‘Capturing dogs being dogs’: Jennifer Carroll exhibits photos at library

Oct 14, 2022

The Elizabeth Taber Library is bringing back its ‘Artist of the Month’ program, where the works of local artists will be displayed in the front entryway of the library. Kicking off the series is Marion photographer, Jennifer Carroll, who specializes in dog photography. Her works are displayed in the library now through the end of November.

Library trustee Laura Dadagian-O’Rourke was captivated by Carroll’s works and interviewed her about her work, her process and what she loves about photography.

At our recent Trustee meeting at the Elizabeth Taber Library, I was thoroughly distracted by Local Artist Jennifer Carroll’s Art Exhibit which covers the entire front wall: Photographs of Dogs. Big dogs. Small dogs. Running dogs. Splashing dogs. Sitting dogs. Dogs. Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, notes that “Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”

Jennifer Carroll knows how to listen.

Dog photographer Jennifer Carroll is the current Elizabeth Taber Library Artist of the Month, and library patrons are giving her rave reviews. She is a dog lover who has been photographing dogs “for as long as she can remember.” Captivated by her photographs and curious about her career, I sat down with her to learn a little more about her path to becoming a dog photographer, and how she does it.

Elizabeth Taber Library: How would you describe your style in a few words?

Jennifer Carroll: Outdoor, hands-on, candid.

ETL: Where do you get inspiration to create your images?

JC: I follow many dog and pet photography sites on Instagram and Facebook that are a great source of inspiration. I also belong to a few organizations where I am able to share my work in order to get some new ideas or constructive criticism.”

ETL: How long have you been a dog photographer?

JC: Unofficially, most of my life. When I started my dog walking business, I tried to separate myself from other dog walkers by sending consistent, fun, candid images of my dogs to their owners. I finally decided to do this 'for real' when my dog walking clients, who have been huge supporters, pushed me to take this to the next level. My mentor, Cindy Ko of Cindy Ko photography, was instrumental in teaching me the business side of this profession and guiding me through the process.

LD: Do you currently have pets of your own?

JC: I have a little rescue dog named Shorty who is a shepherd mix from Arkansas. She gets along with all dogs and people and is my rock and partner in all of this. She is also my favorite model and will jump "up" on almost anything I ask and pose for me.

LD: Do you have a personal shooting style?

JC: I love capturing dogs being dogs, and moments that are true to their nature. Many of my photos are action shots of dogs playing in water, running and chasing each other, outdoors in nature. I may have a studio one day, but that is not a natural environment for them. I love to capture personalities, so I try to fit my shoots into their daily routine. I try to edit in a way that highlights the dog. If you look at my images, there is a definite theme to my tones and images.

ETL: Do you have a favorite location to photograph dogs?

JC: I love capturing dogs running through water. Mary's Pond in Rochester got very low this year which allowed for some amazing water/splashing images. I'll have someone throw a ball over my head and catch the dogs splashing towards me. I also get some great facial expressions this way. I also love the beach and hiking trails, especially now with the leaves changing. There are so many different opportunities in the woods in our area.

ETL: What’s your creative process like?

JC: I am always thinking about composition and lighting; I say this as a photographer–I am essentially always looking through a lens. Any time I am outdoors, I notice little things like the lighting, natural frames and colors. I also really listen to what my clients envision and will 'see' a location and opportunity before I do a photo shoot. I am meeting a woman next week up in Boston who told me a bit about her 2 small dogs, and I have already pictured exactly where and how I want to capture their images.

ETL: What skills do you think are required to be a good photographer of this kind?

JC: Patience and a love of animals. You also have to have a good handle on dog behavior. I need to use a longer lens for dogs who are shy, nervous, or just uncomfortable around strangers or the camera. With other dogs, I use my 35mm lens, stick them in a tree or bush and take a close-up. Ideally, I will meet the animal first and get to know him or her prior to scheduling the photo session.

ETL: Do you have any tricks to keep your dog subjects interested in the process?

JC: The most important thing for me is to have my equipment and settings all set before I get to the session. Dogs do not have long attention spans, so I can't be wasting time fiddling around with my camera. String cheese and squeakers are great at grabbing a dog's attention. I keep the sessions fun and always reward the dog after each shot. Play, shoot, reward. Play, shoot, reward. When the dog gets tired, uncomfortable or uninterested, the session is over.

ETL: What’s the most challenging dog photography project that you have had to take up? And how did you tackle it?

JC: I belong to an organization called The Tilly Project. We offer end-of-life sessions for animals who are sick and dying from either old age or illness. These sessions can be the most rewarding, but are also very difficult. They inevitably bring back memories of losing my own dogs. But my ability to capture beautiful images for these families to remember their beloved pets makes it worthwhile.

ETL: How do you capture emotion in your subjects?

JC: It is very easy to capture a dog's emotion as an outdoor candid photographer because basically I am allowing the dog to play and live his/her best life, and just snapping away as this happens.