list when I am busy. In the past I have always put the paid work first, I still have to pay a mortgage after all. But through the challenges I have set myself this year I see how my business and my photography has excelled, it was well worth the investment of money and time for sure.
What challenges - the one I am writing about today is called the Emerge Challenge, where a group of international pet photographers got together and mentored each other through a series of 12 photographic challenges, one every two weeks for 6 months. Run and overseen by Unleashed Pet Photography Education on the other side of the world by two amazing eductators, Charlotte Reeves and Craig Turner-Bullock. It was tough, no lie at all. I struggled with my time and my constant need to push myself harder. I learnt so much about myself and my photography. Not always the good stuff either. The main take away was that valuable saying ‘Perfectionism kills every dream’. Not all my images were perfect, the situation did not always lend itself to the challenge brief. I learnt a few hard lessons but in the end I got on, took the shots and submitted them to the challenge hub. The feedback was sometimes cutting and harsh but at other times rewarding and elevating. It wouldn’t be a challenge without that - right!
I asked my lovely followers on social media to come forward for the challenges with their beautiful pups and lots stepped up, I got many more than I needed, which was a lovely surprise and great to have my followers support.
Challenge One: Framed - Model : DJ the Boston Terrier - Location : Exeter Customs House
Utilising compositional techniques of framing to bring the attention towards your subject. Surrounding the subject, framing the subject and getting a sense of balance within the frame.
I started this challenge wanting to push myself more, of course. Couldn’t start easy and build myself up slowly, like I would with a horse or dog. No chuck myself in at the deep end and then flounder!
So to make this more of a challenge I decided it had to be in an urban areas. My comfort zone is the countryside so I pushed myself to go into a built up area. Albeit on the very outskirts of the city of Exeter, photographing with lots of the public milling around is not my normal enviroment.
I had an idea in mind but was thwarted several times by the weather, which meant I missed the first deadline - this is were I started to learnt about perfection killing the dream, had I been a bit more flexible I could have got the shot in by the deadline and been critiqued by Charlotte and Craig and then reshot it but instead I just got a submission pass and no feedback. Did I learn straight away no, I am a bit slow like that. So onto the next
Challenge Two: Spaced Out - Model : Gizmo the French Bulldog - Location : the Quay, Exeter
Utilising the compositional techniques of negative space. Keeping in mind for this one that the negative space needed to tell a story and be aesthetically pleasing but not distracting from the subject.
I carried on with my urban theme, heading back to Exeter, concrete is so much nicer to work on than mud in February. There was a wealth of locations and I was torn between the two images.
I submitted the first one because it has lead lines and lots of negative space which tells a story. The second image also tells a story but I felt the graffiti was too over powering…I will never know.
Challenge Three : Highs and Lows - Model : Ozzy the Goldendoodle - Location: Teignmouth Beach
Either a high or low key image, creating emotion and mood that matches the high or low. Being a lover of fun and all things happy when it comes to our pets, I went towards the high key with the energy and lightness of a happy, high on life dog.
In my mind I had beautiful white sands and a near white floofy Labradoodle with a big smile. I got the high on life happy dog but I failed on the beach - it was red….oops!! You live and learn - and I learnt that location scouting is very important!
I reshot the image later in year with a beautiful grey horse on a near white hazy sky. There is not the element of happiness that I got with Ozzy but there is the feeling of serenity and lightness. Again, it didn’t get critiqued but I got a submission pass.
Challenge Four : Under Cover - Model : Coco the Border Jack - Location : Shot in clients home
The brief was straight forward - photograph a pet in a home environment, indoors or under a ceiling or roof of some kind. This was all about the use of available light. I wanted to photograph a dog in a kitchen, I know that is where mine hangs out most of the time, especially when I am cooking and food just magically falls off the counter, usually when I am slicing vegetables badly!
My little model was awesome and the house was stunning with a lot of available light coming from a bright day outside. The photograph didn’t do well in the feedback and was dismissed because I cropped it badly, leaving a black mark just on the edge of the frame, very distracting indeed. I reworked it and re submitted it. I was learning that submitting something by the deadline was vital to get the critique and have a chance to rework it or reshoot it. Unfortunatly it could be re critiqued so I had to just hope it was an improvement.
Challenge Five : Pantastic - Model : Amber the Patterdale Terrier - Location : Killerton House Woodlands
This had to be an action shot running across the camera plane, from one side to the other, areas of sharpness and motion blur.
