Six months ago, I joined Unleashed Education’s very first round of their Embark Challenge. I wanted the motivation (and the deadlines!) to make time to work on my personal photography projects, to improve my skills, and to experiment with some different creative ideas. I also decided let my own dog, Flint, star for the entire project. I know how special it is to have photographs of our own dogs, but I don’t always make enough time to take photos of my boy. I’m so glad I have these photos of him now!
Flint and I had a blast working through the different themes and connecting with all of the other amazing pet photographers who were also participating. We had two weeks to complete each theme, which meant I was going out regularly to shoot and experiment, in addition to working with my regular clients.
There was also a competition element to these challenges. After each theme, the Top 10 images were announced, and at the end of the challenge, each photographer’s full set of 12 images was judged. Ten out of my twelve photos made it to the Top 10 for their respective themes, and I submitted my final 12 photos feeling really proud of what I’d created.
I still can’t quite believe what I’m about to write, but my photos placed First in the overall challenge! First Place in the very first Embark Challenge!!! Thank you Unleashed Education!
There were so many talented photographers participating, and I still can’t believe that my photos came in First. I’m so happy to have photos that I love of my dog, Flint, and even more excited to bring these skills into photographing other people’s amazing adventure dogs.
The first theme was all about color! It was spring flower season, so that’s the first thing that came to mind when I went outside to look for color. I brought Flint over to a local park, and we wandered around looking for different flowers that would compliment Flint. We found lots of different colors, but I ended up settling on these bright red flowers as my final submission. I really like Flint’s eye contact and expression here too.
2. Get Down
The next challenge was to shoot at a low angle. If your dog has ever had a photo session with me, you’ll know that I spend almost the whole time on the ground! I love seeing the world from a dog’s eye level. For this image, I wanted to get even lower and put my camera directly in the ground, looking up at the world. I’ve had my eye on this pine forest as a potential location for photos, and I thought the trees would help emphasize the low angle. Flint was an absolute star, waiting patiently while I experimented with different views.
3. Composition 101
One of the simplest ways to make the dog the center of attention is to make the dog the center of the photo! This challenge was all about centered compositions, so I knew I wanted to find a location that would give me a symmetrical view with Flint in the center. I tried a few different ideas, but I knew as soon as I discovered these columns, I knew that this location would be the winner. The biggest challenge was lining Flint up exactly in the center. He got a lot of cookies for moving just a bit left…. just a bit back…. just a bit right!
If you’ve been following my work, you may have noticed just how important location is to all of my images. I love exploring, hiking, and finding amazing landscapes, and my dog is always by my side. Including dogs in my landscape photos always feels very natural to me. After all, my view always includes my dog running ahead of me on the trail, checking out the smells, and enjoying whatever adventure we find ourselves on. My head was full of ideas for places we could explore for this theme, but I settled on chasing waterfalls. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to create and was thrilled when everything came together. I was even more excited when the judges announced that this was the top image for this theme!
5. Up Ups
One of my favorite ways to get a dog to stay in one place is to put them up on something, and that was the challenge of this theme! The weather in New England was not on my side, and it rained for nearly two weeks straight when I was meant to be shooting this theme. We finally got a brief break in the rain and I ran out with Flint to come up with something. I love these historic mill buildings and these benches were the perfect place to put Flint “Up Ups.”
6. Soul Searcher
A dog that’s smiling and looking up is a view that most dog owners know well. It’s one of my favorite views because I love the connection it captures with the dog. We were travelling up in Acadia National Park for this theme, and I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to include the gorgeous landscapes from this angle. As I looked around, I saw all the different mosses and lichens covering the ground in this beautiful pine forest, and I knew that was the piece of this place that I wanted to include in my photo. Even though the focus is on Flint’s soulful eyes and happy smile, I think the atmosphere of the forest comes through too.
7. City Slicker
We came out of the woods and into the city for this theme! This is one of my favorite views of Boston. I’ve shot here at sunset in the past, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to come back for sunrise. The sun rises opposite the city skyline, so I knew it would cast a warm glow on the buildings. It was such a peaceful morning (we had the whole pier to ourselves – I love the city before dawn). I found a place to set Flint up with the skyline and I told him to stay. Just as I was about to take his photo, he decided to walk towards me instead of staying. Good boy! He was right that movement is much more interesting than standing still.
This was Flint’s favorite theme! We drove up to our favorite mountain lake and spent a perfect summer afternoon splashing in the shallow water. Flint was happy chasing sticks for hours while I experimented with different camera angles. The challenge was to photograph a dog playing with a big splash of water, but I also wanted to include the mountain view behind Flint. I love that this photo includes both Flint’s favorite activity and our favorite place.
9. Say What?
When I started this series, I decided to photograph Flint for all 12 themes. I didn’t anticipate that one of the themes would require a head-tilt! I love when dogs tilt their heads. It’s completely adorable, but of course, Flint absolutely will not tilt his head for anything. I had to call in a little help for this one and included my other dog, Ink, who is a head-tilter extraordinaire. Not to be outdone, Flint had to add in his own personality-filled grin.
10. Glow Up
I love golden backlight, and I had such grand plans for this theme. But life and time got away from me, and all of a sudden we only had a brief window to get this image done. On our way to Flint’s agility class, we stopped at a random field on the side of the road with about 15 minutes of light left before sunset. I almost missed shooting this theme because I didn’t have time to follow through with my original plan, but it the end, I’m glad we ended up in this little patch of sunlight. Taking a few minutes to create something is so much better than not creating anything at all.
11. Front Runner
Fast action can be one of the most challenging things to photograph, but it’s also one of the most fun! Dogs always look so happy when they’re running at full speed. As I worked through this series, I continually came back to the importance of location in my photographs. I knew I wanted to include a feeling of place in this image (in addition to my happy boy, Flint). We found this spot at the end of a hike, and I loved the feeling of the narrow trail winding through the tall grass and wildflowers. Getting Flint to run was the easy part – he never does anything slow!
12. Party Time
The final theme was to get out and play! I wasn’t sure exactly what my plan was for this image, but I knew it needed to include fall foliage. Fall colors seemed like a fitting end after starting with spring flowers for my first photo. I have to admit, between working on this project for myself and also regularly photographing my clients’ amazing dogs, I was feeling pretty tired by the time we got to this theme. Flint was feeling pretty tired too. I got out his ball, gave it a throw and he gave me one huge leap through the air. It’s a good thing I managed to capture it, because Flint promptly decided “that’s a wrap!” and it was time for hiking instead of fetch. After being such a patient model through all of these themes, he certainly earned his hike (and hot dogs. He ate so many hot dogs).
Thank you again to Charlotte and Craig from Unleashed Education for hosting such a fun set of challenges! I still can’t believe I won! I think I might be dreaming, but I’m so glad it’s not a dream because it means that I have all of these photos of Flint to treasure.
Even though Flint got to star for this challenge, I also love working with dogs of all sorts! Did you see a theme that would be perfect for your dog? Is there something special about your dog that you wish you could have photographed? Contact me and let’s plan a photography adventure session for your dog.
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