Ava's Secret Christmas Present

Just like any loving person in the spirit of Christmas, Kristen was looking for that special gift to surprise her boyfriend's mom for Christmas. 

One day she saw my Instagram dog posts...and that gave her an idea! What if I surprised her with a big picture of their new puppy, Ava? 

And in that simple spirit of generosity, I met Ava.

Ava was 9-months young when I met her, a white Golden Retriever puppy. Joey, Kristen's boyfriend, considers Ava the favorite child in his family. His mom and dad could care less about Joey at this point. Ava was their new baby.

So, in very deceptive fashion, Kristen and Joey came up with a fake story of why they needed to take Ava out one late afternoon. I don't condone deceptive behavior like this...but I have to admit the thrill of an undercover, super secret photo shoot for a secret Christmas present excited me.

The photo shoot started out like all other photo shoots: introducing myself to the furry model and letting her smell me and smell my camera. If the furry model has never seen a large camera , it can be frightening for her. It's a large, unfamiliar, strange black box. The sudden sharp sounds of the shutter snapping every second can be a surprising experience for any dog.

So that’s why I love seeing these close-ups of Ava when we first started. It shows her kinda unsure, start smelling my camera to figure out what's going on, and then eventually ease up a bit. 

Here Ava is looking unsure of what is happening.

Now this super cute moment of Ava melting us with her expressive, puppy-dog eyes. 

Now this super cute moment of Ava melting us with her expressive, puppy-dog eyes. 

These are the kind of eyes that makes you just want to cuddle with her, or make you cave in and give her those cookies because look how cute she is. 

But in dog language, she's also telling me she's unsure and a tad bit fearful. Her ears are down, and if you look closely in the background, her tail is low.

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Now she starts using her main source of seeing the world: her nose.

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I learned that when they open their mouths like this, it could still be a sign of nervousness. Her ears are still down so she’s still unsure of what’s going on here with this stranger with the strange black box. But for us humans, it gives off the appearance of a cute smile. What I love about dog photos is that this photo can look like all other dog photos…but for Kristen and Joey and Joey's mom and dad, photos like these mean the world to them. And the same goes for your dog. When you get your dog professionally photographed, they don’t become “just pictures of dogs” anymore, they become your fur-child's portraits and you see their portraits with more depth than anyone else can. 

Now back to Ava's super secret, under-the-radar photo shoot.

Ava’s a 9-month young puppy. And in the dog world, we know that “puppy” = “endless amounts of energy.” And so for a one-hour photo shoot it was going to be quite a challenge. Of course, having a well-trained and well-behaved dog helps a lot, but for most of us we don’t have a dog that will sit, lie down, and look at the camera on perfect command. In fact, as soon as we pull out our cameras, our dogs will do the exact opposite!

If you have a puppy, or a very high-energetic dog; and you’d like to try to capture a photo of your dog, one of the very best things you can do is to get them tired. That means run them around, take them for a long walk, play with them. Get all of that energy out of the way. You can think of it like this: what if I gave you three shots of espresso before your photo shoot? If it was me, I’d feel like I needed to run three miles before I can focus and try to sit still for a minute. That's your dog. And they come with natural espresso inside of them.

For the first 15-20 minutes or so, were just walked Ava around the park and let her to sniff around to her heart’s content. It was a brand new park for her, so of course there were going to be a lot of distractions and and new scents to smell.

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And here, she's already settling down. Ava knows some basic commands like lie down, so here we have her finally being cooperative for a whole 45 seconds to get some moments like these:

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And I just want to say that I LOVE taking photos of dogs outdoors. It just feels like they’re at their happiest, natural state. Do you see that little piece of grass on her nose, and her paw on the left? That just cracks me up. It just tells me that she’s a dog through and through, and she loves to roll around in the grass. Especially after when she's groomed and cleaned.

Here’s another one of her with grass on her nose

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I especially like this image because she still has that puppy-like appearance. Her 1st birthday was two months ago, and she looks like an adult golden retriever already. So I’m glad that they asked me to capture images of Ava in her puppy stage. They grow up to be adults at only 1 year old, so there’s a small window of getting pictures of them like this. If you or you know someone with a puppy, please get in touch.