I wanted a small, fast dog and Amber was perfect and was very happy to run backwards and forwards many times without complaint. This was my first top 20 image of the challenge so far.
Challenge Six : All in the Details - Model : Joe the Cocker x Setter - Location: At Home
For this we had to look at the dog close up, what was it that the owner loved and then make it star of the show.
This is where I had to start to bend and photograph my dog - Joe, as he was grazable at anytime of day and fitted into my increasingly busy schedule. His eyes are the most amazing colour, that is his most striking feature, and his curls that shape and frame his eyes are devine, add to that the black/reddish coat and I felt I had a great image. It again went top 20 so I was thrilled with two in a row.
Challenge Seven : Silhouette - Model : Doug the Labrador - Location : Mardon Down
This was all about creating a simple silhouette. I was keen to get a dog and human in this one, picked my location and my model. I wanted connection and I loved the idea of a semi silhouette so you got the lovely details of the girl’s dress. The critique however was harsh, so I had to rethink and unable to photograph my original subject again, I went back to my familiar territory of horses and shot this image of a horse whilst I was out on a work shoot.
Challenge Eight : Slow Motion - Model : Joe the Cocker x Setter - Location : Sandford
Create an image that captures the slow motion of the subject. It was again a busy period for me but I saw Joe do this ’stalk’ every morning when going into a field that he knew had rabbits. So I took my camera on our walk and over a few mornings managed to capture this shot. It did not do well in critique, they liked it, liked the balance and the overall image but it didn’t sum up the brief. So, knocked back after getting two top 20’s, I realised that I needed to up my game again.
Challenge Nine : Mirror Image - Model : Gus the Jackapoo - Location : Bridford Reservoir
Creating an image that includes a reflection of the subject. The reservoirs are a new location for me but one I have been wanting to try for a long time. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the strength of the winds. My model was amazing, so patient and well behaved and under a year in age. Really impressive. Unfortunately, the ripples not the lake were bigger than her so we headed inland and got this beautiful image of her.
In the critique they liked the leading lines and the location but unfortunately they didn’t like the lack of eyeballs.
I reshot it at another shoot later in the challenge series, this opportunity came up with two cats, sniffing each other through a window, the reflection of the outer cat intertwined with the indoor cat. One of those shots that you take and think - wow.
Challenge Ten : Double Trouble - Models : Chili and Ned the Boxers - Location : East Village
They were looking for portraits of pairs and I loved the idea of two Boxers - they are one of my favourite breeds. My soul dog was a Labrador mix - part of the mix was Boxer and I have loved the breed ever since. What I failed epically to do was get a portrait of these two. We took on more of the Double Trouble element and came up with this. Again, critiqued badly but I loved it. So, out I went again and reshot this with two Golden Retriever brothers, I kept an element of Double Trouble in it as they are in a portrait pose, but just breaking it. It never got critiqued but it made me smile. I love retrievers so much. Such happy dogs.
Challenge Eleven : Bokehlicious - Model : Willow the Cocker Spaniel - Location : Upton Hellions
Capturing well lit circles of bokeh in the out of focus areas of the image, the bokeh must appear as distinct circles, either natural or artificial. I knew I needed to shoot very early or very late in the day. Being a location near to where I live, I selected a local model and an evening shoot. We had a lovely walk around my local area - see here for my top 5 walks of which this one is featured.
It was a beautiful evening and I ended up with a really lovely selection to select from. This one of Willow went top 20 again. How that lifted me after a run of not quite making it.
Challenge Twelve : Shake - Model : Mable the Labrador - Location : Fingle Bridge
A simple brief, capture a dog shaking off water, with a dynamic feel. Mable was a superstar and one of those dogs that dives to the river bed to retrieve. Every time giving me this amazing full body shake. It reminded me of hair adverts where the model does a full hair toss. Mable nailed it, it didn’t get anywhere in the critique but it really is a favourite of mine.
In conclusion - I have learnt that perfection will kill every dream, that I am a good photographer, I don’t always produce award wining work, but I am consistently producing work that resinates with my clients, and at the end of the day they are the ones who matter. I capture the animal in front of me, their personality, their character, their favourite places to go. The bond they share with their human. That means more to me than anything else. I am also learning to take the critiques with less emotion and then I can truly learn from them.
It wouldn’t be a challenge otherwise would it?
Onwards and upwards - next Challenge - raise some serious money for a dog rescue…
A huge thank you to all the lovely followers on social media who put their pups forward and shared my work. Without you all I couldn’t have made this happen.