If you’ve ever tried to take a flattering photograph of your pet dog, you’ll know that animal portraiture is harder than it looks. Fido might be the most adorable creature in the world off-camera, but press the shutter and you’re guaranteed a blur of limbs, half-closed eyes or nose-on-lens slime.
To get it right is an art form, and the reason why established pet photographers like Elke Vogelsang have carved out niche careers capturing Germany’s beloved household companions. The Hildesheim-based artist is a bona fide celebrity in the pet world – her portraits have been commissioned by everyone from National Geographic to Die Zeit. With a hefty 170,000+ Instagram followers (@Wieselblitz for dogs, @Wieselcats for kitties), two published books and photography workshops on the go, business continues to boom throughout lockdown. But what are her secrets? How does she capture such unpredictable subjects with such reliable results?
Here’s a selection of her favourite snaps – alongside some pro tips.
“Be patient – always. That’s the only rule that should never be broken.”
“Know your camera inside out and have everything ready to go. Don’t bore the dog by fiddling with your camera settings.”
“Make sure the sessions are short and fun for you and your pet. Think of it as bonding time and entertainment for the both of you.”
“Some dogs tire easily, especially when they’re very excited, sick or old. Make sure your session is adapted to your individual model’s age, health and fitness.”
“Make sure there are no other distractions! If you try to photograph your dog in a busy park, you will have a hard time getting his attention.”
“If you don’t know your models yet, don’t cuddle them if they don’t invite you. Give them some time to get used to you, the atmosphere and to smell around and get to know the new place.”
“Find out what your dog likes the best. Some might do anything for treats, others love to release energy with play or by running.”
“Take frequent breaks. The key is patience, a calm and positive attitude, repetition and lots and lots of bribery.”
“Don’t take nervous dogs out for a session in the city. Look for a quiet and calm place. If your dog doesn’t follow any commands yet, go for a dynamic shoot instead of a posed one.”
“Be prepared to work hard. I know – that doesn’t sound like fun, but in a massively oversubscribed field and those who survive make sure they do what they love and work on their skills continuously and patiently. Don’t obsess over what other photographers do. If you need inspiration, look for it in other genres or creative fields. Don’t follow trends. Be a trendsetter.”
All photos by Elke Vogelsang. Interview by Lucy Rowan.