Layla and Gnarley

I got together with “siblings” Layla and Gnarley (what a great name for this scruffy dude! Love it!) earlier this year for a romp across the UC Davis campus as part of a surprise gift session. These two may look about as similar to each other as, say, Laurel and Hardy, but they get along great with one another and both share a common love for treats, chasing tennis balls, and taking long meandering walks across college campuses. Gnarley is every bit as laid back as he looks in these photos, while Layla has a more intent, curious nature. She’s perhaps the only dog I’ve worked with that took such an intense interest in flowers without any prompting from us! Having the chance to spend time with dogs like these two on a regular basis reminds me of just how lucky I am to be in this line of work!


I had the privilege of getting a glimpse into the life of ball retriever extraordinaire Bentley a few months back (when it was hot enough out that I contemplated jumping into the pool with the cute little guy). You might not think Corgis would be good swimmers, but I’ve run into quite a few who take to the water no problem, and Bentley definitely falls into that group — this little dude could give any Lab I know a run for its money when it comes to water retrieves! And at 10 years young, he still looks pretty spry out there. 🙂


Catching Up

This summer has been a busy one, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet and photograph some amazing dogs — and even a few cats! What I haven’t had much time to do, however, is write blog articles. So here’s a quick recap of some of the fantastic animals that I’ve had the incredible privilege to work with through the summer and early fall.


I met up with Bacchus on a warm day way back in July. This handsome, loving boxer was rescued by his people through the NorCal Boxer Rescue, and joins a pack of two other boxers rescued through the same group. He was a joy to work with and be around, and his new people feel lucky to have him! I’m so grateful that this stunning boy was rescued and given such a good home. Looking back at these photos now makes me wish I could give him another scratch behind the ears. Oh, I almost forgot — he’s also featured on the cover of the NCBR 2013 Calendar!


Dash the Border Collie, as you might expect, is stunningly intelligent and loyal to his person. He lives for tracking down and retrieving his orange Chuck-It ball, and never strayed far from our side while we were out shooting, even though there was no shortage of interesting things to investigate. He is easily one of the most focused dogs I’ve ever worked with, and his displays of athleticism were breathtaking to watch.

Ginny and Fiona

Ginny (top) and Fiona (bottom) were rescued by some local veterinarians when no one could afford to pay for their care. They now share a home with a third cat, Miss M, and an adorable Pibble (that can’t stand the sight of a camera) named Noodle. The B&W photo of Ginny is now featured prominently in the vets’ new building.

Becka, Amira, Kaluha, and Skye

These adorable Labs (from left: Becka, Amira, Kaluha, and Skye) are all affiliated with the CCI (Canine Companions for Independence) program, and have either been retired from service or deemed unfit to meet the extremely exacting standards set for CCI dogs, or are currently being socialized for an upcoming, more rigorous phase of training. It was a truly unique experience to meet this group of lovable dogs. They left a lasting impression on me that I won’t soon forget!

L’Ox and Rio

Rio and L’Ox (short for “Little Ox”) are a mother-son pair of Basenjis raised as part of a larger pack. Since these two show regularly and are very used to being around one another, we were able to get some pretty amazing shots of them together. I was also lucky enough to witness them chase a rabbit lure — an activity they truly love, and which showcases their incredible drive and speed.


Nellie is a Border Collie who was rescued by her current owner from an abusive and neglectful home. This sweet girl, whose session was won through a silent auction fundraiser meant to raise funds for an organization that raises awareness of violence against women, still bears some of the weight of the emotional trauma from that darker part of her life, although the time in her new home has done wonders for her, revealing the incredible loving dog underneath.


Like Bacchus, Sadie is also an alum from the NorCal Boxer Rescue. She unfortunately has dry eye in her right eye, and in an act of incredible devotion her owners had vets save her eye by transplanting a saliva gland to act as a tear duct. Combined with drops given multiple times daily, Sadie has retained vision in the afflicted eye. We got together on a scorching day in September so she could be featured in the NCBR’s 2013 Calendar. Sadly the heat kept our session very short, but I loved every minute of working with this sweet girl.


