Bull Mastiff, Rolland
Text by Jeff Dorgay • Images by Deborah Samuel
Many of us have pictures of our pets on the refrigerator. Some have even taken Sparky down to the local studio to get a portrait done. But if you want to see dog images that are smashingly chic and delightfully breezy, check out Deborah Samuel's dog and pup portraits. You'll swear you're looking at fashion spreads from GQ or Esquire.
Samuel used to work for glossy magazines Spin and Rolling Stone to name a couple. While she's been working with dogs for the last five years, it's her 25 years in fine art and advertising photography that gives these images their commanding appeal.
A major dog lover and the owner of two unruly terriers myself, I came across Samuel's work in Barnes & Noble. The stunning black & white imagery grabbed me from across the room. Her first book, aptly named Dog (Chronicle Books), and its companion, Pup, are medium-sized coffee-table treats filled with the most intriguing dog images I have ever seen.
What makes these images so cool is Samuel's ability to capture the essence of the dog she is photographing. "I just try to let the dog do its thing and capture the moment. It's an intuitive thing for me. I trust my instincts and watch for it all to happen in the studio."
Using a streamlined studio setup really helps this process. Samuel works with a Hasselblad camera and a ProFoto ringlight. Not only does this give the lighting a high-fashion look, "it helps avoid having a dog get tangled up in the cords."
(left) Lhasa Apso, Ewee (center) Cirneco, Joeybagodoughnuts (right) Whippets, Augie & Clara
All of her images are shot on Kodak Tri-X, then processed, proofed, and printed in-house (for file purposes) by Samuel. All high-res processing is outsourced.
A true photographic artist, she captures the image on film, and adds the final tonality in the darkroom with a lot of burning, dodging, and other manipulation.Chinese Crested, Kirby
A typical shoot will involve anywhere between eight and 15 rolls of 12-exposure film, with three to five 11x14 prints to show the client. "Nothing is etched in stone; I print as many good ones as I get."
While Samuel has a working knowledge of Photoshop, she prefers to keep her distance. "I don't want to get obsessed with Photoshop. It would take me away from making more images."
All of Samuel's dog images are output on Agfa's fiber-base paper, with the exception of her exhibition prints. She produces these larger prints digitally, sending the retouched 11x4 fiber prints to the service bureau for 4x5 copy transparencies, then drum-scanning. The final prints, some as large as 30x30, are on Somerset Velvet paper.
Dog owners seek out Samuel when they want something much more than the standard dog portrait. While she has just started working in color, much of her work is black & white, which really attracts a much more sophisticated audience.
A typical pet portrait session at Samuel's studio runs about two hours. "That's all they will usually pay attention," she remarks. While part of that time is spent shooting, at least the first part of the session is spent getting to know the dog and letting the dog get comfortable with her. See sidebar (above) to find out why dogs just seem to listen to her.
Walker Maltese Terrier, Mandy
Fur the RECORD
Just back from gallery shows in London and New Yorkwith rave reviewsSamuel has some new animal projects in the works. Having been treated to a sneak preview of these imagesshot in her high-fashion mode, in color against bright backgroundsI can assure you they are something to bark about.