Elke Vogelsang turned to pet portraiture when in need of a creative outlet during a time of emotional turmoil. Now, a few years later, with a healthy Instagram following and hundreds of magazines printing her work worldwide, Elke still sees her dog photography as a source to boost a positive outlook on life.
She takes over our Instagram feed this week (September 22 to 28, 2019) sharing her charming photographs of pups and pooches.
Tell us how you came to be a professional photographer
A few years ago my husband and I took care of my mother-in-law who was diagnosed with dementia. She was a lovely lady, but dementia is not that lovely. Two years into that journey I decided to look for a creative outlet to help destress. I'd decided to start a one-picture-a-day project, starting on January 1, 2010. Shortly before this, on Christmas Day in 2009, I found my husband unconscious in the bathtub. The diagnosis was a severe brain hemorrhage due to a ruptured aneurysm. I started the project on January 1 despite my husband being in hospital. Looking back, perhaps this decision was because he was in hospital; I wanted to keep up a bit of normality. I thought it might help for my husband to have a sort of visual diary as he was in an induced coma and we didn't know the impact the coma would have. He had no short-term memory for months.
Thankfully, my husband fully recovered, but caring for his sick mother went on. My dogs and my photography were a welcome distraction and so the two combined. Photography had turned into a passion of mine and I didn't want to stop taking pictures. More and more people asked me if I could photograph their dog. Finally, I decided to do more of what I love (being creative with photography) and took the plunge, registering a photography business. After only a few years I was able to leave my day job as a technical translator behind.
My photographs of dogs have gained international fame, having appeared on television (including Good Morning America), and being printed in international publications worldwide (such as National Geographic, The Daily Telegraph, The Huffington Post, La Repubblica, and many more). My work has also been on the covers of dozens of magazines, including The Sunday Times Magazine. So, I guess this is my 'every cloud has a silver lining' story.
Animals are unpredictable subjects – you must have encountered quite a few creative challenges during your studio sessions. Do you have any particular anecdotes you’d like to share?
Oh, yes, there are lots of stories, especially funny ones. Dogs are funny characters. They find pleasure in the most mundane things. There were the two boxers who plunged themselves immediately into the closest mud hole when they were let off-lead during an outside shoot. I was not familiar with the area and didn't expect this. The owners were very embarrassed, but I thought it was hilarious. I took a few pictures of them looking like monsters, but we had to reschedule. The next time we made sure there were no mud holes anywhere near.
Often it's the little things that make you laugh and adore dogs even more. I love it when a clever dog knows how to trick you into handing over more treats or if there's a cool senior dog who's really hard to impress and seems to look at me with pity when I try out my strange noises to try to make him look interested.
Your shoots look like great fun, what is about photographing animals you enjoy so much?
I love to interact with animals. While they're unpretentious and easily amused they can also pose a challenge. It's a wonderful experience to finally be able to produce a nice picture of a dog that was timid and fearful or ecstatically overenthusiastic in the beginning. Every dog is very different in personality so to try and figure out how to motivate each individual character is an exciting journey. With every dog I meet I learn a new trick or tactic.
While you also photograph cats and horses your Instagram feed is largely made up of your dog portraits. Why?
Nowadays I only show pictures on the web, which I also license via my licensing archive. I'm a dog photographer first. I just started photographing cats for my licensing archive recently. My horse photography is for a very small number of private clients or editorial assignments.
Describe your photography in three words.
Quirky, funny, emotional.
Humour is prevalent in your work. Is this something you intentionally seek out during your shoots?
I started out as an outdoor photographer. I loved being outdoors with dogs and taking pictures on beautiful fields, in the wood or by the water, but I also wanted to try out studio photography. To distinguish my work from others I tried to come up with ideas or looks that were more interesting, which made me go for more unusual or funny expressions of the dogs. It all started seven years ago with close-up shots of my dogs chewing or catching treats. I now try to produce some elegant portraits alongside the funny pictures. I try to capture their personality as much as possible.
What have you learned about your personal practice by using Instagram?
Instagram is a great way for me to show the world what pictures I have to offer. Of course, most of my followers are only interested in seeing cute dogs instead of buying my pictures, which is ok. It's wonderful to be able to show the uniqueness of dogs to so many people from all around the world. I love to talk to other photographers and dog fans out there.
Nevertheless, even if you have a million followers that doesn't necessarily mean you've earned a single penny. Photography is my passion, but it's also my business. I don't rely on one platform but present my pictures on various outlets. Furthermore, I make sure I meet real people in real life, ask existing clients to refer me and treat every client with my full attention.
Your lighting and processing are superb. Do you do a lot of post-processing or try and get as close to the final image as possible in-camera?
Thank you very much. I always make sure the picture is as good as possible in-camera. I might correct a bit of the background and, of course, it's convenient for clients to also get cut-out pictures of pets, which I do for a selected number of images or on-demand. I also make sure I clone out slobber and loose fur.
As I love photography in general and shoot projects just for myself, I make sure the pictures for these projects are often entirely done in-camera. Digital cameras offer a variety of in-camera processing functions, which are a great way to be creative and not have to spend extra time at the computer again. I especially love to shoot black & white in-camera.
What are some of your creative influences?
My own three dogs, Noodles, Scout, and Loli, are big inspirations. They are so very different in character. One of my favorite photographers is Tim Flach, his animal shots are superb. When I was younger I worked in a cinema for several years, so I think films – be it the script or aesthetic – have also had an impact on how I shoot.