I was thrilled when I got the chance to work with Molly the Saint Bernard over the summer. We got together in a lush little green belt near her home in the morning, with Molly all freshly cleaned and groomed, ready for her big day. Little did we know that there were puddles of mud created by the sprinkler system dotted all throughout the place! It didn’t take Molly long to find one, and soon she was racing around, splattering mud all over herself and her people in a scene that was straight out of a Beethoven movie. I was astounded at how fast she could move! After we got her back home, we settled down for a more low-key portion of the session, and Molly, tired and hot from racing around during the warm morning, was more than happy to oblige.


Prior to this past summer, I had never known that there was a compact, short-haired breed of Swiss Mountain Dog that lived for chasing bright orange balls at the beach and digging up mounds of sand. Then I met Winston, a member of the Entlebucher breed and an incredibly smart and loving dog, who gives back to his owners as good as he gets. Our day together on the shores of Santa Cruz was a rare treat for me, but it was just another day in the life for Winston.

Thoughts on Leash Removal

Leashes. They’re incredibly essential to maintaining safety, especially when we have our dogs in unfamiliar and exciting places (which are naturally the most photogenic!), and yet they can be such an eyesore in a photo. Luckily modern software has given us a powerful suite of tools for removing leashes that, when used correctly, will preserve the detail — or at least the illusion of detail — in a photo, all while keeping our loved fourleggers safe from harm or mischief. (I’ve included some photos at this end of this post, some of which have had leashes removed, and some of which have not.  Can you tell the difference? Feel free to post your guesses up on my Facebook page.)

I use a few different methods for leash removal. My favorite in terms of detail preservation and ease of use is the taking of a “blank frame” after I’ve gotten my shot. The photo series below illustrates the efficacy of this method. I took a photo of the lovely Coral, and then asked her handler to take her out of the frame, at which point I — and this is the key to this method — switched my lens to manual focus so as not to change the focal plane from my original shot, tried to match my original framing as closely as possible, and took a photo of an empty background. Once I brought the two photos into Photoshop, I masked over the areas of the first shot that I didn’t want, like the leash and, in this case, the shadow, and came out with the composite below.

Like just about anything, though, this method is not without its drawbacks. It can preclude an element of candidness in shots, since it requires forethought and preparation. It can also be extremely tricky to match up the blank frame with the initial frame, even without changing focus, unless you’re using a tripod and controlled lighting. Slight movements on your part, or changes in lighting like the passing of a cloud over the sun, or even reflected lighting changed by the absence of the subject, can make big differences between the two shots.

A more spontaneous method of leash removal is cloning, or sampling details from another part of the photograph and using them as a paintbrush of sorts. Depending on the types of details being painted over, this method can range from extremely easy to extremely tedious. I’ve found that extremely blurred foliage and grass, for instance, are very forgiving, but a dog’s fur or body can show almost every attempt at cloning like a neon sign. The way the leash is held during the shoot often makes a huge difference in the quality and ease of leash removal through cloning.

Again, though, cloning has its drawbacks. If you’re not careful, you can introduce repeating patterns, since you may have a finite amount of “source” material to draw from, that stick out like a sore thumb, or you will find that the portion you’ve cloned over looks unnatural, or contains very subtle gradations that can be extremely hard to match properly. Leash removal through cloning can definitely be a labor of love. 😉

I know that more recently Adobe has touted its content aware fill utility in Photoshop, but I’ve found this tool unreliable at best. The content aware tool samples the area around a selected portion of the image and looks to automatically create a natural looking fill. Unfortunately it usually produces results that are far from useable, so in my case I haven’t gotten much use out of it.

I’ve posted five photos below, some of which have had leashes removed, some of which have not. Can you guess which is which? Feel free to let me know what you think via Twitter or Facebook. 🙂

F a c e b o o k