Through the Lens – Jill Caren

June 4, 2013  

Jill Caren / Jill Caren Photography

Interview by Kaycie Goddard

Why did you first get into photography? Is it your main job? I originally got into photography after the birth of my daughter. I had been known as the “girl with the camera” way back to childhood, so it was something I was always interested in and felt the time was right to venture into it as a full time job. I opened a brick and mortar studio in 2003 and maintained that until 2008. I closed the doors after experiencing burn out and losing the passion for it because of the restraints of the studio and shooting what customers “wanted” as opposed to what I enjoyed. I had to do work I was not thrilled with to pay the bills – that was not what I wanted. I took a hiatus for a few years and got into web design and development, then re-launched my photography business in 2011, this time focusing on my own style as a selling point and looking for clients who appreciate my style and who allow me creative freedom.

What other work do you do as a photographer? I primarily shoot children and pets. I do photograph occasional families if they are the laid back, fun and whimsical families that I love! I want my portfolio of work to express my style and only edgy families fit that bill!

Do you also volunteer your services for animals? Absolutely! I work with three primary rescues/shelters and enjoy every minute of it. I split pretty equally between the three. I work with Eleventh Hour Rescue, Woodbridge Animal Shelter, and Monmouth County SPCA.

How long have you been volunteering your photography services? Just over a year now, although it seems like forever.

How many shelters and rescues have you worked with since you started volunteering? Probably about five in total. There a few rescues I work with on taking images of their current adoptable pets in foster homes in addition to the shelters I work with, so it can get crazy at times!

What is your favorite part of volunteering your photography skills? It is all wonderful! But there is nothing better than hearing “Doggie got a home because they saw your picture and fell in love!” I just wish that happened a little bit more than it does. But the emails I get from the rescues are a close second. The “thank you”s and appreciation for my time and efforts does wonders for feeling like I am doing something worthwhile.

Do you think doing this has changed your life? Absolutely! I have never felt better about myself since I have started doing this. I have been an animal lover since the day I was born, so being able to make a difference is priceless.

What sort of feedback have you received about your animal photos? I think this recent review is one of my favorites: “I’m an Eleventh Hour volunteer and Brett is my special project. I just had to send out a big thank you for making my boy look so beautiful!! I’m so pleased! We’ve never met, but I’ve always admired the job you’ve done with our dogs. You even made Gracie look good, (which isn’t easy) and I look forward to seeing her brother Cody’s pictures, who is also my special friend. One of my very favorites of all time was your shot of Slugger with Michelle. I thought that photo was amazing, and I told her so. Anyway, I just wanted to send a huge thank you for doing this for our dogs. Quite often, their photos are their only chance of getting noticed, and your work is a real gift to us.”

Do you work with other photographers in your efforts? On occasion I will join efforts on special projects with other photographers as needed, but there are just so many shelters and rescues that need this kind of help it is sometimes hard to do more together. Thankfully where I am we have some great photographers who do so much, and we do reach out to each other when needed.

What would you say to other aspiring photographers to help them get involved with rescues or shelters in their area? First and foremost – pick a shelter or rescue that you admire and that will value what you do. Yes, it is about helping the animals, but if you do not have that level of comfort with the people you are working with you will leave feeling defeated. With Eleventh Hour Rescue, I did not know anyone there, but someone contacted me and asked if I would help them. They are an hour and a half from me so I was hesitant, but they are fabulous! I laid out how I work, what my expectations were and what my availability is and they value me enough to be flexible to it all. Other rescues that have contacted me have not had that same respect and told me that I can only come on a certain day and time – which I could not do since I have a full time job. But those are the types of things that make me thrilled to do what I do – mutual respect! I have heard horror stories of photographers at shelters, and it makes me sad. This should be a feel-great thing, and only you can make that happen.

What are some of your favorite pit bull type dog photos, and the stories behind them? Some of these images are from a session I did for Goodpit. It was about a dog named Max (formerly known as Midnight). Midnight was an extremely aggressive dog at the shelter I take images for. He was in solitary for over a year and no one could go near him and he was terrifying. The shelter animal control officer did not have the heart to put him down and struggled with what to do with him. He was not a rescue candidate, but knowing he was so aggressive she did not have many options. She reached out to a dog trainer named Mike from Bullys Behaven. He agreed to be Max’s last chance. Mike set up his garage so Max would have a place to stay away from his other dogs – went to pick him up, and off they went.

A few weeks later Mike posted a picture of Max – getting love and enjoying the beach. Yes, the same dog that was vicious and aggressive at the shelter was now learning to love. I asked Mike if I could tell Max’s story but he said to give him a few more weeks. A few weeks later I headed down to his house, where Max was in the garage snarling and growling at me. Mike told me what to do to deal with Max, I was scared to death, but did what he told me throughout the day. By the end of our session, Max was my best buddy and I was in love! Fast forward and Max is a part of the Bullys Behaven family, lives with 3 other dogs and goes with Mike on his training sessions so he can show other dogs how to behave. A true happy ending for a dog that would have been put to sleep at any other shelter! And do not be fooled by the prong collars in these images, they were never used! (Max is the handsome black bully in these pictures.)

Where can people find you online? My personal work is at Jill Caren Photography and my pit bull work can be seen at Goodpit.

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