Bark Pet Photography Blog

A Shy Dog’s Moment by Sarah Sypniewski

This originally appeared on 8/15/11 on Sarah Leaps.  This version has a lot more photos!

One of the things we love most about our private photo sessions (aside from working with sick or elderly pets) is working with shy or fearful animals.  It’s pretty challenging, but it’s so completely worth it.  We had a shoot like that on August 14 with Oliver.

Oliver’s mom took advantage of our 4-0-Fido deal in the Wall Street Journal and booked a session for her beloved rescue pooch.  She warned us that he was “very timid around strangers,” but assured us that since we were females, we’d probably be okay (“all strange men terrify him,” she wrote in her email).

We let her know that we have experience with timid pups and that we specialize in working with them.  It might seem like we overstated it a tad (I mean, at what point can you really declare yourself a “specialist” in something, anyway?), but given that what we really wanted to say was, “oh, poor baby.  Don’t worry.  We know he’s probably been through so much and his heart has been hurt and we will take care of it.  We love him already and we will soothe him without even touching him and we’ll let him sniff my soul from afar,” we think our response was actually quite tempered.

When we arrived, we saw a medium-sized shepherd/hound boy peeking at us through the back gate.  A gate, we would discover, did not even belong to him.  Apparently, Oliver has endeared himself to all of the neighbors and goes on visits regularly.  His mom fetched him from the yard next door and brought him into her courtyard for the session.

The intro was without bark or growl, but he definitely was unsure.  His tail tucked itself up between his quivering haunches.  He ducked right under the patio table and eyed us from the corner. As is our practice with all timid clients, we extended our “getting to know you period” and spent the first fifteen minutes alternating between chatting with his mom and throwing treats to him from afar, enticing him to come closer, a la E.T.  We let him get used to our smells and voices (though we spoke softly and specifically kept conversation directed at him to a minimum).  He loved the treats and it didn’t take too long before he gently (SO gently!) began to take them out of our hands.  But then he’d run back over to his bed or under the patio table to eat them.  And if we made any movements at all, we’d have to start all over again.  During this period, we didn’t make eye contact with him.  We just let him feel secure and unchallenged so he could nibble freely, trusting that we would not hurt him.  I (Sarah) kept my palm open and low for him to access and never reached to pet him.

Stay away from me with that thing

Poor Oliver, just a few minutes into the session

Once we felt like we had built up a solid enough reputation with Oliver, it was time to break out the camera for him to get used to before Kim started photographing.  The movement of getting it out scared him into hiding again, but the camera itself didn’t seem to faze him, as long as I kept dispensing the treats.  I coaxed him out from under the table and by this time, he was able to stand in front us for extended periods of time without running away (I think he was starting to realize it was a much more efficient approach to getting as many treats as possible).  Since he could now hold a stance within inches of us and the camera, it was time to see if he would allow his gaze to follow the treat–no matter where it was.

I gave him a few more treats in my open palm and started using my voice to praise him, which he appeared cool with.  Then I picked a treat up and held it between my thumb and finger for him to take.  He did it without hesitation.  So I took another and raised it up.  He followed it.  I raised it higher.  He stayed with it.  I placed it right next to my eye, and that was the moment we saw each other.  I rewarded his bravery and quick progress with the treat and we did it again. And again.  And after a few more practice “watches,” Kim started clicking.  I could tell he wanted to dart.  That camera was fine when it was just sitting in Kim’s hands, but now that the huge lens was dangling in the air and pointed right at him, it was a different story.  And I saw his hind legs shuffle.  But you know what?  He didn’t move.  He looked at me.  And the treats.  And he was ready to work.

This might be okay...

This might be okay...

And boy, was he ever!  I discovered he knew how to sit and he’d stand and follow that treat with his eyes like it was his job.  He was focused and found his rhythm and didn’t lose it, even during the “costume” changes.  His moment had arrived!

Throughout our hour together–as so many timid (and non-timid) pets do–Oliver found a side of himself he may not known existed and totally immersed himself in it.  Although it happens all the time during our sessions, that moment never stops being magical to me.  It’s like the universe suddenly shifts. Sometimes it takes fifteen seconds and sometimes it takes fifteen minutes, but whenever that moment comes, it’s worth waiting for.  In that moment, the animal make the decision to stop teetering on the fence and commit with all four feet to this fantastic game that involves treats raining down from the sky with every click.  And more than that, they make the decision to connect. And I guess when it comes down to it, that’s what I’m here for.  I’m here to believe that moment will come.  I’m here to usher it in and bear witness to it.  And to celebrate its arrival like the tremendous accomplishment it is.

Oh yeah, I'm getting the hang of this now!

Oh yeah, I'm getting the hang of this now!

On my personal blog, I write about the Early Believers–the people, organizations, contests, and achievements that saw something in us before we did…the people who–because they believed in us–somehow directly had a hand in leading us to where we are now.  I guess, in a way, I try to serve in that role for all of the animals we photograph.  I’m here to try to help them feel safe enough to share the beauty their families (current or future) see so Kim can capture it forever.

His mom adopted Oliver from a rescue called Thumping Tails that had pulled him out of the East Valley Animal Shelter here in Los Angeles about six years ago.  One can only guess at the horrors he’s had to endure in his life, but there he was, standing in front of us, sitting on command, and–I kid you not–striking poses on his Beverly Hills lawn. Despite his trembling backside, he pressed on.  He trusted us–in less than an hour.  No matter how many times I see it, it always, ALWAYS nearly reduces me to tears.  Animals’ capacity for forgiveness, trust, and love is way beyond my human comprehension.