Speaking of puppies, this next series of three images is purely puppy Ava:

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To help her focus and play, I brought a toy. You can tell I'm still tugging on it because the rope goes off the photo at the bottom there.

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Now she’s got my toy.

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And....there she goes!

The next three are some of my favorites from any photo shoot.

I forgot to mention the jingle bells! I totally forgot to bring that up but you’ve probably noticed already that Ava is wearing a collar with jingle bells. This is a Christmas puppy photo shoot, so that was a fun detail to add.

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And finally, we now come to a close of our photo shoot. 

Remember what I said earlier before, about draining a puppy’s energy before a photo shoot? Well by the end of our photo shoot, Ava’s energy was now winding down and she was being unusually cooperative.

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Would you look at that? She’s now sitting perfectly for us. Her ears are forward and relaxed, and we finally see her true golden retriever face.

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A nice profile view! You don’t always have to get the dog looking at you straight into the camera. I’m trying to capture memories for a lifetime, so different angles are just as important.

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And alas, about an hour later, we have our Golden Retriever calendar model. Satisfied, content, relaxed, and posing perfectly for us.


So can you guess which portrait of Ava did Kristen and Joey pick for his mom's Christmas present?

On deciding a large portrait to hang in your home, I like to advise my clients that they should try to pick a size so that the face of your dog is as "life-sized" as possible.

In other words, if you were to put Ava side-by-side with her final printed photograph, her head in the photograph should be just about the same size (or larger) then her real life self. This same principle goes for humans too. Do you ever wonder how some portraits at the museum have such a stunning impact when you see it? One of the reasons is because of the size of the subject's face. Humanly, there's more connection because it feels real. Or think about a life-sized cut-out of a celebrity. How many double-takes have you had to do to realize it wasn't the actual person standing there?

In Kristen and Joey's instance, they ordered a 20x30 frameless thinwrap. So with a 20x30 size, I suggested they go with an image where Ava's sweet mug fills more of the frame than the other photos (like the "calendar model" one wouldn't qualify because her face would still look small).

And the end result turned out so good that I ordered myself my own 20x30 of Ava for our own home.

If you're like Kristen and Joey, you'd have trouble picking out your favorite among so many great moments of Ava, but they decided on this one: 

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Now his mom's house has this big, beautiful, silly, dorky face filling up their home's space.

Here's what I meant by that side-by-side comparison I was talking about earlier.

I know, she looks like a cute stuffed animal that needs a haircut, but that's our Westie-Schnauzer mix, Maya. Maya’s face is not as big as Ava’s face in real life, but the scale seems pretty close to me if we were to put those two together in real-life.

So enough of my rabbit trail. How does this story end? 

“They absolutely loved it! They actually started crying when they saw it!”

Kristen texted me that on the week of Christmas. What’s funny is the gift was just for Joey’s mom, but she said they started crying, so I’m going to guess both his mom and dad cried.

All credit goes to the fun, loving, generous, and beautiful couple, Kristen and Joey, who wanted to find that perfect gift for mom. You two were so fun to work with, and I enjoyed our undercover mission together.

Sincerely,

Steamer


For the rest of you, it's not too late to still reserve a dog photography session for the dog-mom in your life. You can still surprise her with a Gift Certificate that you bought a Dog Photography session for her fur-child.

Get mom, your wife, or someone special a different gift this year that will make her cry tears of joy: 

Dog Photography sessions starts at $500. But for a limited time you can reserve one at $300. You can save $200 AND make mom the happiest dog-mom in the world. 

Princess

Dogs are family.

And our personal photo collections and albums mean more to us than we think. 
It’s those family photos that we put on our work desk, and hang on our walls at home.

That’s why my mission as a dog photographer is to help you own stunning and fun portraits of your dogs to proudly show on your work desk or hang at home. Because dogs are family too!

In December 2016 (just four months ago), I received this email:

Hi Steamer! I was just wondering if you had any availability to have a little family photo shoot for my dogs. We have 4 dogs, all small breed and 2 of them have birthdays this month, one is turning 13 (Chispita) and the other will be turning 17 (Princess). Princess is our oldest and has always, up until now, been a very healthy dog. I love her with all of my heart and I think, before we run out of time, we should have really good family pictures.

