Learning from Dogs

Having recently restored an old archive of photos, I rediscovered a collection of photos of our mastiffs. I re-lived not only the joys and sorrows of having loved and lost these gentle giants, but also of the things I learned from shooting them.

They were my first high-contrast subjects. Their fawn colored fur and their deep black masks gave me exposure fits. After losing their eyes a thousand times, I learned how the spot meter setting worked. Of course, then I was forever over-exposing their light fur.

They were also the subjects that drove me to want a DSLR instead of my PowerShot G3, which was a pretty awesome point-and-shoot for its time, allowing me to take full manual control of the settings.

But looking at my dogs through the G3 view finder made me miss. The closer they were to me, the bigger the problem. If you couldn’t use the LCD, you were just guessing as to what you were going to get. Since I couldn’t use the LCD during rapid-fire shooting, I often missed.

The photos in this collection were all taken with the PowerShot G3 (except the one of Tisen). During one of these shoots, I did a long series of rapid-fire shots with Katie (the only mastiff I ever heard of who loved to fetch). Going through them rapidly looks like a movie of a giant dog romping on a deck.

I also did a rapid-fire series of Bogart. In his series, he turns his head about 45 degrees and then turns it back. That’s pretty representative of their personalities. Bogart was a mastiff through and through–excellent judge of character, laid back, gentle with children, subtly protective, and excellent at the “down” command. Just don’t ask him to get back up.

Katie was more of a lab trapped in an over-sized body with droopy jowls. She wanted to play ball all the time. She wanted your undivided attention all the time. She was as hyper as hyper can get in a mastiff. Unfortunately, her body betrayed her personality (or maybe it was the other way around) and her knees and elbows could not handle her desire to chase, spin, and retrieve her ball. She spent a depressing amount of time restricted from playing at all.

Tisen often reminds me of both our mastiffs. He has the laid back but protective temperament of Bogart. But he also has the fierce neediness of Katie. I sometimes call him Bogart by accident when he does something Bogart-like. I often tell Tisen he’s the best boy in the whole wide world–something I used to tell Bogart as well. One day, I spontaneously completed what I used to say to Bogart and Katie: “And we’re the luckiest people in the whole wide world because we have you.” I started to tear up. We are the luckiest people to have had three such amazing dogs in our lives.