At FOTO, we are committed to helping our fellow creatives flourish. In our Q&A style blog series, Coffee with Creatives, we are highlighting the unique expertise of some of our favorite professionals, sharing tips and information on relevant topics to bring you some practical insight and inspiration for the important work you do.
Today, we are talking with professional photographer and adventure-seeking dog mom, Samantha Brooke, to unlock some of her secrets on how to take better pictures of your fur-babies!
First things first, how do you take your coffee? (And if you are not a coffee drinker, what is your beverage of choice to energize you?)
Samantha: Black! My favorite is Kauai Coffee Banana Nut.
Can you share a bit about yourself and your photography business?
Samantha: I'm a part-time photographer based in Virginia and full-time consultant working for a big 4 firm focused on ERP risk and controls (which I thoroughly enjoy and have no plans on leaving - a question I'm often asked!). My photography business allows me to nurture my creative side with a mixed focus between adventure (e.g., hiking, kayaking), travel, and family (pets, humans). I hope the intersection of these areas inspires others to slow down (including myself!), be present, experience their environment, and live happiness.
One aspect both of my jobs share is continuous learning which is a key motivator for me. Working with different subjects (dogs and people) in different locations and lighting conditions means there's no one set recipe for a "good" or meaningful picture. The fundamentals to my work might be the same, but the application and result are different every time. I love that aspect and it keeps things interesting!
Tell us about your dogs, Aspen and Koa.
Samantha: Aspen and Koa, ages 6 and 3 respectively, are my two golden retrievers and constant adventure companions. They join me hiking, kayaking, and camping. When they're not adventuring, they're creating tumbleweeds of hair in my home or attempting to be lap dogs!
What led you to start consistently taking photos of them?
Samantha: Once I realized my husband didn't love to model for me while I practiced photography, I turned to the dogs who willingly model for food! My instagram grew once I started sharing pictures of them on our adventures.
Your dogs are really photogenic! Do you pose them? How do you get them to look at the camera?
Samantha: Thank you! I work with them differently. Whereas Aspen will pose and do whatever if I have food in hand, Koa is more independently minded and requires large sticks above the camera to focus. However, the "trick" to getting them to look at the camera is the same: they both need a "reward" or "high value" items above the camera. I also suggest using special words that will get their attention such as "where's grandma," "squirrel," etc.
Any other tips you can share for getting quality pics of dogs?
Samantha: I'll quote an interview from my favorite photographer, Stephanie Rausser, who shares a quote by Jennifer Crandall: "'you’re only as good as your location and subject'." I'll add lighting conditions to that mix but location, subject, and lighting are key. Until recently, I often found myself rushing or forcing an image that I wasn't proud of and wasn't meeting my objectives. I find myself tending to rush the process because I have very little time to plan or think through a "shoot" between caring for my now 7-month-old son and working full-time. I'm working on a more thoughtful approach to achieving my objectives and keeping the three factors in mind all while learning how to balance it all (if that'll ever happen). I'm focusing on slowing down and being more intentional and meaningful with the process and therefore, my work. So to summarize my other tips: respect and nurture the three factors and the results will speak for themselves!
You've got to have a funny story about photographing Aspen and Koa. Can you share one?
Samantha: Yes, the time I learned Aspen liked to kayak. I was at Lake Moomaw with my girlfriends and asked my friends to watch her swim while I went kayaking. I started paddling away and Aspen beelined it for me. While she likes to swim, she's not the most athletic swimmer (i.e., she does NOT have great swimming endurance). I became concerned as she was chasing me because she started to get out of breath. I quickly turned around and guided her to shore, stuffed her in my kayak, and paddled off. That was the first day I learned she liked to kayak and the rest is history!
Your Instagram feed highlights some incredible travels and adventures you've taken with the dogs. Where is your favorite place you've taken them and why?
Samantha: We LOVED our trip to Savannah, Georgia as a family because of the diversity of activities and dog-friendly community. We toured the city by foot (beautiful and historic), hung out at local breweries, kayaked in local parks, and ate all the ice cream at Leopold's (they have doggy ice cream!).
Your photos of Aspen and Koa are beloved. Why do you think people enjoy pictures of dogs and animals?
Samantha: Happiness and authenticity! Dogs don't really know how to "pose" or put on a fake smile. They are who they are and what you're capturing is their natural state so it in turn makes other dog lovers happy. I also think in the current state of social media where people might get sucked into an ugly comparison game, scrolling through a news feed of happy dogs is a nice escape. How can you think negatively when looking at a happy dog?
When not shooting Aspen and Koa, what or who is your favorite subject?
Samantha: Now that I'm a mother, it's babies! I love capturing my 7-month-old son although it's increasingly more difficult to get him to look at the camera. However, this has also taught me that capturing babies in the raw are often the best pictures compared to posed/forced shots. I think this lesson applies across the board: capturing natural reactions and movement elicits a deeper connection with the picture. It's as if the image creates movement even though it's a static moment captured in time.
Looking for more inspiration from industry creatives? Check out these other Q&A's:
Coffee with Creatives: Misty Rodda's Tips on Keeping a Fresh Perspective
Coffee with Creatives: Katie Lamb's Tips on Finding that "Mompreneur" Work/Life Balance
Coffee with Creatives: Caroline Jurgensen's Tips on Running a Business with her Spouse