As the name implies, the Dog Portrait Project artfully captures the true essence of dogs being dogs. The resulting portrait photographs fall somewhere between endearingly awkward and straight-up silly, as the dogs pout, grin and wag their tongues at the camera. The lensman behind the endeavor is Chad Dennis, a local photographer who has become something of a canine portrait expert. Mostly shot close-up, each portrait brims with intimacy and, often, humor. The Dog Portrait Project will eventually culminate in an exhibition and art book. In the meantime, I sat down with Dennis and found out how he stumbled upon the concept and mastered portrait photography.
Davi: Tell me a bit about yourself.
Chad Dennis: I have been a professional photographer for the last eight years and have been fortunate enough to work nationally and internationally with clients like the United Nations, Revlon, Mayo Clinic, World Golf Hall of Fame, Hart Dairy and the NFL.
When did the idea for the dog portrait project come about?
Every summer I like to craft a personal project that becomes a gallery exhibition and coffee table book. My projects include an exhibit on the stigma of mental illness, a show portraying the lives of surfers, seasoned and fledglings, and most recently, I created a series of second-generation Holocaust survivors. The dog project was a way for me to challenge myself as a portrait photographer since dogs respond to the camera differently than people. Plus I love dogs. Everyone loves dogs.
How did most dogs react during the shoot?
Most dogs responded well. The hardest part is having them settle down on the platform. There are occasional dogs that can’t sit or won’t relax. I just take my time and try to distract them using treats and toys. Ultimately, I reach a point where they are willing to let me put a camera in front of their faces and pop off lights around them in an unfamiliar place.
Were you looking for any particular breed or personality for the models?
No. Each dogs’ unique personality is what attracts me to them. They are all very different and that’s worth celebrating.
You really manage to capture the character and spirit of each dog. What’s your secret?
Patience. Dogs are unpredictable. So, I must be quick enough to capture the spirit of the moment, but patient to wait for that moment to come.
Tell me more about the book.
The goal is a full-color, hardcover coffee table book that represents each dog and their story. Clean and simple.
How would you describe your style?
Dramatic, cinematic, honest and raw. I’m not trying to create fake images. I want to make every photograph feel intimate and natural.
What’s the one question you get asked the most?
People often ask how I capture images that look almost three-dimensional. I say it’s all about lighting and creating dimension.
From tiny pups to bounding hounds, Dennis’ growing collection of dog portraits captures the unique personalities of canine friends that he’s met around Northeast Florida. The uplifting series is a loving tribute to all dogs.