Fred Levy began his popular “The Black Dogs Project” after learning that black dogs are at a disadvantage when it comes to adoption. In search of a new project that engaged his studio-shooting skills, he photographed the canines against a black backdrop and promoted the series on social media. Before long, the popularity of his Tumblr page soared and the project went viral.
“Much of what it takes to get a great human portrait is what it takes to get a great dog portrait,” Levy says. Aside from occasional snuggles, “bathroom” breaks, treats and a squeaky toy or two, “you need to connect with your subject, make sure they trust you and spend the time to get the photo.”
ASMP: How long have you been in business, and what are your photographic specialties?
Fred Levy: I started out from a fine-arts perspective where I shot what I wanted. When my wife and I adopted our first dog about ten years ago, I began to focus on pets. For the past six years, I’ve focused on pet and family photography. As of January of 2014, I’ve been focusing full-time on my photography.
ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
FL: I’m first thought of as a pet photographer. My goal is to create beautiful, creative photos of animals. Because this is my focus, I’m able to dive deep into the process and create work that brings out the personality of the animals I shoot. I’ve worked hard to create work both in the studio and on location. By learning my craft and being creative, I create work that my clients love.
ASMP: When photographing animals, what are some of your tricks for directing and posing them?
FL: When I photograph an animal, I start by getting the animal confortable with the equipment and me. In the studio, all the lights can be scary for the pets. I will keep treats on hand so they know I’m nice and nothing bad will happen. Then I try to ignore the pet and have them focus on either their owner, or a toy or treat; what ever they like most. Some shoots are quick and others take time to get the pet settled.
ASMP: What is the story behind “The Black Dogs Project?”
FL: This photo series started after a conversation about how black dogs have a harder time getting adopted than other dogs. I decided to start a photo series photographing black dogs on a black background in my studio. I was looking for a new project and wanted to work on my studio shooting ability.
ASMP: What do you think are the ingredients for a great dog portrait?
FL: Much of what it takes to get a great human portrait is what it takes to get a great dog portrait. You need to connect with your subject, make sure they trust you and spend the time to get the photo. Sometimes we have to take breaks, and even get some snuggle time or maybe a “bathroom” break, but other then that, many of the processes of any portrait applies.
ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?
FL: I’m not sure if I have one. I can’t get the shot without my lights, camera and computer — take any one item away and I’m pretty useless. Squeaky toys and treats can make a shoot go much easier depending on the dog, but the work requires the whole package.
ASMP: How did you utilize social media in this project?
FL: Social media has been huge for this whole project. I recruited dogs using Facebook and reached out to people on Twitter. I created a custom blog on Tumblr to run the project — which was huge. Because of the project going viral on Huffington Post, the Tumblr page was one of the most popular pages of 2014. I try to move around all the major tools. Facebook is the main, followed by Instagram, Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr.
ASMP: What do you consider the most valuable aspect of your ASMP membership?
FL: ASMP opened my eyes to the business of being a photographer. I went to the Strictly Business 3 conference and it just blew my mind how much went into being a professional — and that it was attainable. So many great people sharing and helping each other made me so excited to make my photography a real business. I’ve tried to stay active with my local New England chapter, which is filled with great, creative members who all help each other out. I’ve become a real businessperson because of ASMP.
ASMP: What is the most important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?
FL: I’ve met many great people through ASMP. I make it a point to try to be involved with anything that can help me as a business, from networking events to keeping connected with the local board. Everyone has been generous in helping out and I do my best to do the same in return.