This email came from a friend’s little sister, Andreina Huizar (pronounced ‘Ann-DREE-na’).

Now this email came in the busy month of December, when we’re all running wild holiday shopping, working, holiday parties, family parties, wrapping gifts, and trying to find time to watch Elf

Usually I would’ve pushed the photo shoot out to January when we’re more sane and calming down, but there were two factors that motivated me to do this photo shoot as soon as possible.

For one, they have not one but two senior dogs whose birthdays are in December, one turning 13 and the other turning 17.

Second, it was the last line in her email that gripped my heart,

I love her with all of my heart and I think, before we run out of time, we should have really good family pictures.”

Having lived with a senior dog, I know how quickly their health can turn even in just one week. 

So in the middle of our busy December, I was burdened with a mission to capture Princess’ birthday portraits before any new health issues suddenly turn up. This is why I do what I do.

And just like that, one week before Christmas, we did a birthday (and Christmas!) photo shoot for Princess and her furry family.


Princess

This photo shoot begins and ends with Princess. Princess is our VIP of this blog post. (VIP = Very Important Pet!).

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First of all, Andreina's family ADORE Princess. Princess is the biological daughter of their previous dog, Randy, who passed away already. Sometimes I look at Maya and wish that she had puppies, so we still have a piece of her that lives on after her time is up. In Andreina's family, they have just that, and her name is Princess.

Second, Princess’ 17th birthday was coming up, and that’s a pretty long life for a dog! For context, the average chug lives to 13-years old. So Princess is getting by with four more years. That's huge for any dog.

And finally, Princess holds a special place for me because she reminds me of my other dog, Fenix, who passed away in 2015. Princess is the same Chihuaha-Pug Mix as Fenix, and you can see the similarities.

You can tell her hearing and sight is not as good as it was, but she was still quite springy and energetic! 

Having lived with Fenix and a senior dog before, you get to see their funny antics like when they just randomly burst off in a direction without any notice. It’s pretty funny and entertaining, but you also have to be on you on alert at all times to make sure they’re not walking into trouble.

 

Now let’s meet our other furry models.

In direct contrast to Princess is Hope. She’s the youngest of the pack at merely 2 years old, she has dark fur compared to Princess, and a whole lot of young puppy energy. She was flying all over the park while we were trying to get a photo shoot of all the dogs in one place.

And then Chispita is our other little birthday girl, just turned 13:

And finally Miley, our Chihuahua, in a rare moment here being calm:

Now, photographing one dog is already a handful. But four? Uuh, yeah.

The main culprit was Hope, who just couldn’t stop running around.

So we thought why don’t we let her run around in the local dog park to burn off some energy, while we take some shots of the other three older, less energetic, dogs?

Here’s what we got:

Haha, not really successful in terms of getting them all to look at the camera.
The only one paying attention to me was Miley.
The other dogs around us were distracting Chispita.
And Princess couldn’t care less for my silly sounds or attempts at bribing her with food. At some point she would just get bored and leave the bed altogether and go on our her own journey somewhere.

After about 15 or 20 minutes or so, Hope came back to join us.

And that’s when I thought now’s a good time for a big family portrait. Andreina and her sister Kim, and her mom could all be in it. And they can all be in the image togehter with their furry family. And since they’ll be present, they can all help keep the puppies together and keep them from walking away.

And it worked!

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After some of these shots, Mrs. Huizar wanted to get some images alone with her and Princess. One of the special moments of our photo shoot together, was just Mrs. Huizar and Princess.

As soon as she cradled little Princess in her arms, tears rolled down Mrs. Huizar's face. I would guess so many thoughts happened at the same time: 

Princess’ resemblance of their previous dog, Randy.
The first time she held Princess as a puppy.
The fragile time Princess had left.
All of these emotions all at once.

The rest us, Kim, Andreina, Leanna, and I were holding back tears too. It was a quiet, intimate, touching moment.


When the mood lightened up, we got the rest of the fur family back into the image with Mrs. Huizar.

Then we did more family portraits with the daughters and their furry companions. Here are images of Kim with Miley and Princess:

And this fun moment of them lying next to each other. I wanted to re-create a moment of when they would just be relaxing in the park, enjoying the sight and sounds (and smells) of nature together.