As part of our pre-shoot correspondence, we always ask our clients if they have any sort of vision for specific shots.  Oliver’s mom wrote to us, simply–and powerfully–“I only have 2 photos…both taken by male photographers…in both, he has a terrified look in his eyes.  My only goal for the photo session is to have a photo of him looking relaxed and happy.”  As you can see,  Kim got some photos that just break your heart with joy, don’t they?   Despite whatever old ghosts continue to haunt him (and shame on whoever put them there), Oliver overcame them.  He’s a beautiful, sweet boy whose mom will now have images to match.

We love that we get to spend time with him and all of the others who just need a little time, patience, and belief shared with them…and we love that we can give the humans behind the animals photographs that are REAL.  Oliver’s mom saved him.  And continues to every day.  And we feel so lucky that we can provide her a keepsake that actually looks like her precious boy.  They both deserve it.  And then some.

I'm a model...ya know wut I mean...

I'm a model...ya know wut I mean...

“Can’t You Just FALL or Something?” by Sarah Sypniewski
January 9, 2010, 9:22 pm
Filed under: Birthday Surprise, Client Shoots, Shepherd Mix

We just got back from a great shoot.  And by great, I mean AWE-some (sing it for extra emphasis). I guess we should’ve known we were in for something special when the driving instructions the clients gave us included “our house kind of looks like an office building.”  We turned down their street, and as we drove past factories and warehouses, I got a little panicked.  I didn’t see any offices, any houses, or any office-like houses.  And then I did.  At the very end of a tiny industrial street on the west side of LA, there it stood: 3 stories of beautiful steel and beams–a live/work loft that would make any architect or artist drool like a Mastiff. 

I grabbed a few more gratuitous glances at it as we waited for our security clearance.  See, Kim had to call the clients to announce our arrival because we were keeping the shoot on the down low.  A mother-daughter pair booked us to honor their husband/father’s upcoming birthday.  They’re going to present him with the finished products in a few weeks!

We’ve done surprise shoots before, so it wasn’t anything new in concept.  But what WAS new?  Um…well…ol’ husband/father (let’s call him HF for short) was there.  As in, in the HOUSE while we were shooting.  Yep.  Somewhere in that beautiful structure, HF went about his business, oblivious to us (thanks to Son, who kept him occupied somehow).

Kim and I had a lot of fun with Della and Cody, beautiful Sheppy mix girls.  While Della fronted at first, she quickly morphed into a supermodel before our eyes as she showed us her best Zoolander faces.  Cody was more timid than her sister, but overcame her fear of the c-a-m-e-r-a (yes, you have to spell it; otherwise, she goes charging into her crate when she hears the word.  Cellphone cameras, we’re told, are her worst nemeses) when we let her play ball.

We did the outside shots first, and were about 5 minutes from being done with the den when we heard a precarious knock at the door.  Mom called out, “who is it?”

“Me.”  It was Son.  “You’re out of time.”

HF was apparently on his way up.  Luckily, we had gotten plenty of shots, but we still had all of our lights to pack up.

Daughter started panicking–“well, go stall him some more!”

“No…it was hard enough to keep him out of here for as long as I did!  What am I supposed to do?”

“I dunno…tell him there’s something wrong with your computer and you need him to look at it.”

“But there’s nothing wrong with it!  He’s too smart for that.”

“Come ON!  You’re going to ruin the surprise!”

“Well, what do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know!  Can’t you just FALL or something?”

“What…you want me to break my leg?”

Meanwhile, Kim and I are ripping power cords out of walls and collapsing light stands like our lives depend on it.  I narrowly miss impaling my own eye with one of our umbrellas by a centimeter.  We release the dogs from the den as a feeble ploy to both distract HF and give some impression of normalcy. 

Daughter realizes the futility and goes off to try her hand at keeping HF at bay.  Mom decides she should take us down the back stairs and runs off to make sure she knows the code to the gate.  Son stands by and helps Kim and me exit swiftly and soundlessly.

It was a pretty hilarious sight–I’m tiptoeing down the stairs, praying that the Pelican cases I’m carrying don’t freakishly swing through their glass walls and Kim’s right behind me with her camera backpack and all the loose odds n ends spilling out of her arms.  Mom is waiting for us at the bottom and half-giggles, half-hisses to me over her shoulder, “HOW MUCH DO WE OWE YOU?” 

“THREE FIFTY,” I giggle-hiss back over my tiptoeing. 



We stop outside just long enough for Mom to write the check, sign the release, and let the dogs do a few laps around the car that is serving as our writing desk.  They have no idea what’s happening, but they sure think it’s fun!

We stuffed the check and paperwork in the bag, Mom folded the product catalogue up in her pocket, and we went running off into the industrial-come-residential sunset.

 It was a great way to spend a Saturday evening.  Thank you!

Names have been concealed to protect the mischevious generous.

Bark Pet Photography Gets a Blog! by Kim
November 29, 2009, 5:40 pm
Filed under: chihuahua, Client Shoots

Holy crow, Bark Pet Photography finally got around to setting up a blog!  Yet another place to post updates and keep all our fans informed.  We’ll do our best to keep the info flowing and to start it off here’s a little eye candy from this weekend’s shoot.  Meet Missy (human), Mya (13 yr. old chi), and Jackson (tiny tiny chi).  Although it was weirdly freezing cold out the lighting was gorgeous and we still managed to get some nice shots!

Mr. Jackson

Little fuzzy Jackson ears

Jackson just poking around

Maya and Jackson were sporting some pretty sweet holiday sweaters!

Maya soaking up the sun

Missy and Jackson looking regal