Friday, June 15, 2012

Artsy Fartsy Friday! Guest Blogger Helen Peppe


It's my pleasure to welcome professional photographer and writer Helen Peppe, who is blogging today about photographing dogs, especially shelter dogs, although her tips will be helpful for pets as well. Janet MacPhail, the protagonist in my new Animals in Focus mystery series, is an animal and nature photographer, so when I met Helen last summer, I felt I was meeting my own character! Janet is not Helen, of course, but Helen has been a terrific resource to keep me accurate as I write the second book in the series. And now to Helen's tips and enchanting photos. ~ Sheila

 

Eye of the Dog


by Helen Peppe


©Helen Peppe



Cicero said before anyone knew much of anything about the brain, “The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.” When I am among dogs, specifically those I’ve just met, I look for clues to their friendliness and personality first to their eyes and second to the set of their body. Sometimes one looks into a dog’s face causes me to get back in my car and leave, especially if the owner says while her dog stares at me, head low, body tight and still, “Oh, don’t worry; he’s fine.” More often, however, that initial look causes me to feel immeasurable compassion, which is why I own four dogs when I promised my husband we’d never own more than two. Whether the dog wants to play, snuggle, eat what I’m eating, fears or loves me, the request is in his eyes. So, when I photograph dogs for clients, magazines, or rescue organizations, I know I must capture the essence of a dog by focusing on that which interprets the mind.

©Helen Peppe
©Helen Peppe

Before I arrive at a shoot, I remind the owners to clean their dogs’ eyes and bring a cloth to keep faces free of drips and gunk during the shoot. If I am working with rescue dogs, I clean the eyes myself. I rarely use PhotoShop, striving instead to capture the dog behaving naturally in his environment. My un-natural additions to my shoots are that I prefer not to depict canine biological output and I use fill-flash to illuminate a dog’s face and get catch lights.


           

©Helen Peppe
The pictures that are guaranteed to draw forth that heartfelt aw of sweetness are those where the dog’s eye or eyes look up imploringly, confidently, or playfully. Similarly, pictures of dogs can make people feel fear in their gut simply by how the photographer chooses to crop out the wagging tail or the ball that is the source of the intensity. Closed eyes can also be compelling and tell their own story.




©Helen Peppe
Pictures taken for art and sometimes journalistic purposes demand the focus to stray from the eye, but not those taken for this-is-my-dog type photos or PetFinder sites. To capture the complexity of dog behavior, I will often shoot images of a dog in relaxation or play mode—on his back, legs splayed loosely, reaching for a toy or looking off into the distance, because these types of shots show a clear aspect of the dog’s innate qualities.
©Helen Peppe

©Helen Peppe
There are few of us who haven’t heard the proverb, “Eyes are the window to the soul” and most of us know that to be true. Cicero was a staunch believer in the telling power of eyes because he also said, sometime between 106 and 43 BC, “All action is of the mind and the mirror of the mind is the face, its index the eyes.” When I look into a dog’s face, I am always struck by what I find there—the openness of the window that allows me to see a mind shaped by uncountable years of raw instinct, honed and dulled by environment and evolution.  The window also allows me to see the purity of the dog’s intent, which makes the species a genuine best friend. And I know, in that place inside of us where we just know things, that dogs look into my eyes for the same reason I look into theirs.






Helen Peppe is a writer and photographer. Although primarily a photographer of horses and dogs, she photographs all animals and sometimes, if they have pets, even photographs people. Her short stories, poems, articles, and photographs have appeared in numerous equine books, fiction anthologies, textbooks, and magazines, including Dressage Today,Equus, Practical Horseman, Dog Fancy, Dog World, and Cats Magazine. Author of Pigs Can’t Swim,The Maine Stable Guide, History of the State Theater, and former editor of the Eastern Equerry and Wordplay Magazine, Helen's writing and photographs have won awards and recognition, including finaling for the 2011 Annie Dillard Award. She lives in Maine with her family, four dogs, eight rescued rabbits, three cats, and four guinea pigs.



7 comments:

  1. Thanks for having me a second time, Sheila. It's been fun answering Janet's questions, and I am looking forward to reading your first mystery in October. For those readers who like to know details, the first picture is of a champion German shepherd owned by Maine's Doreen Metcalf; the second is a rescue, who, at the time, had no home; the third is also a rescue who I met and agreed to foster then had to adopt because, well, you can see; the fourth is a rescue--chow mix--who got adopted; the fifth is a very old boxer girl who had a loving home all her life; the fifth is a very shy rescue who spent way too long waiting for someone to meet and fall in love with her, but, when she did, the match was perfect; and the sixth picture is a chocolate lab puppy owned by Maine's Marion Sanders Leiter. As you can see, the eyes of these photo subjects say it all.

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    1. Thank you for that, Helen - nice to know whose souls we're looking into.

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    2. And a correction for those who count and care: the SIXTH is the shy rescue and the seventh is the chocolate lab puppy. I care. I just can't count.

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  2. Helen - love your writing and look forward to Artsy Fartsy Friday's! Thank you!

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  3. I love the writing! It's true for cats too . . .

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  4. Alexander the GrouseJune 15, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    Another excellent article on photographing animals.

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  5. Wonderful piece, and fun. One of the best parts was the eyes in all those pictures. Even if I don't focus on them when I look at the picture, the eyes are what make so much of the emotional content of the shot and create all of that empathy I feel. It is something new to always look for.

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