One of our favorite pet photographers sat down and answered the hard questions that Harley Quinn and Houdini wanted answered.
Introducing the incredible Sophie Gamand from Striking Paws Photography
Welcome Sophie, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. Your photography is hugely popular in the celebrity dog world, but apart from animals and cameras, what other passions do you have?
I used to sing opera, and that was a huge passion of mine. Everyone kept telling me I would have to choose between Opera and Photography if I wanted to be successful. To put my energy into one single path. I thought they were crazy because I am a Renaissance-type of woman. I write, sing, paint, craft, etc. I could never imagine my life without all these things. But strangely, the choice imposed itself to me a few months ago. I left singing aside for now, and since then my photography has taken new heights and I am very happy. I am a creative person first and foremost and photography is a great tool. I can use my artistic interests and talents to create sets for photo series. It is very fulfilling.
What do you like most about being a pet photographer?
I love photographing animals because they don’t complain as much as humans! (laughs). I don’t like to talk a lot when I work. Photography is about capturing the magic. And animals are magic. They are honest, true and soulful. They are completely themselves in front of the camera. I also enjoy the element or surprise. A photo-shoot never goes as expected! It is a nice feeling to give-up a bit of control and let the magic happen.
Making the transatlantic leap from France to NYC was a huge life change. What drove you to move and change your photography passion from people to animals?
I followed a man! It’s funny because I always said to my friends I would never leave everything behind for a man… and yet I did! My husband is incredibly supportive, so the change was fairly easy. Once I arrived to New York, I wanted to explore street photography, because I was used to studio work. I wanted to push my boundaries and explore what was a scary idea at the time: pull my camera in public, and photograph what was happening around me. I forced myself and it took a lot of cold sweats and pumping heart! One day, I was trying to find someone to document in the street, as a little assignment. I was so scared to talk to anyone. I saw a vet clinic and thought that would be perfect. Pushing the door was like entering a safe haven. I thought having the animal as a filter between myself and my subject would be ideal. The Cobble Hill Animal Clinic welcomed me. They were so accommodating and I became good friend with their owners, Tom and Jeanne LoBasso. And from then, I was hooked with photographing animals!
As a rescuer with The Sato Project what is your proudest achievement so far?
Every time I take a strong photo I feel proud. The work we do at The Sato Project is heartbreaking and difficult. We work on Dead Dog Beach in Puerto Rico, a dumping ground where dogs are severally neglected and abused . We witness the horror and try to do something about it. When Chrissy Beckles, the Founder of The Sato Project, invited me to come to Puerto Rico with her and photograph her work and the dogs, I had no idea it would take me so far. I have developed photo tips for animal rescuers and teach a workshop to help them improve their photo skills.
My photography has grown so much since I started volunteering for The Sato Project. I also learned a lot about stray dogs, how to interact with them, and about myself too. Having to walk with confidence around stray dogs, showing them you are the leader so they can feel safe and trust you, has taught me to be more self-confident. Today, I can use those skills in all aspects of my life, including the studio, when I have to be around unruly dogs. The tone of voice I use, the confidence I show, dogs respond very well to it and it has allowed me to get good photos from the most reluctant models!
If I had to choose one photograph I took in Puerto Rico, it would probably be the one of Samlee, the little puppy. You can see she was suffering and people were just hanging out around her, enjoying their evening. It says a lot about the situation in Puerto Rico. As a photographer, the moment you say so much in one frame is a moment to be proud of. I wrote about that feeling on my website.
I am also very proud of all the portraits of the rescues I took in my studio. I love the fact that I can give them their dignity back, after all the abuse they suffered. I want to celebrate their life, their happiness and health.
How do you get the dogs to stay still in the studio?
When the dogs have had some training and know how to sit on command, my job is easier! Otherwise, the hardest part is to get them to sit still for a few seconds, on their mark. I am a big fan of headshot type of photos. I want the face, the ears, the snout, the eyes. I am not so much interested in the whole body of my subjects. That’s the reason my clients come to me. I photograph dogs as I would photograph humans. I am interested in the emotional connection and that happens in the eyes mostly.
My best tool to get the dogs’ attention is actually my voice. I use it to make strange noises. I guess it makes sense, since I am a singer! I use a lot of high-pitched sounds. The dogs stop and stare. They must wonder if I am some kind of strange big bird! (laughs)
What’s your most memorable shoot?
There are so many! Dogs are funny creatures and they certainly make my life as a photographer more exciting and fun! I guess the most memorable happened a few days ago. It was my 100th dog portrait since I created Striking Paws, my photo business, in 2012. It was a puppy and he was impossible!! After one hour of desperate attempts to have him stay still for more than half a second, I used a (secret) trick I normally use with smaller dogs, and we got amazing headshots. To celebrate this 100th portrait, I am actually offering a limited offer this summer. People can get a portrait of their dogs for $100. You can read details of the offer here:http://strikingpaws.com/celebrating-my-100th-dog-portrait
What’s the funniest thing to happen on a shoot?
My favorite shoots are the yawning ones. I decided to make a series with them, which I called “Opera Dogs” , an homage to my other passion. My first opera dog was actually Houdini! When I saw his expression I knew I had to make a whole series with those. If a dog yawns on my set, I am the happiest photographer! (laughs)
(Note from City Dog Expert: “those that have met Houdini know he would much rather appreciate listening to Opera whilst wearing his smoking jacket and smoking on his pipe than listening to his mama’s god awful rock music!”)
What would be your dream photography opportunity?
That’s a tough question because if I dream it, I try to make it happen myself. I feel like we create our own opportunities. I have many projects I would love to see come to life. I am happy just chasing my dreams in my studio. One of them is about pets with facial deformity. I am desperately looking for models for that project. Another big dream of mine is to publish a book or exhibit my work in a gallery. That would be a huge achievement.
What new projects do you have coming up in 2013?
After Dog Vogue , a series which took my over one year of work, I am ready to work on new series. I already started exploring a few ideas and I am working on producing the props I will need. I am very excited!
To learn more about Sophie Gamand’s work: www.StrikingPaws.com
Follow Striking Paws on Facebook: www.facebook.com/strikingpaws