A simple dog shoot gone terribly wrong – or right?

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV / ISO 500 / 1/2000th @ f2.8 / EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

The amazingly ferocious dog charging through the Oregon mist presented a fabulous photographic opportunity to this photographer who loves shooting dogs EXCEPT the beast didn’t stop and, unfortunately, was all over me before I could react. I ended up in ER getting my facial tears semi-repaired until I could get back to the Bay Area to see a cosmetic surgeon, hoping to get things glued back together. In all my years of photographing dogs, I’ve never experienced anything like this…. Who would have thought, after all those hundreds of dogs shoots for folks and ad agencies, I’d finally get nailed…

About all I can say about this terrifying experience is………JUST KIDDING! I’m still in one piece. APRIL FOOL’S!!!! (a day late) The looks of this dog possibly inspired a bit of fantasy. Everything I just said was a total and complete crock of BS, at least the part about being attacked. Sorry, I could not resist this April Fool’s foolishness since I was editing on April Fool’s Day, a perfectly stupid day. It’s as stoopid as that… I was LICKED, not attacked.

In truth, these dogs are SO gentle they are sometimes referred to as “a lamb in wolf’s clothing.” This ferocious looking big puppy, a 6 month/70 pounder, simply looks ferocious in this photograph though it is entirely a momentary facial expression, the right moment found in the edit, hoped for but unseen at 10 frames per second. This puppy definitely IS intense yet the opposite of the ferocious beast she may appear to be. She ran to me then rolled around happily in the tall wet grass – as did I with her, pretty much. I’ll show you gentle, beautiful pictures of American Alsatians in another post.

Photographs can be misleading, can’t they… Stupid April Fool’s foolishness on what just became April 2…

Photographically, I was thrilled to be shooting this pup running through the Oregon drizzle and wet clover, with water and rain a flyin’, simply because I’m in the mood to shoot action/dogs and Lois, the wonderful-character and breed developer, was about to open the gate so 15 or so puppies and adult American Alsatians could frolic in a field of tall green grass and clover, covered in beads of water, as the Oregon mist and slight fog made it all a bit surreal.

Back to the dogs and photography, unless it’s pouring I don’t really worry about protecting my gear, as do many amateurs. I don’t have the luxury. Energy and haste in nailing images is what this lifestyle is all about. If I fail to get the picture, fancy gear is worthless. I must have the attitude if my lens gets fogged up inside, crap…but maybe it’ll be a cool effect. If you make interesting to awesome pics no matter where you are, there you go…you’re in business…you can constantly entertain yourself – photography is your lifestyle! When your lens fogs up, make cool fogged-up lens pictures. (don’t put your camera away…) Cameras and lenses will dry out if you’re out in mist or drizzle – to a point. (downpours not recommended) To be successful as a photographer, you must be dedicated to doing whatever it takes to nail those moments, even if you and your gear gets a little damp.

#1 to making interesting photographs is a result of internalizing my favorite expression: Be Here Now… It’s a simple truth. It’s tough to nail cool imagery if you don’t show up….. I was soaking wet from laying in rain-drenched grass and clover, knowing if I worked the scenario well enough, I’d score cool frames. No time to worry about comfort or to worry about my equipment and I had to show up to be there… Alrighty then…

If you’re interested in this breed, check out The Dire Wolf Project. They are the result of breeding traditional dog breeds selectively over decades. (no wolf or coyote has been bred into the line)

LIGHTING: There was no need for supplemental lighting on this soppy day with simple overcast day natural-light, actually the kind of a brightly magical foggy days I love, this time working in an adrenalin-fueled photojournalistic real-world photographic style since once Lois opened that gate and let-out all those dogs, who knows where they would go or what they would do… This natural light was beautiful and bright, gorgeous, “wish I could bottle it and bring it back kinda great light” – bright OVERCAST – the mega-soft light form the Gods! No fancy light modifier comes close. No reflectors, no strobes, no tripods, no fancy or makeshift gizmos, none of that stuff, just a must-do attitude. (as opposed to 20 strobes in a field as we’ve done on dog food shoots) I was in Oregon with some of the coolest dogs I’ve ever met so I went nuts in the wet grass and drizzle, as usual on most outdoor projects with my lovely bride, the creative director of me. (more on my creative director another day)

SHOOTING TRICKS: American Alsatians have a very low prey-drive yet tossing shoes in the air worked great to get them to lift their heads, since their heavy head hangs low, forcing them to look up like a wolf. There is no one way to get dogs or cats, for that matter, to react and nothing much works for long – they’re smarter than us. Still, we got great shots of these gentle dogs so, though it’s cool they look a a bit like a wolf, the truth is they are extra mellow so “Head’s up please! Stop looking so wolfy!” The shoe tossed in the air worked every time.


