Ron’s love of photography started with an old Yashica camera that his Uncle Russ gave him for Christmas. His first photo shoot, at age 7, was a wildlife exploration around his suburban New Jersey neighborhood. That day, he took his first animal photos of city squirrels and of his dog, Nicki.
Ron went on to study photography at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, CA earning a Bachelor Degree in Fine Art. He then spent a number of years in New York City assisting high-profile fashion and celebrity photographers. While working with supermodels was exciting, he was drawn to more conceptual images and branched out to start his own commercial photography studio in 1999. Fast forward to 2004 when Ron created a holiday card for his clients featuring his yellow lab, Indy, carrying a pine tree on her back. The image was an instant hit and Ron realized he had found his niche in photographing man’s best friend. Loose Leashes was launched in May 2005.
Ron’s whimsical photos have captured the hearts of dog lovers and his images can be found on stationary, calendar, home décor and home goods products worldwide. He is also the co-creator of three children’s books Back to Dog-Gone School (Random House 2016), Dog-Gone School (Random House 2013) and Loose Leashes (Random House 2009). We had a chat with the artist on some of the elements that make his work unique.
Can you tell us a bit about your work? What’s your creative process like?
My work is conceptual. It differs from other animal photographers who tend to take more portrait style images. I always start each image with a sketch. My goal is to create realistic images that have a timeless, vintage quality. Not every sketch I come up with becomes an image and I may sketch for days before I get a good concept that I think will work. Once I have a concept, I begin the process getting the elements of the image lined up – from the ideal location to sourcing (or building) props and casting the perfect dog. Sometimes I shoot the image with all the elements together at once. Other times, I may need to shoot each of the elements separately to pull together in post-production and to get the final image. After the shoot, the artistic/creative process continues in postproduction.
Each of your work seems to tell a story, where do you get inspiration to create your images.
My ultimate goal is to create great photos that tell stories – ones that provoke thought or create feelings. My wife and I do school visits where we show my images to kids and ask them to create stories. We’re always amazed how creative these students are and by the many ideas and thoughts that can be generated by just one of my images.
As for inspiration, I get it from things around me – from a cool location or special prop I find to something more complex– like capturing a human moment from a dog’s point of view.
What’s the most challenging dog photography project that you have had to take up? And how did you tackle it?
Each image can be challenging in its own way but some have a higher level of difficulty. My image of Bella, the Boston Terrier had some unique challenges. The concept is a dog that has a secret dream of being a ballerina.
The first challenge was finding a ballerina. We were lucky to find one through a local dance studio who had a gorgeous tutu. The second challenge came in posing her. In order photograph her jump and the capture the width of her tutu, we had to remove a pair of sliding glass doors from our shooting space and have her perform her jump on a quickly improvised platform placed outside. Thank goodness she was a good sport. The other challenge came in creating the newspaper, which I designed from scratch, with the help of my wife who wrote fun articles about our family and friends. The dog? That was the easy part!
Do you currently have pets of your own? If you do, can you tell us a bit about them?
My family just rescued an Anatolian Shepherd named Moses. He’s a little over a year old and weighs about 135lbs. He’s a big boy who has a lot of love to give but was put through a lot in the year before we got him. Luckily, we’ve had a similar kind of dog and know that we can help him come out of his shell with training and love.
We also have a gecko named Dart. We got him for the kids but he’s turning out to be more mine than theirs! If it were up to me, I’d have a pile of pets. My wife, not so much, but I am working on her for a second dog!
What skills do you think are required to be a good photographer of this kind?
I think creativity is key– not just in conceptualizing and shooting the photo, but being skilled at things like lighting and post-production, which are just as important. I also think patience is a must. Dogs aren’t people – you can’t really direct them so I can take up to 1,000 images during a photo shoot get the right expression from the dog.
Do you do custom photography?
I don’t at this time. There is such a high level of detail in many of my images that I only create between 12-15 new images a year. Between my own photos and commercial work, I am pretty booked up for time.
Which of your work is your favorite?
There are so many to choose from! One of my favorites is Kane – a lab sneaking candy canes through a mail slot. I love the design of the image and the story it tells.
Would you consider shooting other animals aside from dogs in the future?
I would – with the exception of cats…I’m allergic!