2019 CHARITY CALENDAR PROJECT: LOOKING BACK
At the end of 2017 I set myself a challenge. I wanted to take on something that would push me creatively throughout the year, and give me the chance to raise money for my local animal shelter, Animals In Need. And so, my 2019 Charity Calendar project was born.
Fast forward to January 2019, and the calendar is now hanging in pride of place above my desk. With the help of 12 amazing dog models and the support of everyone who bought a calendar or helped spread the word, we raised an incredible £1,300 for Animals In Need!
And as a flipped over to February this morning, it struck me that people were actually only seeing a tiny portion of the photos that were captured throughout the project – 12 images out of more than a hundred! So I decided to pull together a few of the highlights from the year and share them here in The Journal – I hope you enjoy reading about each dog and the resulting images, as much as I did meeting and photographing them!
JANUARY – Elvis the St Bernard
If you met him today, you’d probably find it hard to believe that Elvis was ever this small, but even at less than a year old he was a giant! I figured a huge, fluffy St Bernard would be the perfect choice to represent the cold, wintery month of January (cue mental images of St Bernards trekking through the snowy alps), so you can imagine my mixed emotions when we turned up on the day of our shoot to the sunniest January afternoon I think I’ve ever witnessed! But we made the most of the sunshine, and Elvis posed like an absolute pro for me – making it almost impossible for me to choose just one image to grace the calendar!
FEBRUARY – Cooper the Mixed Breed
When February rolled round it brought with it some of the worst weather possible – little did we know we’d soon be meeting ‘The Beast from the East’ (remember that?). I had to reschedule Cooper’s session so many times due to the rain, and as we edged ever closer towards the end of the month, I simply had to suck it up and solider on. Luckily Cooper and his owners weren’t as phased by the drizzle as I was! Cooper was rescued from the streets of Bulgaria just a few years ago, and was still pretty wary of strangers (especially ones with big backpacks and scary clicking gadgets!) but his bond with his mum is so strong, she helped put him at ease and by keeping my distance and giving him plenty of space and time, we got some brilliant shots of Cooper to add to the calendar – in spite of the dreary weather!
MARCH – Lennox the American Bulldog
When Lennox’s mum contacted me about the calendar project, she was a little bit concerned about where we could go for their shoot. Lennox was a little unsure of other dogs, and sometimes having him on the lead increased his anxiety – we needed a place that was quiet and secure, where Lennox could be free to play, without worrying about surprise encounters from other canines. Luckily we found a secure field just outside of Northampton – it wasn’t the prettiest location I’d ever seen, but I did say that I wanted to push my creativity with this project! We took some time to get Lennox settled, and after a few minutes he was happily demonstrating his impressive sit and stay skills, as well as an incredibly amusing head tilt! I think Lennox did his mum proud, and it just goes to show that you can still achieve great photos in any location, as long as your dog is happy, safe and stress-free.
APRIL – Flash the Border Collie
Before we knew it, ‘The Beast from the East’ had fled and we welcomed spring with more unusual weather – luckily the late April/early May heatwave was much more enjoyable than the wind and the rain! I met Flash and his mum on a gloriously warm spring evening in the heart of Northampton. The blossoms were in full bloom and everything was starting come to life, after what felt like the longest winter ever. Not only was the weather perfect, but Flash was an absolute gem to work with. He has the classic Border Collie brains, and his mum has wasted no time in training him to an incredibly high standard – the bond and connection between them was so strong, and you could tell he was loving the work. It led to some beautiful photos, which made my life incredibly difficult when I had to choose just one for the calendar at the end of the year!
MAY – Wilfred the jack Russell Terrier
In May (my birthday month – yay!) I met the tiniest of my calendar models – Wilfred. But don’t let his size fool you, this little chap has personality in spades! We met at Abington Park in Northampton on another beautiful, warm evening, and Wilf quickly made himself at home in front of the camera. One of my favourite things about photographing small dogs, is how creative you can get with their placement – Wilfred posed in flowerbeds, on logs, and even on windowsills! The park can get quite busy when the weather is nice, so we kept him on his lead for most of the session. Luckily a bit of clever composition and Photoshop wizardry, and you’d never even know he was on a lead at all.
JUNE – Molly the Italian Spinone
Probably the most unusual breed I’ve photographed to date, Molly was every inch a superstar during her session. Her boundless energy proved a little challenging, and she was especially fond of going off in search of new and exciting smells, but we managed to catch some quiet moments with her too! With summer just around the corner, we’d also lucked out with the weather. In fact, the shade of the woods was a welcome retreat and created some beautiful light and bokeh that shaped the backdrop to a lot of the images.
