Kelly Schulze’s photographic subjects don’t always do what they’re told. Some won’t look at the camera. Others get up and wander away. More than a few of them bark at her. But that’s to be expected when you’re working with models of the canine variety.
Schulze is the shooter behind Mountain Dog Photography, the only dedicated pet photo studio in the area. While some might balk at the idea of spending money on animal portraits, Schulze claims she’s serving a burgeoning market: people who view their furry friends as part of the family. They get their kids photographed, so why not Dixie or Poopers?
The Monkton resident has been shooting photos as long as she can remember. Two of her grandparents were avid photographers and taught her the basics of lighting and composition. As she got older, photography grew into a serious hobby and, within the last five years, Schulze says, she’s honed her skills behind the lens. Last January, she began Mountain Dog Photography in earnest. She still has her day job — as a milk tester for the Dairy Herd Improvement Association — but Schulze’s photo business is growing rapidly. “Vermont is such a fertile market for this type of thing. It’s so pet-centric,” she says.
Pet photography is a natural development for Schulze, 26; she studied animal sciences at the University of Vermont and volunteered at animal shelters for years. She’s had a lifelong love of four-legged creatures, and the house she shares with her husband, Ian, is a testament to that. Their peaceable kingdom consists of 26 chickens, four dogs, four cats and a chinchilla.
While any amateur can take a snapshot of his dog, it’s difficult to catch the glint in the eye, the mischievous head cock, the attentive ear prick. Not so for Schulze, whose shots are much like heavily produced studio portraits of humans. “I think I understand animals better than I can people sometimes,” she says. “You just develop an instinct.”
Schulze generally has 15 to 20 minutes to shoot before her subject gets bored. In that short time, it’s all about making the animal comfortable. “I don’t like to say I ‘pose’ dogs or cats; I say I convince them,” she says.
Some of her clients don’t need coaxing. They seem happy to have their picture taken, especially if they’re lying in their favorite spot or playing with a beloved toy. Others are not so keen. One dog barked incessantly as soon as Schulze raised the camera to her face. Another pooch refused to sit with the other family dogs.
“I try to find out what is the animal’s motivation for ‘staying,’” Schulze says. “It could be food, a toy or a command. Sometimes with cats, they just want to be left alone. Or maybe they just want to be petted.”
Surprisingly, Schulze thinks cats are easier to work with than dogs. Felines are into portrait sitting if they’re convinced it was their idea to begin with, she jokes.
Schulze’s sessions start at $150. The results of her labors are photos that capture the animals’ unique personalities. That’s what’s most important to the owners. “Animals aren’t going to be around forever,” she points out. “You can never have enough pictures.”