Australian animal photographer Alex Cearns remembers the first Zen dog image she ever captured, a Shar-Pei named Suzi.
"During her photo session, I caught a shot of her with her eyes closed, and a big smile on her face. I called the image 'Zen Dog,' and when her owners saw it, they immediately fell in love with the vibe of the image and with Suzi’s relaxed and happy pose," Cearns says.
"With such positive feedback, I became keen to capture the emotion and moment of being a Zen dog for other dogs who visited my studio."
Cearns tries to take at least one Zen-like image for every dog photo session she conducts at her Houndstooth Studio, even if the process takes time. She has compiled 80 of these images of meditative canines in her new book "Zen Dogs."
To get her canine subjects to relax, Cearns makes sure they are authentically calm and happy. Her studio is small, quiet and without many distractions.
"During my photo sessions, I realized that some types of dogs are more likely to close their eyes than others," Cearns says. "Dogs who were fairly laid back, or who liked to lie about were easier to photograph in a Zen state, whereas dogs overly fixated on toys or treats wouldn’t close their eyes for a second, should the toy or treat disappear. They kept their eyes firmly on the prize."
Although it might look like the dogs are zoned out or even sleeping, that's not the case; Cearns has skillfully caught a restful moment with her camera.
"The images capture a split second blink of my dog subjects, freezing the moment in time," she says. "Sitting only a foot away, I’m able to watch each dog subject carefully to pick up on their blinking pattern, and take a series of images just before I predict their blink."
The book "Zen Dogs" includes photos of a wide range of breeds, interspersed with Zen-inspired quotes by Gandhi, Buddha, St. Francis of Assisi and others with thoughtful, meditative words to share. There's this one, for example, from "Unknown":
If you're always racing to the next moment, what happens to the one you're in?
"As soon as a dog visits my studio, I aim to genuinely make friends with them and ensure they are comfortable and feel secure," says Cearns. "I try to find out what they love most — a certain type of treat, or a particular toy — and then use that knowledge to win them over."