Today on the blog, we meet with a commercial and editorial photographer specializing in pet portraiture: Elke Vogelsang aka “Wieselblitz.”
Known for her book "Nice Nosing You," Elke likes using dark lighting and a wide angle lens to capture an intimate perspective of man's best friend.
Discover her portraits in 14 photos powered by Prodibi!
A few words about you, how did you start photography?
I became a professional photographer in response to a very tough time and the wish to change something in life.
My husband, Carsten, fell seriously ill a few years ago at Christmas. He suffered a brain hemorrhage. The dogs (in those days it was only Noodles and Scout) were the ones who found him in time. He spent weeks in an induced coma, months without any short-term memory and quite a while in the hospital. My dogs and my photographies were my comfort and distraction at that time. Fortunately, my husband recovered fully, thanks to great doctors and our wonderful and alert dogs.
When my husband was in the hospital, I took a picture every day as a diary for him when he was not with us and had no memory. This one-picture-a-day project lasted for two years. Photography became something like an addiction to me, as it was such a great way to try to stay calm. My dogs found themselves in front of the camera very often. I posted the pictures on the internet, which lead to people asking me if I could photograph their dogs, too.
The stressful time made me think about life and what to do with it. I loved photography a lot and didn’t want to do anything else anymore. In 2011 I registered a business as a photographer. I'm now in the fortunate position to earn my money from what I love so much. So, it could actually be true that every cloud might have its silver lining.
Did you try other photography styles or pet photography has always been your favorite one?
What I love about photography are the endless opportunities to be creative, the vast amount of styles, genres, approaches, techniques. I wish I had the time to explore them all. I do believe in specialization if you want to be successful. Success to me means that I'm able to spend my time with what I love, which also means I have to make a living from it. Therefore, I'm now very much focussed on the pet specialization of my business.
But during my one-picture-a-day project, I tried out lots of different genres. When I'm on holidays, I still photograph landscapes. I also dabbled in still life and food photography and long-term exposures, etc. As a hobby you can explore so many different things, while as professional photographer I think you have to stand for something very specific for people to immediately think of you when they need a certain kind of picture.
Working with "furry models", is it really different from working with people? What is your secret to catching their attention?
Some of my pictures show the dogs with human-like expressions. Often we interpret these as such. Dogs can in fact smile in a similar way than humans, but there are lots of differences between canine and human facial expressions. Nevertheless, we tend to search for similarities between our best friend and us. That’s understandable as we feel near to them.
Dogs have a remarkable ability to adapt their lives to fit ours. In my opinion, they know far more about us than we about them. We often try to make ourselves feel good by treating them like humans. A dog is a dog and not a human being. And this is in no way meant in a derogative way.
Let’s put it this way: We should not treat dogs like or less well than humans, but differently. If we neglect their needs, this is when we fail, not by showing our compassion. Nevertheless, I can’t withstand the charm and dignity of a dog’s face wrapped in a woolen scarf or looking human-like in its best possible way.
How do you direct a photo session? Do you make the owner participate in the photoshoot?
Often the owners are more nervous than the dogs. Therefore, I either tell them politely just to sit back and relax, or I turn them into my assistants. This way they forget about their nervousness. If I feel they don't upset the dog too much, I make them arrange and entertain the dog for me. Of course, in some situations you also need help. It's super difficult to try to get action shots from a dog that's not your own when you have to direct the action yourself. Here I ask the owners to make sure the dog runs along a certain path or chases a ball. Often enough, though, I'm happy when it's just the dog and me.
When a client arrives in my studio, I give the dog some time to sniff around, to explore the room, to get used to the sounds and atmosphere. When I think that the dog seems comfortable I fire a test flash to see how the dogs react. Most dogs don’t even flinch. If a dog is scared or insecure, it’s mostly because of the sound of the flash, not really the light itself so I put my flash to low power as the sound is more subtle. With lots of treats, we try to make the dog pose for my camera. You never know beforehand how the dog reacts.
I take pictures of rescue dogs to find new homes. Some of them were never taught anything. They don’t know "Sit" or "Stay." Nevertheless, some of them were the coolest models I ever had in my studio. If a dog is very sensitive and scared, I prefer to take pictures outdoors where I can use a telephoto lens to capture the scene in natural light and from a distance. Here I might again need some help. I've always got treats, toys, and some noise-makers (squeakers, kazoos, hunting whistles, etc.) in my camera bag.
About your photography gears, what are your favorite tools?
I'm a Fujifilm X photographer, and my camera of choice is the Fujifilm X-T3. I'm very fond of prime lenses. Therefore, if I had to choose my two favorite lenses, I would probably go for the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 and the Fujinon 90mm f/2.
My studio flash is a Jinbei HD610 HSS, which is capable of high-speed synchronization and I can be used in the studio as well as outdoors.
Do you have projects for the future like workshops, personal series or travels?
I'm currently looking for a publisher for a book that is mostly finished. Furthermore, I continuously work on my licensing archive, which I enjoy very much. For this, I'll also photograph cats and more animals in the future. There are journeys planned. In August/September I'll be giving workshops in England. Happy to say that my diary is filling up with exciting things, all involving beautiful animals I'll meet and talk about.
To see more from Elke:
All photographs copyright Elke Vogelsang and used with her permission.
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