Holiday How-To: Pet Portrait Tips With The Dogist

December 11, 2017

“Never work with children or animals,” said the late, great W.C. Fields.

As anyone who has ever stood behind a camera can attest, it’s solid advice. And yet photographer Elias Weiss Friedman—aka “The Dogist”—chose to defy it on both counts. His new book of portraits, “The Dogist Puppies,” features page after page of rambunctious little labs, squishy-nosed bulldogs, and all manner of mischievous mutts.

“Puppies are difficult,” admits Elias, 29, of his latest subjects. “They don’t have much of an attention span, they don’t know how to sit, they sleep 23 hours a day. You have to use all your tricks to get them to pay attention to you.”

If anyone’s up for the job, it’s Elias. Since launching @TheDogist four years ago, he’s photographed thousands of dogs and racked up almost 3 million Instagram followers. Despite the project’s viral popularity and Elias’ natural knack for connecting with man’s best friend, it’s a career he never saw coming.

“As a kid, I didn’t know ‘dog photographer’ was an option,” says Elias, who grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia but now calls New York home. “But a few years ago, I was let go from my job, and I started telling dog stories on the Internet—and I guess I just haven’t stopped.”

The Internet, of course, is full of dog photos, but Elias sets his apart with short, snappy biographies that provide fans a little peek into his subjects’ lives. Take, for example, Nala, a 4-month-old English bulldog: “She’s trying to learn to sleep at night, so we don’t sleep anymore,” reports her owner.

Or Cody, a miniature Australian shepherd still learning his manners: “He loves biting everything, so we call him a piranha.”

And we couldn’t forget Bamba, a 4-month-old Pomeranian with some interesting housekeeping techniques: “She likes chewing towels and chasing the vacuum.”

Here, just in time for your holiday portraits, Elias shares his top tips for photographing four-legged family members.

Get On Their Level
In a world overrun with dog photos, what makes The Dogist stand out? There’s something incredibly intimate about the portraits, as if you’re being personally invited into each dog’s world. The secret, says Elias, is getting up close and personal. “I always wear kneepads—I’m kind of a human tripod,” he says. “I get down on their level so they think of me not as a human with a camera, but as a strange, one-eyed animal.”

Don’t Be Above Bribes
As all dog owners know, there are two fool-proof ways to command undivided attention: treats and toys. Elias uses both to elicit the soulful puppy eyes The Dogist is known for.  “I wear a lot of cargo pants—one pocket is for tennis balls, one for biscuits,” he says. “Only you will know that your dog is staring lovingly at a squeaky toy.”

Practice Your Dog Voice

You know that silly, high-pitched voice you use around your dog? He likes it—in fact, he’s trained you to use it—so be prepared to ask “Who’s a good boy?!?” over and over. Elias also suggests whining like a squeaky puppy—it’ll get your dog’s attention, and might even bring about the classic puppy head tilt.

Upgrade Your Equipment

If you’re really serious about snapping professional-grade pup pics, consider investing in a quality camera. Elias uses a super-speedy Nikon D5, perfect for sports, kids, dogs, and other fidgety subjects. “It seems like they’re sitting there being good, but often it’s only a fleeting moment,” he says. “And really, you only need one moment.”

All images are excerpted from The Dogist Puppies by Elias Weiss Friedman (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2017. Photographs by Elias Weiss Friedman