I discovered Simon Woodcock by chance while surfing the net.
Pupparazzi seemed to me a great name for his activity, and when I saw that beyond that name there were also some great ideas and pictures, I decided to contact him and find out a bit more about him and his “phodographer” work.
How did you start?
When I moved to Melbourne, Australia from the UK, I started my photography business from scratch. I landed with no contacts or definite plan, but had a few ideas of which direction I’d like to head with my photography, but the first thing I needed to do was start shooting and getting my face ‘out there’ so started photographing weddings, corporate functions and celebrity red carpet events. Whilst this helped to pay some bills, not all of it was enjoyable or fulfilling. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the weddings and have kept that side of the business running as a separate brand (www.weddingsnapper.com.au) with it’s own unique and slightly off-beat style of wedding photography.
The pet photography brand evolved from a suggestion by my sister-in-law, Fiona, who after I photographed her beloved Mojo said that she loved the photos and other people probably would too and she thought that a pet photography business in Melbourne might ‘have legs’, so to speak. But I was stuck for a name. What on earth would I call it? I couldn’t advertise it along with weddings or events so it really had to have it’s own identity. Within 5 minutes of the initial conversation, Fiona called back with a couple of suggestions, one of which was Pupparazzi. Now, I can’t resist a god pun so it was an instantaneous decision – it was humourous but at the same time gave you an idea what the business was about. Dontcha just love clever marketing people?!
My background in photography stems from my time at the BBC and magazine publishing in the UK. Whilst working for a small magazine publisher I became Picture Editor on ‘Eukanuba’ magazine for the global pet food brand. At the time, it was a baptism of fire, having never worked with kids or animals in photography and at times, the old adage of never working with kids or animals seemed to be my mantra! Once I realised that well-trained dogs were the key to making the photos work well, it all seemed to be become very relaxed and fun.
I guess it was here that the pet photography seed was sown – it just took a number of years for it to germinate!
You define yourself a “phodographer”. What’s the difference, if there is one, between a photographer and a phodographer, apart from the subject of your shots?
Obviously, the subject matter varies, but I find my approach to the subject matter also differs. With weddings and events you can’t really relax or experiment too much as there is always something you could be photographing or keeping an eye out for. With pets, it’s much more relaxed with fewer constraints.
When booking a session for pet photos, I allow myself at least an extra hour for the booking so I’m not watching the clock if the animal isn’t co-operating, which allows enough time to grab a coffee, play with a ball or take a stroll to change the mood or tire the dog out a little.
I’ve known one hour sessions to expand into three hour sessions just because we’re having a great time, or the light has been good. There is a lot to be said for allowing yourself that kind of freedom of just letting things flow and unfold – you never quite know what you mind end up with! That said, I always have a basic structure with shoots, preferring to use a longer lens such as my Canon 70-200 2.8 to start with so the dog has time to get used to me being around without being too ‘in their face’, before moving on to a Canon 50mm 1.2 and one of my less conventional lenses which is an old macro lens that is great for picking up a few details like noses, paws, eyes, whiskers etc.
So, yes, when I’m shooting dogs I’m more of a ‘phodographer’ than a photographer, reading the mood of the animal and making it as fun and relaxed as possible, rather than just trying to get the job done. I hope that shows through in my phodography!
Who is your target? Who are your clients?
My target audience are dog lovers. Whether it’s people with a new puppy, or those with a dog who is coming to the end of their life and they want something to remember them by. My clients have also included several publishers too, who have seen shots on the blog and want to include them in a calendar or book. It’s always great to see your work published in a book or online. A recent shoot of a gorgeous Golden Retriever puppy ended up being the cover of Battersea Dogs Home book. I only ever envisaged it as a lovely shot to be hung on the owners wall so it was lovely to see it get a wider audience and appreciation.
What about your stangest/most curious shots?
Fortunately I haven’t had any particularly strange shoots, but I have had a few wedding photography clients who have included their pets in the wedding or engagement shoot, so it’s been fun combining the two genres that I’m well known for. Check out the photos of the Pug in his tuxedo and the owners with oversized animal heads!
I’ve been fortunate enough to never have been bitten or attacked by one of my subjects, but I did once have a very strong Blue Heeler (Australian cattle dog) knock me over. One moment I was crouching with the camera watching him run towards me, and the next I was flat on my back looking at the sky with the dog laying across my chest – he was a big boy!
Share with us some advice about how to take great pictures of dogs.
Pack 2 things when you go to photograph a dog.
Patience and treats. It’s a simple formula really!
Obviously, quality cameras and lenses, along with the ability to adjust them at speed also help you get a great shot, but patience is nearly always rewarded. There is no benefit in forcing a shot, as it nearly always shows through in the final image. If neither the photographer or dog are ‘feeling it’, change the situation somehow. Add a more interesting element such as a toy; choose a new location; choose a different perspective or even take a break for five minutes and see what pans out – some rough and tumble might be all that’s needed to get everyone back on board again.
I love getting down to the dogs eye level whenever I can – it adds something to the shot – it puts the viewer on an equal footing with the dog, with neither being more dominant, and somehow humanises the subject in some way.
Don’t forget, the second item you packed in your kit bag. If all else fails, unleash the treats! Nearly all dogs can be bribed with a tasty treat and it also really helps to focus their attention for some cute shots straight down the lens.