Andrew Darlow: Tail-Wagging Photo Fun with Model Pooches

Some photos illicit an involuntary “awww!” from nearly everyone who views them.

Andrew Darlow’s photos of motivational doggy models fall under that category. His shots of posed pups range from “that’s so adorable” to “that’s so adorable I almost can’t handle it!”

We were so excited about Andrew’s photography that we just had to interview him. Click through to read his photo shoot tips and challenges, equipment and wardrobe, even fave phone apps for adding text to photos!

Andrew Darlow’s Delightful Doggy Photography

Who is Andrew?

Andrew Darlow‘s a professional photographer who’s taken his awesome photo skills and combined them with his love for man’s best friend.

He’s behind the extremely cute Biscuit For Your Thoughts, a book full of photogenic pooches and inspiring words that are sure to put a pep in your everyday step.

As we gushed over his work, we couldn’t help but wonder: how does Andrew manage to get all of these adorable shots? Lucky for us, he took the time to answer not only that question, but also several more!

Origin Story

Q: When and why did you decide to start photographing these photogenic canines? 

A: Since as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed playing with and just hanging out with dogs. After I started taking photos professionally, my love for dogs made me curious about the world of dog shows. I then visited the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City and was overwhelmed by the incredible diversity of the different breeds.

I then submitted some of my work to the AKC Gazette (the official publication of the American Kennel Club), and had a few photographs published.

That led to taking some photographs at the Super Pet Expo, which is a huge trade show with entertainment for people and pets. For a number of years after my first visit, I had a booth at the show where I showed my work and reserved sessions with people and their pets. (A few of the photos from my booth at the 2014 show are in “Biscuit For Your Thoughts.”)

Fashion Haven

Q: Some of the pooches are extremely stylish. Do they come to you already decked out, or do you choose their ensembles from a closet of doggy clothes?

A: I have been fortunate to have clients and friends whose dogs have not only great senses of smell, but also great senses of style! In one particular case, one of my most photographed dogs, a Chihuahua named Teekee, has an owner named Jayne who designs and makes just about everything she wears (including mini handbags to compliment some of her dresses!).

Puppy Vogue

Q: How do you convince a dog to strike a specific pose? Or do you let the pups call the shots?

A: It depends on the situation, but for private home sessions, I like to start by observing the dog(s)’ habits and their favorite places to hang out around the home. Often the best photo-ops happen when they are relaxing on the edge of a couch or playing with a favorite chew toy.

Some of the ways I coax my subjects to pose is by having someone hold them in their arms, or sit on their lap. That places them in predictable and often interesting poses.

The other way I often get a dog to look toward the camera is by using dog’s other best friend–food! By having someone the dog knows well stand next to me while he or she holds a treat just above or next to my lens, the expressions that I often get are hilarious.

Speedbumps

Q: Are there any challenges during these photo shoots that surprised you when you first started?

A: At first, I didn’t realize how difficult it was to get sharp photos of dogs, especially when inside. After many blurred photos, I learned how to use flash (a.k.a. strobe) attached to my camera, as well as off camera, in ways that look natural.

Another challenge was getting a whole family and their dog(s) to all look good in a group photo. It’s very common for people to want to look at their pet to make sure that they are smiling like the rest of the family, but when that happens, their focus on the camera is lost. Instead, I usually say to them “Please look at me, I’ll make sure Fido looks great.” This approach also works well with babies and small children…or teens who are busy texting. :)

Bare Bones Shooting

Q: Let’s say all I have is a camera and a dog. Do you have any advice on how to capture a great animal portrait without a team or studio setting?

A:  In most of the world’s largest metro areas, the best photos can usually be found outside in the early morning (about 7-10am) and late afternoon (about 4-8pm) because the sun is relatively low in the sky. That often creates a very pleasing look, with a warm glow.

It’s generally a good idea to turn off your camera’s on-camera flash unless you are in a dark environment. This will avoid “red eye” or “green eye.”

Window light is probably my favorite type of lighting. Just position your subject so that the light coming from a window is to one side of them. A white “fill card” (a.k.a reflector) can be placed on the opposite side to reflect some light back toward your subject. I wrote an article on inexpensive reflectors that can be found here.

Say Cheese! Say Cheese Again!

