Belinda Richards took a great leap eight years ago. After "yet another teary drive to work," she quit the job she hated and enrolled in college, earning degrees in photography and fine art.
Once she set up shop, the clients in her Melbourne, Australia, Frog Dog Studios were all of the four-legged variety.
"I have spent nearly 20 years working with animals, particularly dogs in many capacities such as animal welfare and animal management," Richards tells MNN. "It was a natural decision to bring my two loves together and open a pet portrait studio."
Richards creates fun and lively images for clients who come from all over the country to sit their pets in front of her lens. But it was a Great Dane name Duke who inspired a whimsical project earlier this year.
"I couldn't stop looking at the expression on his face," she says. "It is so human in so many ways and I kept thinking to myself that this image needs more narrative but I didn't know what."
She tucked away the photo until a few months later when she was preparing for the Australian Professional Photography Awards. Remembering Duke, Richards revisited the expressive pooch and digitally added a top hat, glasses and a newspaper.
She dubbed her creation "It's a Catastrophe" (see it above) and was inspired to create a series she calls "Be More Dog."
"The rest of the project just evolved from there," she says. "I put out a call for models and off I went! The aim of this project is to inject a bit of humor into social commentary using dogs and one brave cat so far. For example 'It's a Catastrophe' plays on modern-day feminism and the current political climate surrounding that."
Although most of the images are dogs, there is one angry-looking feline, above, in the series.
"Obviously 'Vote 1 Bagpuss' is playing on the current politics in the United States," Richards says. "Some of the images are more lighthearted than others, but I hope they give everyone a good giggle."
While creating, Richards starts with the photo and then figures out the pet's personality when making the finished image.
"I never go in with a preconceived idea because I don't really know these dogs beforehand and I don't know what they will give me throughout the shoot," she says. "I prefer to create the narrative around the dog/cat."
Richards says she doesn't have favorite breeds in front of the camera. But she admits that she loves to shoot one of her own dogs.
"No particular breed is my favorite but I do love to photograph my bull terrier Astro. Such a weird-looking dude and he has so much personality," she says. "One minute he looks handsome the next he could pull a face to scare small children! He loves to ham it up for a peanut butter treat."
The key to getting good photos is making sure each dog is relaxed and comfortable, she says.
"I have a solid background with dealing with difficult and dangerous dogs so I know how to read their body language and it has become my second language," Richards says. "I find photographing animals much easier than any other subject. The trick is to go with it. Don't go in with expectations of what you will get from the session. Go in with a fun attitude and follow the dog's lead."
Richards and her assistant spend about 45 minutes or so with each dog, making them comfortable while getting the shot they want.
"It really depends on the dog. You don't want to go too long because dogs can get tired just like children and you won't get much out of them once they've had enough."
Richards has turned her characters into a 2019 calendar and would love to develop the project into a book one day. She's primarily working on commissioned pet portraits while creating more of her "Be More Dog" images when she has time.
"I am enjoying the process so much and people seem to be responding so positively," she says. "I can’t believe how lucky I am to be doing what I love every day."
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