Holidaying with our dogs was something we wanted to do right back from when we first had Saffy and Tilly, our first two cocker spaniels (a long time ago – we’re talking 1997 onwards). I remember so clearly the first few times we went to ‘dog friendly’ holiday lets. One in particular, in Devon – within ten minutes of arriving, Saffy escaped the dog proof garden and was standing on the top of the stable block! the owners hadn’t grasped that some dogs would get through a five bar gate! A few years further on, and we had Lola English setter and Tilly – and we went to a tranquil place in the New Forest (looking back really it was a glorified shed in someone’s back garden). Again a disaster within the first few minutes – they had both stumbled across a swimming pool, with the bubble wrap type cover on it – and I remember vividly Lola running straight across it. That could have gone so wrong couldn’t it! so that was a bit of a nightmare holiday, I think we came home early from that one! who wants to get up first thing and put their dog on the lead and go out with them while they have a wee? not me that’s for sure!
Another place in Cornwall (by this time we also had Barley our lovely lurcher, who could jump 8ft) and we stayed somewhere that thought that 3ft floppy green plastic netting would stop dogs from escaping – hahaha! I think that was the place where the shower was the merest dribble and I couldn’t wash my hair.
After a while, all these places that say they are dog friendly start to merge into one big mess of not properly fenced, and not really dog friendly!
One place we stayed in Wales had great fencing, but oh the most awful beds in the world. I could barely move every morning when I woke up. Not what you want on holiday really is it. Plus what’s the deal with putting Great Aunt Maud’s old ornaments on the window sill?
When I go on holiday with my dogs, I want to stay in a place that is nicer than where I live at home! I want character, safety, comfort and a bit of luxury – is that too much to ask? I want matching crockery that isn’t chipped, and I want a choice of glasses to drink from, I want knives and forks that match, and I don’t want to sit on someone’s Granny’s old sofa just because it’s leather and dog hair won’t stick to it.
Also – plastic flowers. Just don’t!
Fast forward again, to 2008 – and someone called Sue Allen popped up on a lurcher forum I was also on, and her and her other half had been doing up their property called The Old Piggery – and – it sounded and looked pretty good! it was properly dog friendly, it had a wall and fences and a nice big yard, and nice sofas, and beds that looked comfy, and we’d never been to Norfolk before! by this time I think we had 5 dogs and there was no worries about bringing them all with us. So July 2008 we went to Norfolk for our first of many visits!
What a revelation – a truly beautiful property, which really was (and still is) properly dog friendly! thank goodness for that. Comfy sofas, a good telly that worked, and a DVD player with a huge selection of DVDs too (because sometimes we just like to slob around and watch movies when we’re on holiday!). Matching glasses, crockery and cutlery – phew! Beds that didn’t give me backache, and the dogs were allowed in the bedroom too. Proper dog friendly. Sue went on to expand her empire and now East Ruston Cottages has 20+ properties, all within the same area of Norfolk and ALL of them are properly dog friendly – and they are all beautiful. We went on to stay at The Old Piggery I think 14 or 15 times over the next 6 years and became great friends with Sue and Dermot.
Norfolk really is so dog friendly, the beaches are brilliant and most of them are open all year round for dogs. Pubs are all dog friendly, lots of cafes are dog friendly. Plus, there aren’t that many people there in general, so it’s really quiet. Compared to Cornwall which is heaving in peak times, Norfolk is deserted! bliss!
In 2014 we inherited some money, and decided to invest it in a property in Norfolk – and we asked Sue Allen if she would manage it for us and together we could make it the dog friendliest place ever! starting from scratch is so amazing because you can make the property exactly the way it needs to be! and as you’ve probably gathered from the above, I am rather fussy! (in a good way obvs). There was a property on the market called White Cottage, it seemed to tick all the boxes so we went to view it and totally fell in love! The big tick boxes were – full of character – tick, no close neighbours – tick, huge back garden – tick, hard flooring – tick, walk to the beach – tick. We had our offer accepted, exchanged in the October, fenced in the parking area, and had our first guests in December! since then it’s been fully booked!
Big important points for me – safe garden, safe parking – being able to drive up to the house, shut the gates and let multiple dogs out – I can’t be doing with putting the dogs on leads after they’ve been in the car for ages. Then there’s another gate into the garden and this has a bolt on it too. It’s windy in Norfolk – gates do blow open – plus, we have a lot of reactive dogs who stay and we want you to feel safe knowing that no one is going to waltz into the garden! Big grass garden – nothing for sighthounds to run into! There’s no front door onto the road, so entry to the house is round the back. Which incidentally is where the warm water hose is so you can wash off sandy paws (or dog forbid if a dog rolls in a dead seal!). Into the big conservatory to dry off – tiled floors everywhere.