Q: How many photos do you usually take during a single shoot?

A: For a private photo session, I usually take about 200-600 photographs. This number will be closer to 200 if there is just one pet, and closer to 600 if there are a few different group shots that include family members.

Burst mode (or continuous shooting mode) helps when I’m not using flash, and when I do use flash (especially battery-powered flash), I use as high an ISO as I can that won’t introduce unwanted noise. On a camera like my full-frame Canon EOS 6D, that’s about 1000 or 1600 ISO, but on my Canon EOS Rebel t4i, that’s about 400 or 800 ISO.

I also use Manual mode and choose apertures that cover the depth of field I need. For a typical photograph using a 50mm lens on a full frame DSLR, that’s about f/5.6 for a single pet on one “plane,” which means there are not levels of people or pets, like in a typical school or team group portrait. For groups of people, I will increase the aperture to about f/8 or f/11 in those cases. By using lower number apertures, the flash does not have to work as hard, and recycling time will be faster. The best batteries I’ve found for flash units, and many other situations are Panasonic’s Eneloop batteries (I’ve been using the standard Eneloops for many years with outstanding results, and I recommend saving money by purchasing those instead of the Eneloop Pro brand).

Pup’s Big Break

Q: Do these doggy models belong to people? How do you recruit them?

A: In most cases, people own the dogs in my photos, but I sometimes photograph dogs at adoption events that are being fostered by a caring family. That allows me to take photos of them and have them posted on social media and sites like Pet Finder so that the dog has a much better chance of finding a “forever home.”

Many of the people who I teach in my private pet photography workshops and at places like Unique University want to learn how to take better pet photographs so that they can volunteer their time at shelters to take photographs of pets in need of homes. Good quality photographs of pets help dramatically in the rescue process and it makes me feel very good to be able to “teach people how to fish.” Those people often then help others to take better photographs of pets, which increases the overall number of good quality photos of pets available for adoption.

Smiles All Around

Q: Your photos make us smile, laugh, and just generally feel pretty darn good. Was this your intention when you started this project?

A: Thank you very much! That was the intention from day one.

I get comments like this quote all the time:

“I shared your book with the teller at the bank and she took it over to two other tellers and then the bank manager to show them the TUTU photo. The whole bank was laughing, saying oh how cute, etc.”

That makes me feel very good. If I can help bring a few extra smiles to the world, that tells me all the hard work that goes into projects like this is worthwhile.

Furry Models

Q: Do you photograph any other animals? Are they easier/harder than dogs to photograph?

A: I have photographed many other animals over the years (wild and domesticated). Cats are another one of my favorite furry creatures to photograph, and I have many photographs of them strutting their stuff (or just sleeping, which is a common theme with both cats and dogs!).

Cats can be much more difficult than dogs to photograph, especially if they run away and hide under a bed or desk. Like with dogs, getting on the pet’s level and using things like a toy on a string or a laser pointer on the floor can really help to get them to be animated. It’s the moments in between the action that make for great photo opportunities.

I also absolutely love creating images of animals and insects like butterflies at zoos and wildlife parks.

Awesome Apps

Q: What are some of your favorite phoneography apps for adding text to images like those in your book? 

A: There’s no doubt that the “LOLcat” phenomenon has found a special place in popular culture. I’m a big fan of sites like cheezburger.com that have many humerous captioned animal photos.

There’s also “Text on Photos and Videos” by Hadrien Muller. You can make many adjustments to the type including leading (line spacing) and tracking (letter spacing). You can even tilt your type and create your own Star Wars-like “title crawl” effect. It’s very easy to do, even for Wookiees (and Pros too!). These text features are very rare on apps like these.

I also LOVE the PhotoStyle Pro app from Guoyu Cai. This app uses a series of layers that you can see from left to right after you select an image or take a photo.

For many more options, I recommend searching for Photoshop Express on the app store, because many other good quality editing apps with type features will also appear. Photoshop Express is free (there are some in-app purchases available), and it’s particularly useful for cropping photos and making overall adjustments to your images (unfortunately though, it has no type options).

Keep in touch with Andrew

 

The pages in Andrew’s book are two-page spreads like the image above. 

 

Thanks to Whitey Warner for the “Who Is Andrew” photo!