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Photograph by Winnie’s assistant, Joey Gonzalez.
Here at ModCloth, we recently experienced the unpredictable and always entertaining world of dog photography with our latest puppy stylebook, Party Animals! The photo shoot was a total blast, not to mention a whole lot of work, which is why we’re in complete admiration of dog photographer extraordinaire Winnie Au. We’re pretty sure Winnie has the best job ever, so we couldn’t wait to ask Winnie about her amazing pet portraits, her secrets to success as a photographer, and the story behind her Kickstarter project, Canine Chronicles, in this doggone awesome edition of Best Job Ever!
How did you get this awesome job, Winnie?
I went to Boston University, where I studied advertising. I was taking photography classes for fun, and my teacher said to me, “Oh, you’re not bad at this! You should think about it as a career.” The thought had never crossed my mind before, because I grew up very practically minded – an artistic field had never occurred to me. The summer before I graduated, I got an internship with a Boston photographer, and he taught me everything I needed to know – how to use the lights, load film, operate the camera, the works. We worked the whole summer and I thought, “Wow, this is the best job ever. I don’t even feel like I’m working!”
Did you always want to be a dog photographer?
When I first started out, I wanted to shoot food. The great thing about photography is that you can shift gears throughout your career, because it’s a field that’s applicable in many worlds. Once I graduated from school, I was working on my portfolio and assisting photographers. My neighbor’s dog was always hanging out in our building. She was the sweetest dog, and you couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. I saw her one day and I shot a picture of her in the foyer of our building, and it’s [now] actually one of the main photos on my website.
How did you end up in New York City, where you currently live and work?
I spent a few years in Boston and then I moved to New York, where I kept shooting dogs. Every year, more and more dogs! I moved to New York for photography. I was hesitant at first – New York kind of intimidated me, and for the first year, I hated it. But after a year, I loved it. I’m originally from northern Illinois, so New York was a big change.
Do you ever use animal wranglers when shooting dog portraits?
I always make sure that the owner, or someone that the dog is comfortable with, is there. It’s pretty much the best way to know that the dog is going to feel comfortable and respond to having its photo taken. We have the owners around, and we bring in treats, of course! If it’s a new space, I ask the dog to come in about an hour before we shoot, and then the dog will usually run around and sniff everything and feel pretty calm and settled before the shoot actually begins.
Photographs by Winnie’s assistant, Joey Gonzalez.
When we look through your dog portraits, we feel like each and every dog is so appropriate for the location of the portrait, like the adorable papillon, with his long hair, sitting on a barber chair. How do you make those correlations between a dog breed and the setting of the portrait?
I always try to visualize the portrait before I shoot it. I’ll usually walk around the city, and see a place, and file it away as a possible location for future shoots. Other times, someone will send me a photo of their dog before the portrait session, and then I’ll think about what works best for that specific dog.
Do you work with a prop stylist?
Nope, it’s just me! Moving things around and setting up the composition of the portrait so it works best for the dog and the overall photo.
What’s the biggest challenge of shooting dog portraits?
Catching that moment when the dog is relaxed and happy. There’s a major difference between shooting people and shooting dogs, and your expectations have to be different. I usually go into a dog shoot expecting to get only one or two great shots. The flow is different – a dog’s attention span is roughly one to two hours. We try to basically have the shot set up before the dog even arrives. Oh, and getting the dog to stay in one spot is always a challenge!
Photographs by Winnie’s assistant, Joey Gonzalez.
How did the idea for Canine Chronicles come about?
I knew that I wanted to collaborate on a project with my sisters. We wanted to do something that would utilize all of our skills. One day, I was talking with my middle sister, a freelance writer, and because I had already been shooting dogs, we had the idea that it would be fun to photograph dogs in clothes. My middle sister wanted to write historical nonfiction about the dog characters, and my oldest sister, a graphic designer, would lay out everything in a book! So, that’s basically how the project got started.
How important is collaboration and working with other creatives to your job?
It’s very important, especially in photography. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t do everything yourself. As projects get bigger, you need all kinds of resources from creative individuals, and it becomes all the more powerful when you pull together everyone’s creative energy. I think finding people who you connect with on that level can be hard, but whenever you do find someone, it’s so exciting, kind of like when you’re dating someone!
What’s your best advice for girls hoping to land their dream job?
Well, the first thing would be to figure out what you love. I think once you know what you want to do, you’ll find a way to do it, no matter what. If you’re willing to work from the bottom up, it’s helpful, especially if you’re in photography. You have to spend a lot of time paying your dues! If you always have a good attitude and you’re excited about everything, people feed off of that energy, and it makes a big difference. It’s a lot of work, doing what you love, but if you have the motivation and the persistence to stay focused and support yourself monetarily, it’s worth it.
That is so cute! I had no idea that people (photographers) specialized that much! 🙂 I love the pictures too 🙂
Oh, I love this! The whitish Lab looks like one of my dogs! Good luck to all of you!
Awww, I love the photo of the cute little dachshund on the chair! So sweet! 🙂
That’s awesome. I also love the camera she’s holding in that first image… wonder what kind it is
the best part…..is the goodbye one XD hehehehe
How do we nominate people for best job eva?
You can e-mail the blog team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
This is so cute and inspiring! What a great video!
Wow this is gorgeous! I love Best Job Ever series so much! Especially the part regarding “how did you get this job.” This is so instructional and fun!
Wow, talk about my dream job! I ask my boyfriend every day if I could just kiss my dog for a living and get paid for it. He says probably not, but this seems like a great second choice 😉 Thanks for posting!
That is the best job forever!
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