The kitchen is fully equipped – and of course matching crockery (cafe style chunky white plates) and glasses (again cafe style) – if anything is chipped, it’s binned! there’s a dishwasher, a washing machine, two fridges and a freezer (we raw feed our dogs). A utility room – handy if like us, you need to feed one dog (spaniel !) separately from the others!
The living room has wooden floorboards, leather furniture, a brilliant TV with sound bar and a huge collection of DVDs.
All of our art has been carefully selected by yours truly and nearly all of it features dogs (or hares)!
(Art by Anna Wilson-Patterson)
Upstairs, the beds are actually comfortable, really really comfortable. I never want to get up! Last year we put in one of those big walk in showers, it’s awesome and I can wash my hair properly! Everything in the house, has been carefully thought out, for maximum comfort and aesthetic pleasure. It’s basically my dream house, that we let out to lovely people with their dogs. We have an amazing team of cleaners, gardeners, handymen etc, who keep the cottage in awesome shape. Sue of course, keeps getting in all the bookings – we have a very high percentage of repeat bookings, it’s very usual for guests to email while they are staying and re-book for the following year, or the year after.
(view of White Cottage from the cliffs)
Since our initial holidays with our dogs, things have improved massively in the dog friendly holiday market, there are lots more properly dog friendly places but I think you still have to search for them. There’s still a lot of the ‘only two small dogs allowed’ and ‘dogs not allowed upstairs’ stuff going on. Note to property owners – that ^ – is not dog friendly! it’s barely dog tolerant! Also for those property owners who worry people with dogs won’t take care of their properties – in our experience that simply isn’t true. Dog people are so happy to stay somewhere lovely they take great care of it.
If you’ve stayed somewhere amazing with your dogs we would love to hear about it, we’d also love to hear from you if you’ve been to White Cottage!
PS I’ll be doing some doggy photoshoots while I’m at White Cottage in June, blog to follow!Read More
When people find out that I photograph the cover stars for Dogs Today and Dogs Monthly magazines every month, the question I’m most often asked, is how do we choose the dogs who are featured?
So here’s how! Lots of the cover stars have a story that we’re covering in the magazine. Take Finn for example, I’m sure most of you know who he is. Finn is a now ex police dog, who was stabbed in the chest and head back in October 2016. Luckily for Finn he survived thanks to the quick actions of his owner Dave and the wonderful vets who took care of him. Finn was one of my most memorable shoots, he is way more than a cover star, Finn and his people are going to change the law, to help protect our service dogs and police dogs. You can read more about him here on his website.
Last summer, I did a wonderful shoot with Karen Clifton (one of the Strictly dancers) and her gorgeous Romanian rescue dog Betty. It’s always good to feature celebs who adore their dogs, and Karen is devoted to hers. Karen was such a pro cover star, and Betty acted like she’d been doing this all her life! Since we did the shoot, Karen’s added another gorgeous rescue dog to her family. You can follow them here on Instagram!
Then there was Marcel LeCorgi, the Royal Cover Star! Those of you on Instagram will no doubt know him, he has a huge following! Marcel’s cover was for the Queen’s Birthday so that’s why we chose him for that month, including his Union Jack bandana! Instagram is a big thing nowadays isn’t it, lots of dogs have their own Instagram accounts and we’ve had a few of the Insta famous dogs here for shoots including Anuko the notoriously grumpy Husky!
Last year a couple of the covers were extra special for me, as my own little English setter puppy Hobson was a double cover star, well there has to be some job perks doesn’t there?! firstly he was featured on Dogs Monthly when he was only 9 weeks old, and then later on in the year on Dogs Today when he was about 10 months old. I’m immensely proud of him, he’s a wonderful dog in so many ways, super handsome of course, and such a kind gentle boy, as well as being ridiculously amusing!
and the fully grown version!
We do like to feature more unusual breeds as cover stars, especially on Dogs Monthly, recently there’s been a Curly Coated Retriever, and an Italian Greyhound puppy. I searched for the Curly puppy as I’d met some adults at Crufts and they really are amazing, and luckily through various doggy contacts I found someone with a puppy who was willing to come up to my studio in Surrey for a shoot. The Italian Greyhound puppy Cora, belongs to a dog trainer friend. Puppies are often featured of course due to the cute factor! and oldies too, we do love a grey whiskery face!
So as you can see, it’s pretty random. They are all special, and everyone has their favourite cover stars! I’m excited to see what we come up with each time, where they come from and what their story is! If you have a really unusual dog, or an amazing story, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact me at email@example.com.