Canon EOS-1D Mark IV / ISO 500 / 1/2000th @ f2.8
Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM @ 195mm
Canon 300mm f/4L
Processed in Photoshop with traditional methods and Nik software
MacBook Pro
1 TB hard drive- usually two but backed up on MacBook Pro, as well.

I rarely use the Canon 70-200mm lens at any aperture other than f2.8, since for me long lenses are all about blowing out the background to blur so things like these water droplets pop.

Shooting collegiate and pro sports for years prepared me well for shooting running dogs and, even harder, cats since both can be much quicker than even Lighting Bolt, the world record holding sprinter, hence the 10 frame per second Canon 1D Mark IV comes in just as handy for cats and dogs as it does for shooting sports. As a pet photographer for national advertising agencies, I can’t afford to let frame-rate allow a great moment to get away so the absurdly fast motor on this camera is an enormous benefit when shooting animal action. (OR the occasional lady flying through midair… Coming Soon!!!)

In the end, we journeyed back to the Bay Area with Prudence, our own American Alsatian, our own “Dire Wolf,” to borrow the mythical creature’s name, the true reason we went to see and photograph these gentle giants who look so fierce yet are as gentle as lambs!


Gary Parker - April 9, 2013 - 11:04 PM

Thanks Malcolm! I couldn’t resist this April Fool’s gag. In editing this shoot it truly cracked me up this particular dog – Summer Rain – looked like a ferocious attacking dog in only ONE frame out of dozens. In all other frames she’s beautiful and looks totally mellow – a big silly puppy – so this “illusion” of aggressiveness is honestly NOT at all what these dogs are all about. Since the lovely bride likes to hike alone in the mountains, I’m thinking nobody will be messing with her with Prudence, our American Alsatian, by her side… Btw, these dogs WILL protect their home and humans but only if forced to do so. Perfect – a lamb in wolf’s clothing!

malcolm bramwell - April 9, 2013 - 10:00 PM

Another amazing image. And just look at those choppers! Good job you were licked into submission instead of being chewed up. But you have a special rapport with animals as is so obvious from your other animal photographs. Love the commentary.

lois - April 3, 2013 - 4:56 PM

really nice photo of Summer Rain. love that look on her face. good job!

Anne Collins - April 3, 2013 - 9:55 AM

HA! You didn’t fool me! I recognized the look on that pup’s face right away. But, that’s because my best friend has one of Lois’s Alsatians. Maya is less dark, and more silver, a beautiful dog, and all about hugging and kissing. She’s a real sweetheart.
We go to Pt. Isabel dog park a lot. A photog friend there captured Maya in pic very much like this one. Lois used it (and may still be using it) on her website. Thanks for the laugh and it’s a gorgeous shot of a gorgeous dog.

Vallecito Alsatians - April 3, 2013 - 9:43 AM

Wow! You even had me going there for a minute! Great article and the picture is amazing. I loved the blurred out background with the clear as a bell droplets of water. Beautiful! Can’t wait to see more.

John Frusha DHS class of '67 - April 2, 2013 - 8:10 AM

Hi, Gary
Follow you pics on Facebook, nice job. LIke the “Little People” and bike pics.
We have a daughter with a new grandson in the Bay Area so we spend part of our time here in Kensington (next to Berkley). I bike in the hills but it is hard since I am a flatlander. Let me know if you are in the area and we can get together. John

Mark Gooch - April 2, 2013 - 1:04 AM

Wow! You had me going you ole swamp dog. I was feeling for ya. This is such a wonderful example of your mastery of your equipment. So simple, but so well planned. Beautiful. You sir are the man.