Then it was Andreina's turn with Chispita and Hope. I like to keep the portraits bright and fun. Leanna helped with making bubbles for this image:

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By this time, our photo session was coming to a close. Both humans and dogs alike were getting tired.

Our furry models settled down for a nap session, and I was able to finally get all four of them in one photo together:


Goodbye, Princess

And here we bring our attention back to Princess. We did this photo shoot in December of 2016, and after a long January of ups and downs with her health, Princess joined her dad Randy in doggy heaven on February 12th, 2017.

The news really took me by surprise. I just saw Princess in January and she seemed even more energetic than when I saw her at the photoshoot. When I was visited the Huizar family for their photo reveal, I played a slideshow for everyone to see on their home TV. I clearly remember when I sat on their couch Princess snuggled warmly right next to me on my right side as we watched their beautiful images fill the living room.

Yet through this sadness, I'm at peace that we were able to capture these precious images of her that will live on in the Huizar household for the rest of their lives.

Goodbye, Princess.


Mrs. Huizar's Birthday Gift

Just about two weeks after Princess passed away, was Mrs. Huizar's birthday. 

Andreina, being such a thoughtful and loving daughter, surprised her mom with a beautiful calendar filled with their furry family portraits (for those wondering, the calendar starts in March, not January). They sent me a video of her mom's reaction and it was just sheer surprise and joy and love and tears. 

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If I can help you own beautiful portraits of your dog to proudly show off at your work desk, or hang in your home, please get in touch.

Also...

Mother's Day is coming!

You can get mom, your wife, or someone special a different gift this year that will make her cry tears of joy: A Dog Photography Session of her fur child. Imagine a gorgeous 20x30 canvas with that silly smug face smiling over her living room. 

Dog Photography sessions starts at $500. But for a limited time you can reserve one at $300. You can save $200 AND make mom the happiest dog-mom in the world. 

The Blog Awakens

It's FINALLY here.
This BLOG. FINALLY.
I'm so excited to have this going again.

Do you know how long it's taken me to re-start this blog again?

FOUR years. 

Four years!

I love writing. (Actually, I hate writing, but that's what it means to be writer, right?)

I'm a writer first, and photographer second. Really.

Photography, to me, is an expression of writing. After all, photo and graphos means "to write with light." See what I did there? I just showed off my word parsing skills.

Four years ago, I had a blog that spanned 18 months, with 100 entries. I was just looking through that archive and enjoyed looking at life in 2011 and 2012. Some of the entries were long-reads, others were commentary on other articles and links. It was so much fun! 

Anyway, I'm SO excited to start writing again. 

I'll share fun things I find on the internet.
I'll share fun dog projects I'm working on. And I'll share some fun projects not dog-related I'm working on.
I'll share some personal things. I'll share some silly things.
I'll be sharing some tips on how you can take better photographs of your dog.
I'll share how you can decorate your home with big smiling dogs on your wall.
And of course, I'll be sharing a whole lot of dog images. LOTs of them.

Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for clicking (or tapping) on my Facebook link. 

Oh wait!!

Before you go, I must leave you with these dog images. 

These were taken at the Irvine Dog Park, "Central Bark." I love going to dog parks. There's nothing like going into an outdoor park full of joyful dogs greeting you with their wagging tails, furry faces, slobbery smiles, and endearing eyes.

 

Here's Maya at the dog park. We're trying to get her to socialize with other dogs more. She's getting better each time we take her.

Also, this image is sponsored by Mickey Mouse. 

 

Gabby, a red labradoodle. I've never met a red labradoodle before, so I was super excited to meet Gabby.

 

I just love her facial expression, reacting to my camera sounds. 

 

"I'm half-listening."

Brady, named after Tom Brady, of course. But his ears! Look at his ears!

 

I have to include a French Bulldog because they're good for TV ratings.

Also, I highly suggest clicking on this for a larger view!

 

WOOOOOOOOF. I love the barking sound of a basset hound. But probably because I don't live with one.

And my favorite of the bunch. No words. I just LOVE this image. Click for a larger view.

Thanks for your time! I hope that was fun.

And if you or anyone you know who might be interested in some gorgeous dog photos, please get in touch.

 

Cheers,

Steamer