I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that one of my images has been chosen for the Royal Photographic Society International Print Exhibition 159. Last year I was absolutely over the moon to have an image selected – so to repeat the experience is just incredible! There are thousands of entries from across the world to be part of this prestigious exhibition and only 100 selected.
The exhibition is open from the 14th – 18th October as part of the Photoblock exhibition, and it’s at the Old Truman Brewery, Ely’s Yard, Drey Walk, London, E1 6QR. After that the exhibition tours the UK. Entry is free, so please do go along and have a look and let me know what you think!
As well as this exciting news, I’ve been continuing to work with my private clients and shoot some incredible dogs and cats, and also my work with both Dogs Today and Dogs Monthly magazines has been great fun – various types of dogs every month, including winners from the DogFest competition!
Here’s a sneak peek at the latest two covers for July, they’re out later this week in the shops.
This is Goya, he’s an English setter who was rescued from Spain. More of his story in the magazine. As you know, I’m rather fond of English setters, so this was a pretty special shoot for me, Goya is utterly adorable and I might have spent rather too long just talking to him and telling him how handsome he is!
This is Doodee. Gorgeous Doodee was rescued from a meat crate in Thailand.It seems unbelievable doesn’t it really that people still eat dogs, thank goodness someone rescued lovely Doodee, we had a brilliant shoot, Doodee’s dog parents are such lovely warm people who care so much about their dogs.
I’ve just done one of the shoots for next month (August), we work pretty far ahead, it’s hard to keep track sometimes, and next week I’m shooting two more dogs for magazine covers as well. Exciting, and one of them is a bit of a social media star too!
I’ve had some wonderful clients here for portrait sessions too, you might have seen on my Facebook page
Last week saw Ralph French Bulldog, Shyla Kelpie and Diva the Dobermann come for a shoot together! sometimes shooting three dogs together can be a bit of a challenge but these three were such superstars it was a breeze!
In the next few weeks the fabulousness of Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick’s DogFest is happening again, and I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be photographing the winners of the doggy Supermodel competitions. Have a look here on the DogFest website for more info.
Finally, I have some wonderful new framed prints up in my study so that my clients can actually view real life samples of the high quality wall art that I can provide. It makes such a difference when you can see and feel the products, I have some acrylic blocks too and also a superb photo book sample too. Please do get in touch if you’d like to chat further about having your dogs photographed, it’d be my pleasure to meet with you all.
That’s all for now,
I’m going to tell you a little about how I work in my studio with dogs who are anxious and nervous. (Generally it’s easier in a studio with an anxious dog as there aren’t lots of other things to worry them and we can control the environment more easily.)
My other job is at Dog Communication, I working alongside my colleague Laura and we’re very used to being around anxious dogs and dogs with social issues. In the case of having dogs into my studio, we only have to worry about dogs liking people (specifically me!) as there are never any other dogs around. (My dogs are always in a different part of my house when I have clients here).
I’m guessing a few photographers are going to read this, as well as dogparents of anxious dogs, wondering if their anxious dog might be ok at a photoshoot.
So here’s how I start. I always ask in advance, when I’m talking or emailing with my client, if the dog has any kind of issues and if they are ok with new people, slippery floors, people pointing a camera at them – and a few more general questions. I should point out that the studio floor isn’t that slippery but to a dog with anxiety issues, it only takes one thing and they won’t want to even come into the room. So if I know a dog is worried, I’ll put some rugs down on the floor. I shut the studio door, and I always have a radio on too.
When a new dog comes into my studio, I tend to encourage the dogparent to let them off the lead and let the dog just wander around, while I’m sorting out the background paper. I generally use a background known as seamless paper, it’s a huge roll of paper, and I have three hanging up on the wall at the back of my studio. I do this fiddling around so that the dogs can watch me, and get used to me moving around them without any pressure. I don’t wear shoes either, so I’m not stomping around. We’re just chatting about the dog/s and I’m slowly moving around the room setting up the background – this also involves me kneeling on the floor to tape down the end of the paper – another easy way for a dog to come and sniff me. I’m always talking in a gentle slow happy voice, and generally just explaining to the dogparent what we’re going to do.
I always have my lights in place before the dogs arrive. Two softboxes, one 36” and one 24”. I try my very best not to move them around once the dogs are there and if I do, I would only move them backwards or forwards – very slowly. With a lot of anxious dogs I only use one softbox (the bigger one, it’s a 36″ octagon). I use speedlights in my softboxes so they are fairly quiet but there is a recharge beeping noise which some dogs might be wary of.
More lights does not necessarily mean better images. Remember, if you’re a photographer reading this, it’s your skill as a photographer that makes the image what it is.
