By John Benson
There’s no denying we live in the Golden Age of Animal Photography. Who hasn’t spent an hour at work watching funny animal videos and texting cat and dog memes or GIFs?
Ron Schmidt of Loose Leashes is one canine photographer that is particularly enjoying the zeitgeist creating memorable images that have captured the hearts of dog lovers around the globe.
“I’d say that my style is conceptual storytelling with a bit of humor,” said Schmidt, who calls Newburyport, Mass. home. “I want viewers to connect with my work. My images differ from other dog-animal photographs. They’re not portraits of dogs. They’re stories of dogs, and people who love dogs connect with that.”
Schmidt first discovered a love of photography at the age of 9 when his Uncle Russ gave him a Yashica camera for Christmas. Ironically, one of the first photos he took was of his collie, Nicki.
“I don’t know if a seed was planted way back then with dogs specifically,” Schmidt said. “I have always loved animals, and it just seemed natural to use my new camera to take pictures of wildlife around me such as city squirrels, birds, and my dog.
I think what was planted was a seed for the love of photography – capturing a moment on film with the 12 film exposures that my camera held.”
Schmidt remained interested in photography through high school. He eventually received a degree in Fine Art/Photography from the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California before moving to New York City where he assisted high-profile fashion and celebrity photographers.
“While working with models and actors was exciting, it really wasn’t where I saw myself going, so I started my own commercial studio,” Schmidt said.
At that point, the photographer was more interested in conceptual images. Then in 2004, Schmidt rediscovered an earlier, albeit fleeting, passion.
“I designed a holiday mailer featuring my yellow lab, Indy, in the woods, with an axe in her mouth and a small pine tree on her back,” Schmidt said.
“I received phenomenal feedback from my clients, and remember turning to my wife, Amy, and saying, ‘I think I’m onto something here.’ That was 17 years ago, and I am happy to say it’s still going strong.”
The aforementioned photo, aptly titled “Laberjack”, connected with people. That set in motion what eventually became Loose Leashes studio, which opened in 2006. A quick look around Loose Leashes’ website shows Schmidt’s genius. Whether it’s the playful puppy floating on a beach ball in a pool or two dogs wrapped in rope playing tug of war, the photographer’s work doesn’t seem staged as much as he’s just capturing a moment in time.
“There are many beautiful photos out there, but creating an image based on a creative concept adds a layer perspective and appreciation that I admire and strive to have in all of my photos,” Schmidt said.
“What’s really challenging is capturing that perfect moment. With people, it’s easier because you can ask them to tilt their head or give you certain expression. With a dog, you have to pull out all of the stops – from treats to crazy noises – to get what you need. I may take between 500 and 1,000 pictures at a photo shoot just to get one good expression. I’ve learned that patience pays off.”
In terms of compliments, Schmidt said his work touches all dog owners differently.
“We do get a lot of calls and messages from people who have lost a dog and were touched, inspired or comforted by one of my photos and the story that picture conveyed,” Schmidt said.
It should be noted that Schmidt donates a portion of Loose Leashes’ proceeds from all sales – his images can be found on products throughout stationery, home décor, apparel and publishing categories – to support pet shelters and animal welfare causes throughout the country.
Finally, for those avid photographers looking to intimately capture their dog, what’s the secret in taking a good photo?
“For me, it’s all about the concept,” Schmidt said. “If I feel I have a strong concept, then I know the photo will work. And, although the dogs in my photos are the focus, there are also elements in the big picture just as important – be it the right location or the perfect prop.”