Q&A with photographer Elke Vogelsang
Posted: 05 Dec 2017
You may have already spotted German born Elke Vogelsang as our newsletter’s Featured Photographer of the Week after her work grabbed our attention on the cover of B&W Magazine. Specialising in pet photography, she captures the true personality of dogs through her striking and expressive portraits. Elke shares some of her favourite shots, as well as her 4 top tips on how to master the art of photographing pets (with the help of her 3 pups, Noodles, Ioli and Scout).
How did you get started in pet photography and why are pets your subject of choice?
Being born to a likewise photographically enthusiastic mother, photography always played a major part in my life. Nevertheless, it was not until we adopted our first dog, Noodles, that I felt I’d have to improve my photography to capture the beauty and character in pictures which did Noodles justice. During times of severe stress due to the illness of my husband, I used photography as a means to try to retain normality and as a kind of therapy. I started a year-long project, which also served as a kind of diary for my husband who was suffering from memory loss. Thankfully, everything turned out well – my husband fully recovered.
The project went on, though, and as my dogs were my favorite subjects, more and more people asked me if I could photograph their dogs, too. In order to live my dream, I finally made the jump from working as a freelance translator to turning my passion – photography – into a fulfilling profession. 6 years later, I now work as a full time photographer and make a living hanging out with dogs. It’s a dream come true. So maybe every cloud actually does have a silver lining.
Can you tell me a bit about one of your favourite shots?
One of my favourite pictures is this image of my Galgo Español mix, Scout, exploring a puddle of water on concrete in an industrial area. In my opinion it shows her elegance, grace and adventurous nature. She’s a hunter and I can’t let her off the leash near forests or in the fields. Therefore, I visit industrial areas with her. Here you find settings that are not photographed too often.
Another of my favorites is this portrait of my male dog, Ioli. When I make my dogs wear props like scarves or towels, I’m humanizing them willingly. To take pictures of pets with props is probably a double-edged sword. Dogs are natural beauties; they don’t need props. Pictures of Chihuahuas in high fashion do make me feel uncomfortable as these pictures can promote an unhealthy attitude towards dogs, regarding them as some kind of accessory. Nevertheless, I can’t withstand the charm of a dog’s face wrapped in a woolen scarf, especially, when the dog looks so relaxed and at ease as my Ioli does here.
What are your 4 top tips for photographing animals?
I can’t repeat this often enough: go down to eye-level with your subject, or even better slightly below eye-level. You’ll hardly ever see me standing when taking dog pictures. When photographing a very small dog, I used to have my chin resting in the grass (that said, a ‘hurray’ to my Fujifilm X-T2 and the tilting display, which spares me this now). With your subject directly gazing into your camera, this perspective is very intimate and engaging. The viewer is able to connect with the subject emotionally due to being on the same level. It’s all about the eyes. Pay special attention to how you capture the eyes of a pet. The eyes should be well-lit, sharp and show catch lights. If you have it right on camera there’s no need to edit the eyes in post processing. I often see heavily edited eyes and can’t help but feel that this turns a dog into an alien creature.
Be patient, always. And make sure the sessions are fun for everybody involved, particularly the pet. Think of it as bonding time and entertainment for the both of you. Bribery is key. Find out what your pet likes best as a reward. Some pets might do anything for treats or praise, others love to release energy by a play or running. Make sure the rewards are special and given frequently.
An assistant can be of help. He or she could entertain the pet while you record the action unfold.
What makes pet photography so special, particularly in print? Why do you think people are drawn to having prints of their pets, or buying greetings cards etc. with animals on?
Nowadays pets are family members. We share our lives with them but time with them is limited. More and more people book pet photography sessions to make sure they get pictures to cherish and remember them. Each individual pet has its unique character. A picture, which conveys emotions and that one-of-a-kind personality, is a wonderful reminder of a very good friend. My clients get prints of the images they choose. And they are often overwhelmed by the emotional impact a print of their pet has on them. A tangible print of that one special picture is more ‘real’ and ‘complete’ than hundreds of digital files on a computer or phone.
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