So, the dog is now in the studio, I’ve set up the seamless paper background and my light is in place. I’ve already instructed the dogparents to bring special high value food treats and favourite toys with them. Now’s the time we get the goodies out! With the dog still wandering around the room not in any particular place – we need to desensitise the dog to the flash.
Everyone says “Oh my dog is fine with the camera flash on my camera or my phone” but this is not the same as your compact camera! A big black and white shape on a stand which gives out a big flash, is nothing like your compact camera – or heaven forbid, your phone camera!!!
I purposely do not point my camera at the dog. I point my camera to the floor and fire the flash – and at that exact same moment, the dogparent gives the dog a yummy treat and we praise the dog too. We do this as many times as is necessary until the dog is happy with the flash. With most dogs this is about 10 times on average. Some dogs once or twice and clearly they aren’t bothered – other dogs take longer.
Gradually I move the camera up towards my face, and gradually the dogparent lures the dog onto the background paper. The dogparent always always ‘works’ the dog for me. I rarely get involved unless it’s very quickly to show the dogparent how to get the dog in the right position. I would never physically move a dog anyway and would always lure them into position using food. Always. Remember it only takes one thing for an anxious dog to withdraw and you’ve lost them for the rest of the shoot. So do not rush the process. If you (or their dogparent) push, pull or stress them in any way, you’re done, finito. It will show in the photos too. Better to get 5 amazing shots than 30 shots of a dog looking anxious and stressed. There is no rush. Make the time to do it right.
I’m not going to go over all the ways I get their attention and the poses etc as that’s for another blog, this is just about the emotional response I want to achieve with dogs during the shoot.
Lots of little breaks are necessary, don’t just keep on shooting. Every 2 or 3 shots we’d reward, and maybe every 7 shots we’d stop for a couple of minutes. They might need a drink, they might need to pop outside for a pee, and it’s good to just sit and chat sometimes. I’m going to show you some images from last week’s shoot with Bets and Jerry, two street dogs from Romania. They were very nervous when they arrived. With the help of their wonderful dogparents and lots of yummy treats, within about 40 minutes they both fell asleep on the background paper, which although not quite what we had in mind, was actually really lovely as they were super comfortable with the situation. We got about 20 awesome images, which is less than I usually get, but I wasn’t going to get these two at all stressed out.
Obviously this image below was my absolutely favourite from the whole shoot, both dogs looking to camera looking totally relaxed. (you can click on the photos to make them bigger.)
Lovely eye contact from Bets in this head shot.
Jerry also looking straight into the lens, what a good boy.
Some more images below of dogs who are generally anxious in their day to day lives.
Little Basil was quite a worrier but fine in my studio.
Vince, below, who gets very worried around people he doesn’t know.
Anxious Nina the Otterhound, whose Mum was very worried she wouldn’t cope, she was absolutely fine.
Mavis on the left, not good with strangers usually. What a star she was!
Two of my images have been shortlisted for the Royal Photographic Society International Print Exhibition so I’ve been fiddling around a lot with print sizes and paper types, trying to be sure which papers suit my two shortlisted images the best. That’s all finally sorted out now, and I’ll find out mid August if my two images are in the 100 final exhibition images. These are the two I entered, one shot at Crufts, and one in my studio, both quite different I guess, but both of course featuring dogs! Which one do you prefer – I do have a favourite but I’m not telling you which one it is!
If you’ve seen the new edition of Surrey Life Magazine, you might have spotted the article featuring myself, and my friends Nikki Weeks-Taylor from Epsom Canine Rescue and Colin Skeaping ex-stuntman! Did you see the cover photo too, the wonderful lavender fields in Woodmansterne, beautiful, but not really a safe place to photograph dogs, because of all the bees – hence why I haven’t taken any dogs there for a shoot. As always, safety is paramount!
Two more of my photos are front covers this month as well (I have been busy!), Dogs Today’s August edition and Dogs Monthly September edition – love them both, both super gundogs and beautiful.
This week my three new Renaissance backdrops have arrived from the States! I’ve only done one test shoot so far with beautiful Tilly the chihuahua but I think it’s safe to say I’ll be using these gorgeous backdrops rather a lot. I did have to get the iron out (a very rare occurrence for me!), as they arrived folded up. The images give the impression of a beautiful painting behind the dog as you can see, I’m so pleased with them, I’ve been looking for backdrops like this for simply ages! Keep an eye on my Facebook page to see the third backdrop as I haven’t shot it yet. It’s so rainy here today I might take one of the dogs into the studio later on and have a play.
I’m going to offer a special Renaissance portrait session for £125 including one 12”x8” fine art print on Museum Fine Art paper 280gsm (gorgeous very high quality art paper), for the month of August only. If you’d like to book a session, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.