Everybody thinks their dog is the best looking dog, and nobody is wrong. If you’ve got a 4-legged friend at home you’ve probably also got a phone full of photos of them, but how about getting some professional photos done? Nigel Ord-Smith is one of the best dog photographers around and he’s just launched a charity Dogathon, where you can book your pooch in for a photo session for just £25, which all goes to charity.
We caught up with Nigel to find out some more details.
Tell us a little about the Dogathon and how the idea came about?
A year or so after I started photographing dogs I met the then Fundraising Manager of Leicester Animal Aid. I wanted to give something back and went to visit them thinking that a day or two of my time to take some photographs would help them with their rehoming. When I visited it became apparent that their rehoming record is pretty good and, as a charity, what they needed was funds.
That year, I hatched the idea of photographing 31 different breeds in the 31 days of March for a donation to the charity in lieu of my normal charges. We did the same again the next year and something very similar for East Midlands Dog Rescue the year after, but each year has been based on breed and once your breed of dog has been booked in technically that spot had gone (although we always booked extras to allow for the occasional cancellation or no show).
This year we’ve opened out our fundraising to all breeds but have limited places to 101 dogs. So if, for example, someone books 3 dogs in that’s 3 places gone and 98 places left, and so on. We have to limit numbers to allow for other initiatives that we run but everyone booking in gets a dog portrait session and their favourite image in a desk frame, the charity gets the donation and it brings people in to us who might otherwise have not heard of us. Win, win, win!
How long have you been working in dog photography in Leicestershire?
I moved up to Leicestershire almost 25 years ago and I’ve been a full time photographer for almost 12 years, initially as a wedding and portrait photographer. I started photographing dogs 6 years ago and became so busy with them that I dropped weddings at the end of 2015 and portraits in late 2016 and now purely photograph dogs.
What are some of your favourite breeds to photograph?
I shouldn’t have favourites of course but I always enjoy photographing Border Collies. They were the most popular breed that I photographed last year, the variety of colours and markings are fabulous and they are such intelligent dogs.
And we have a lovely Pointer and I always love seeing Pointers.
Are there any specific challenges when working with animals?
All dogs are different but the big difference between photographing dogs and children is that you can, if necessary, put a dog on a lead … I say that half jokingly, but with some dogs that’s necessary as the degree of training and responsiveness to their owners can vary tremendously.
The challenge is to get each dog’s attention and to get them looking at the camera. With the amount of experience we have of photographing dogs we usually can achieve that.
Some rescue dogs can be very timid and we’ll take time to calm them and would never want to cause undue stress to them.
And our studio is located in a lovely rural setting and the distractions outside can be a challenge for prey driven dogs
Tell us a little about your chosen charities
Throughout the year I work with a small number of other dog photographers throughout the country supporting various national breed charities.
We always want to support our local charities, and both East Midlands Dog Rescue and Leicester Animal Aid do a fantastic job and are charities that rely on funds to continue the work they do. Even without our Dogathon type offers we get a number of dogs in that have been rehomed from one or other of the charities and get to see the results of the hard work that they have put in.
I think it’s important to work with people that you know. I’ve been out to both charities and they have been to me and seen how I work.
Do the dogs brought in to be photographed have to have a certain level of training?
Absolutely not! We have probably photographed around 2000 dogs in the last few years and have met all levels of obedience and training. Particularly lively dogs can, if necessary, be put on a lead and I’ll show the owners how to hold it so that it can be removed in the finished images. It does help, of course, if a dog has had some basic training and will respond to it’s owner.
Do you have any shoots that you particularly remember for being fun/difficult/cute?
All sessions are different, and that’s part of the joy of the job I do. Show Standard Poodles are always fabulous to photograph as the coiffuring and topiary that goes on beforehand makes them look amazing. I’m lucky to have photographed quite a few owned by groomers.
And one fun session that always sticks in my mind was when I was photographing three dogs owned by a dog trainer. Whilst lying on the ground photographing one of the dogs the other two were on my back!!
Are there any breeds that you haven’t yet photographed but you’d like to?
I’m lucky that my charity offers in recent years have brought in some fabulous breeds, with quite a few less known ones. But high on my list of breeds that I’ve not yet photographed are Corgis (a quiet word with HRH, please), Bracco Italianos, Borzoi, and Mexican Hairless. And I would love to photograph a long haired Yorkshire Terrier in full show coat.
Sessions booked for the Dogathan cost £25 for 1 dog (£30 for 2, £35 for 3) and you’ll receive a portrait session at the Coach House Studio along with your favourite image in a small desk frame. The usual price for this is £150.