Over the years Photographer Keith Barraclough built a strong relationship with the art directors and art buyers at Discovery through his marketing and promotional efforts.
One of the major influences in getting the “Dog” assignment with Discovery was Keith had some insider information. He knew one of the art directors owned two black labs. “I offered to take some fun and arty photos of them at my DC studio (black labs on a black seamless.) The objective was to show her, and others at Discovery, that I could take great photos not only of people but also of animals.” Needless to say, the shoot went extremely well. A few years later Keith received a call from Animal Planet to photograph dogs for an AKC dog competition poster campaign.
Just goes to show you that being consistent with promotions really works. Keith also felt that relocating from DC to NYC played a small role in getting the assignment. “Thankfully, I was asked to shoot three more assignments for Discovery, which eventually led him to the “dog breed assignment”.
Beth Caldwell, Animal Planet’s online photo editor, envisioned the ‘dog breed’ shoot about two years ago. The assignment was to take portraits of all 164 sanctioned AKC dog breeds. The main goal of the assignment was to change the look and feel of the dog images on Animal Planet’s online breed selector with new images of each breed that better represent their tagline “Animal Planet – Surprising Human.” It took Beth about two years to convince Discovery to change the images; about eight months ago she got permission to move forward and asked Keith if he would like to be a part of the project.
It took another four months and countless meetings to get a budget approved and to finalize the concept. Once that was in place, the search to find a dog show where most of the breeds would be present began. After an extensive search they found a five-day competition in Virginia in early August that met their needs.
“I pretty much had creative license to do anything I wanted.”, Keith commented. “I knew the concept was to photograph the dogs’ personalities, but how I did that was completely up to me. I expected this to be challenging, but I didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to get the dog owners and handlers to agree to have their dogs photographed.”
There were plenty of other challenges. Finding a Labrador retriever or a German Shepherd was fairly easy. The rare dogs (eg: an Xolo or Puli) were obviously more difficult. But, with the help of countless dog owners and handlers who knew many key dog owners, Keith and crew were able to photograph many more than they would have doing this alone.
“The most challenging aspect, however, was taking the photos. The smaller breeds had so much energy they wouldn’t sit still; some of the larger ones had their own challenges keeping focused or becoming skittish when the strobes fired. Trying to make all the breeds look attentive with personality took time and patience. Since we only had a few minutes with each, every shot counted. We came up with many “inventive” ways to get the dogs to sit still or to have them look in a certain direction (e.g. squeaky toys, throwing food in a certain direction or having a dog in heat on the set – yes we really did that)!”
“Having knowledge of what you are shooting is always key to a successful shoot and owning a dog certainly helped a lot in this case. Understanding how dogs think and react in certain situations helps. Also, having a lot of patience helps!”
There were many funny moments on set. Keith compares some of those with the movie “Best In Show”! “One particularly funny instance happened when we were photographing a male Miniature Pinscher that would not sit still and focus. Another owner had a female Pinscher wrapped in a towel (at the time, I wasn’t sure what the towel was for.) The owner sat next to me holding out her dog towards the male on set. The male dog immediately stopped jumping around and focused on the female. The owner yelled, repeatedly, “Look, we’re teasing him with the bitch!” The female was in heat: hence the towel. She repeated it numerous times, right in my ear. Amazingly, this worked and I got many great images of a very attentive and expressive dog!”
More often than not, it was the owners who were the funniest. Ranging from obsessive compulsive to nonchalant, they kept the crew very entertained with brushing and grooming and endless stories about their dogs.
Initially Keith did not become a photographer to shoot animals, he was a people shooter. He had photograph animals, but it was not the bulk of his work. In the past year, since he began shooting more for Animal Planet, it’s a niche he has become more comfortable with and enjoying the new experience.
Never wanting to be working at a desk, Keith’s really enjoys learning new things everyday. Photography allows him to explore new possibilities. “In one week I can take photos of a celebrity, dog breeds, and then travel to Chicago to shoot for my stock archive. All the while, I am learning about someone, what kind of characteristics are in a certain dog breed or the specific architectural style of a city.”
The multi-talented Keith Barraclough explores life through his camera.