Featured Artist: Melody McFarland

November 17, 2011  

A Q&A with this accomplished canine photographer, including tips for taking great pictures of your dogs

Q: Can you tell StubbyDog readers how you got your start as a photographer?

A: I used to be a research scientist with a long list of artsy hobbies, but in 2005 my husband and I moved to Japan and that career ended. I immediately realized that I could not spend another day in such a beautiful place without a good camera, so I bought my first SLR. I was obsessed from the moment I took my first picture and I felt like I actually had some aptitude for it. I spent most of my days traveling around the country just documenting everything I saw. It was a great way to start a career in photography.

Q: When and how did you start photographing dogs (and, in particular, pit bulls)?

A: We returned to the U.S., and I continued to work on photography. I posted photos on my blog just for fun, but things were going so well I felt more and more compelled to do something serious with them. We moved back to my hometown of Lancaster, Penn., and at some point it struck me that my best photos, and the ones I enjoyed most, were of our dogs. On a lark, I investigated pet photography on the Internet and realized that it was indeed a viable business, although not in our area. I had the equipment, the computer and pretty much everything I needed to start a business. Since there was very little investment involved, I figured there was really nothing to lose. I needed practice and a portfolio to start out, so I contacted our local shelter, the Humane League of Lancaster County, and asked if they needed photography services. Fortunately, they said they did, and we’ve had a fantastic relationship ever since. Like most shelters, the HLLC receives many pit bulls and almost every one is photogenic. Dogs are like people; some just look great in photos, and the pit bull falls into that category. I pay special attention to the pit bulls because they’re the hardest to adopt. A good photo goes a long way with this type of dog.

Q: Are there any unique challenges or special rewards to photographing dogs?

A: Yes, both for shelter and rescue dogs as well as for private shoots. I can’t think of anything more rewarding in this business than when I find out that one of my photos prompted someone to adopt a dog. I work for a local puppy mill rescue group, and that happened recently. Someone saw a photo of one of their rescues and just had to have the dog. I get a lot of business from people with older pets who want good shots before their lives start winding down. I love to be able to do that for people.

Q: Do you have a funny story or special moment to share about a dog photography session?

A: I get peed on quite a bit at the puppy mill rescue. We usually have multiple dogs in the play yard and I get so focused on photographing one of the dogs, the others sneak up behind me and pee on my back. I’m usually down on the ground, either crouching or lying down, so they have a good shot at me!

Q. Any advice for people wanting to capture great shots of their own dogs?

A. Two important points that will change your pictures dramatically:

1) Get on their level.

2) Make eye contact. Having the dog looking straight into the camera makes a big difference. Use treats or squeakers to get their attention, and be ready to snap the shutter.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. I can’t overstate how important good photos are to shelters and rescue groups. You don’t need to be a professional photographer with an expensive camera because even point-and-shoots these days take fantastic pictures. Take your time to really learn how to wield your camera by reading the manual and tutorials on the Internet. Get on level with the dog and make eye contact. If you can grab someone’s attention, even a little bit, it will greatly increase a dog’s chances of being adopted. You’re trying to grab people and sell these dogs – it’s no different than any other kind of advertising. You want to draw people in and the first way to do that is visually.

To see more of Melody’s work, visit her blog and Melody Pet Photography.

Melody is donating a photo shoot for StubbyDog’s Art Auction

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