JULY – Lola the Bichon Cross
Halfway there! And July was another hot one… But luckily little Lola took it all in her stride. We met at one of my favourite locations in Northampton, Harlestone Firs – just on the outskirts of town, this beautiful woodland has endless opportunities for photos, at any time of year. With the dry summer grass, thick ferns, and winding woodland paths, we got plenty of great shots, giving me another difficult decision when it came to choosing just one for the calendar!
AUGUST – Hugo the Golden Retriever
At this point I think I was starting to push my luck with the weather, and we only just managed to wrap up Hugo’s session before the heaven’s opened! Thankfully, we managed to get some awesome shots before the weather turned. We were back at Harlestone Firs, but this time took a slightly different route, which opened up some new shooting opportunities. Hugo was an absolute pro, only too happy to sit and stay wherever his mum asked. His beautiful golden coat was the perfect colour to match with the late summer foliage, blending with the tall grass and contrasting beautifully with the rich green bracken. Yet another tough choice for the calendar shot! In the end, I went with the purple hues of the early heather – something of a rarity in Northamptonshire, and I was really keen to inject some more colour into the variety of shots I’d already captured. And anyway, who can resist those beautiful eyes?
SEPTEMBER- Willow the Cocker Spaniel
Okay, this is where things get a little bit confusing. Willow was originally destined to be Miss October, and we shot her session right at the end of September. We had planned on getting some autumnal shots, but the evening was unseasonably sunny, and the golden hour sunshine was just too beautiful to pass up! Willow and her family travelled over to Delapre Abbey in the heart of Northampton – a gorgeous location, with photo opportunities around every corner. We made sure to capture some shots of Willow in action (look at that fur!) but as the sun went down I just had to make the most of the gorgeous light. And with that, Willow quickly became the face of September!
OCTOBER- Bobby the German Shepherd
Back on track now, Bobby’s session took place in mid-October, and by this point autumn was in full swing. Sadly, due to some judgemental people making negative comments about Bobby’s breed in the past (don’t even get me started), his mum was keen to find a quiet, secluded location where we could let him off lead without having to worry about encountering too many people. She’d done plenty of research and suggested a nearby pocket park near Moulton that was small, but mostly fenced off, and usually very quiet. It was perfect! Bobby had the time of his life running freely through the trees. Despite his size and young age, he was incredibly well-behaved, choosing to stick close to his family and patiently sitting and waiting on command. We couldn’t have asked for a better result, and hopefully the photos do justice to how much fun everyone had!
NOVEMBER- Fsmo the Shetland Sheepdog
We’re going slightly off track again now… Fsmo (that’s pronounced Fizmo for anyone wondering) was originally the poster boy for September – oops! But once I’d seen all of the photos together, there was one shot that I knew I had to use, and it just didn’t seem very… September-y. We headed back to Harlestone Firs for Fsmo’s session, and took a long trek through the woods. I’m pretty sure that Fsmo was born too be a model – not only is he an incredibly handsome little dog, he also seemed to love posing! He happily hopped up on logs and tucked himself neatly into the bracken, waiting patiently like a real pro. I really wanted to capture his calm demeanour and beautiful profile, and I think the shot I chose for the calendar sums that up perfectly, but we also had the opportunity to have some fun playing ball, as you’ll see below!
DECEMBER- Skye the Lurcher
Because I knew that I’d need to design, print and sell the calendar ahead of Christmas, I knew I couldn’t wait until December for Skye’s session – so we actually snuck her in at the beginning of January 2018 (in fact, she was the very first dog I shot for the calendar! Sneaky, sneaky). I don’t often get to photograph sighthounds, so Skye was a breath of fresh air. I just love her slender features and big, beautiful eyes! I definitely knew I needed to make a point of capturing those. This was also my first venture out to Salcey Forest, on the edge of Northampton. Despite being a cold, muddy day in early January, the forest was still buzzing with visitors, many of whom found it very amusing to discover a photographer lying flat on her stomach in the mud in the middle of the woods, making odd squeaky, barking noises! Skye took it all in her stride though, and the photos we got were a huge inspiration for me as I kick-started the project. Little did I know back in January, that we’d end up raising so much money for charity!
So there you have it! My year long adventure has reached its end. I met some amazing people and lovely dogs, each with their own unique personalities and stories to tell. It’s been a refreshing reminder of the strong bonds that we share with our dogs, and the dedication we put into earning their trust and giving them the best possible lives in return for their unwavering loyalty and affection. I know that every person I met during this project would go to the ends of the earth for their dogs, and it was an honour to be able to meet them all and capture even just a tiny glimpse of their lives together. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about them as much as I enjoyed photographing them, and enjoy looking through all of the photos.
Now, onto my next adventure!
FINE ART DOG PHOTOGRAPHER | NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, EAST MIDLANDS, UK AND BEYOND