By Jasmine Cabanaw
It takes a special kind of photographer to capture the shots we need for our magazine covers. With every shoot we wait in anticipation, fingers crossed, that the photographer will be able to get the right photo. There are a lot of requirements to be met- the dog must be facing the camera, must be “smiling”, must be close up but not too close up- and dogs don’t exactly follow directions the same way human models do!
For our 2014 holiday cover, featuring Bocker the Labradoodle, Bocker’s furmom reached out to photographer Geoff Tischman with the hopes of capturing a cover shot that encapsulated both a New Year’s and a holiday feel. We were impressed with the results! Check out the interview below to discover just what goes into pet photography and why this area of photography warms our hearts.
When and why did you start photographing animals?
In 1996 I moved to the Bay Area for a project management job in the tech industry. I was traveling non-stop for two-and-a-half years, working very long hours, and during this period my back was injured in a car accident. I was burnt out and quite unhappy, so I decided to leave my job and try to do something I with animals, as I’ve loved them, particularly dogs, my entire life. I started a dog-walking business, Bone-A-Fide, with a good friend of mine in San Francisco, and around this time a friend of mine gave me her old point and shoot film camera. I’m sure you can see the pun coming here – something clicked! I started photographing our clients’ dogs and realized I absolutely loved it.
How is photographing animals different than photographing people?
Animals are far less self-conscious than people, even when they sit for portraits. And I can’t think of a single cat or dog that’s asked me to use Photoshop to make him or her look thinner!
Do you have a favorite type of animal you like to photograph?
Dogs. I would say 90 percent of my shoots are with dogs. I love cats, but dogs have always had a special place in my heart. And I love photographing pit bulls. I find them to be beautiful subjects, and they are incredibly smart and very easy to work with. I also love photographing horses, but I don’t get the opportunity to do so as much as I would like to.
Do you have any tricks up your sleeve to get animals to sit still for the photos, or do you do something special to get the shots?
Getting dogs to sit still for portraits largely depends on how well they’ve been trained. If I’m photographing a smaller dog who hasn’t been trained or doesn’t know commands like “sit” and “stay,” I’ll put the dog on a chair, a bench, a box…sometimes even inside the box! This positioning gives me a few seconds, at least, to get a shot, before the dog jumps to the ground or climbs out of the box. I also use whistles and a loud squeakers, so I can catch their attention and get them to tilt their heads.
How has your photography shaped your life?
Photography has made it possible for me to be my own boss and to make my own schedule. It’s an awful lot of work, but I love it, and I don’t answer to anyone but myself. I also love pet photography because I don’t have to get dressed up to go to work! My office is at home, which makes it a challenge at times to be as productive as I need to be, but it gives me the chance to spend more time with my family, which includes my dog, Baxter, and our cat, Bruce.
What do you like most about working with animals?
I have to admit I enjoy the company of animals as much or more than I do the company of people. I spend a lot of time photographing homeless pets for a number of animal shelters and rescue groups in the Tri-State Area, and it’s truly rewarding to know my photos are helping pets get adopted. It’s definitely therapeutic for me – I feel good about what I’m doing and it gets me out of the house and away from the computer for a couple of hours each week. I am a member of a wonderful organization, Hearts Speak that connects photographers and other artists with rescue groups to help get more pets adopted. Rescue groups and shelters can visit the website and connect with professional photographers in their area who will help them capture better images of their adoptable pets.
Got a fave photo shoot story?
Yes. Several years ago I photographed all the pet food and product packaging for the in-house brand of a major grocery store chain. They had specific breeds in mind for the dogs, and instead of hiring models I decided to work with the Mayors Alliance of NYC to reach out to different breed-specific rescue groups, so we could use adoptable dogs for the photos (we shot the cats at the ASPCA shelter in NYC). The shoot was incredibly challenging – we had to have a groomer on site, and I had to hire a friend of mine, an animal behaviorist, to assist me with the dogs. Our subjects weren’t “pro models,” of course, so many of them didn’t know commands, and some of them were camera shy. We had a lot of fun, though, and we received a nice donation for the Mayor’s Alliance, which was great.
What did you like most about your shoot with Bocker?
My photo shoot with Bocker was a breeze, the complete opposite of the pet food packaging shoot! Bocker is a great dog and true pro when it comes to posing for photos. He is very mellow and relaxed – he sat still for me and looked right at the camera! I would describe him as a low maintenance “celebripup!” His mom is great too, and also very easy to work with. The shoot only took 30 minutes and was a lot of fun. I definitely want to thank the SPCA of Westchester for providing us with the space for the shoot.
For more about Geoff, please visit Tischman Pets Photography.