My name is Alan Hess and I love being a photographer. I am really lucky that I get to photograph things for a living. As the house photographer for a large indoor arena in San Diego I get to capture some of the biggest names in music like Cher, The Who, Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber, as well as other events like the NBA, MMA, and the WWE. This year we will also have a Professional Bull Rider event. But even with the wide variety of events I get to shoot, once in a while I still find myself in a creative rut. That’s where personal projects come in.
For me, that is taking photos of my dogs.
I have two rescued boxers. They make for great subjects for a couple of reasons. They are always available since they live with me. They have distinct personalities that makes photographing them more fun (or challenging). And best of all they never want to see the photos, and never complain that they don’t look good. On the downside, they don’t have a great attention span and can easily wonder off in the middle of the shoot, and getting them to pose can be challenging.
I started off by just trying to get a portrait shot to use as a wallpaper on my iPhone, which led to experimenting with lighting and learning how to create the invisible black background portraits. This led to creating the Fuel Book, Pet Portraits that Stand Out. This Fuel Book led to my newest full book, Pet Portraits: From Snapshots to Great Shots. This was the most fun that I have ever had writing a book since it didn’t seem like work at all. I was able to take all that information I had accumulated while creating photos of my dogs and turn it into something that could help others get great photos of their pets.
First I want to tell you what this book isn’t. It isn’t a book on creating a pet photography business, or how to profit from taking photos of people’s pets. This book is not about having to go out and spend a lot of money on special gear. It is just about getting better photos of your pet, or any pet. I photographed dogs, cats, birds, horses, lizards, snakes, fish, hamsters, mice, rats, and bunny rabbits. I spent time at leash free areas getting to capture dogs in action as they ran, jumped and played with other dogs. I got nudged by horses and had a lizard climb all over my gear. I spent time with an exotic pet vet, and even though I did not cover spiders as pets in the book, I ended up with a tarantula crawling on my hands.
It was the most fun I have had writing a book.
I spent some time photographing big dogs at play. I find it fascinating what you can capture at 1/4000 second that you don’t see when watching the action in real time. These dogs are playing together on the beach, but if you just saw the fangs you might think that it wasn’t a friendly encounter.
Getting to lie in the grass and photograph a group of puppies the first time they got to roam around outside is a great way to spend a morning.
I wanted to make sure that the book dealt with all pets, and not just dogs and cats. So I tracked down a wide variety of different pet owners and rescue groups. The best part was that pet owners and rescue group volunteers are really passionate. The passion that they have for their pets is really contagious. Need a little pick-me-up? Ask a pet owner about what their pet did recently. I learned more about snakes, frogs, mice, birds and lizards in the past few months than I thought possible. Every photo shoot was a new adventure.
I spent quite a bit of time photographing cats as they are the second most popular pet in the US, right behind dogs. Cats turned out to be both easier in some respects and much more challenging in others. They love to stand in doorways and look out. Turns out that this makes for great portrait light.
It was tough to think of it as work as I lay outside watching a friend’s cat stalk his cat toy. A tough day at work.
Photographing cats became an exercise in patience. Cats can sit still for what seem like hours, then suddenly leap into action… or just stretch out and go right to sleep.
Getting up close and personal with a horse was really quite awesome. I was in constant awe of their power and size. Watching the muscles under their coat as the walk and run was fantastic, and getting to photograph them up close was really amazing.
On a final note, I used to think that personal projects were just a time suck. When was I supposed to go out and shoot stuff just for me and at the same time try to earn a living. There just didn’t seem like enough of a payoff to spend the time shooting for myself when I could be out trying to earn a living. It got to the point where I didn’t pick up my camera unless I was off to shoot something for a job…
I was wrong.
Turns out that taking the time to go out and photograph something just for me not only recharges the creative side but can lead to other work.