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Windows to the soul: Why I focus on a dog’s eyes during a photo shoot

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    I’m obsessed with Bella’s eyes.

    When she was a puppy and young adult, they were bright yellow, on fire all the time. They were so intense and when anyone, including me, violated her boundaries, she would flash what I have called her “fuck off eyes.”

    Maremma sheepdog Bella stares into camera with fiery eyes

    I’m pretty sure they were a warning sign that if I kept pressing, I might not like the next line of self-defense.

    As she enters her senior years – she turns 10 on March 24 and when the hell did that happen?!? — her eyes are starting to soften.

    They’re darker in hue but lighter in intensity.

    Take a long, deep look

    During a photo shoot, I will often instruct you to look into your dog’s eyes.

    It’s a moment for you to connect.

    And it’s a moment for me to see you being authentically you with your dog. Because I know you’re looking all the way in, losing yourself in your dog’s eyes and feeling all the feels.

    a woman engages with her rescue dog during a photo shoot
    Susan and Panda

    Because if you weren’t the type of person to stare into your dog’s eyes and feel all the feels, you never would have looked for and found me for your dog’s portrait photography.

    You found me because you love your dog that damn much.

    Get high on your dog’s eyes

    These small moments with our dogs, whether I’m coaching you through a photo shoot or you’re hanging out with your dog at home or on the trail, they make us feel so good.

    Why?

    Dogs help us ridiculously stressed-out humans relax.

    Azula, a black boxer, poses during her portrait session in the woods at Riverside State Park
    Azula

    There’s science behind it.

    More than a few research studies have revealed emotional, psychological and cognitive benefits of hanging out with our dogs. We experience boosts of energy, more positive emotions and a lowered risk for memory loss.

    The most recent study, out of Konkuk University in Seoul, Korea, aimed to find out how that all happens, measuring brain activity and asking participants about their emotions.

    First author Onyoo Yoo, a doctoral student in biology, and her colleagues observed all kinds of big-word changes in the brain as their subjects walked dogs, played with dogs and groomed dogs.

    Bottom line: They felt less depressed after giving belly rubs to a poodle.

    What I see during a photo shoot

    As a professional dog photographer, I get to have an intimate relationship with your dog, even in the short amount of time we spend together.

    I love looking into their eyes, connecting with them and understanding them. They aren’t going to tell me their deepest, darkest secrets but we are going to become fast friends.

    (Caveat: Not all dogs like eye contact right away. It’s on me to figure out which dogs trust me quickly and which ones want their space. Your dog’s comfort and safety are top priorities.)

    The eyes are, as the old adage goes, the windows to the soul. They show us who a being is, what they’re feeling – and they are a big point of focus in my work.

    shelter dog at Companions Animal Center in Hayden, Idaho, looks up into the camera in search of a treat

    The eyes:

    • Establish an emotional connection: They are the most expressive feature of any being, and seeing those eyes – whether in person or in an image or print on the wall – creates a direct bond with the viewer, evoking feelings of love and companionship, comfort and safety.
    • Show off the personality: Every dog, just like humans, has unique traits that shine through their eyes. A playful sparkle, a soul gaze or straight-up fuck off eyes like Bella’s, the eyes show us their individual charm.
    • Tell their story: The eyes are one of the most important ways our dogs communicate with us. After all, they can’t talk (and if they could, I’m pretty sure Bella would yak my ears off). We can see joy, fear, stress, sadness and so much more in their eyes if we choose to learn how to see it.

    By focusing on the eyes and making sure they are sharp, clear and filled with your dog’s personality, I can draw you into the image and further cement that incredible bond you already have.

    The eyes are also an integral part of my job during the photo shoots I do for the Companions Animal Center in Hayden, Idaho.

    I volunteer my photography skills there to help the shelter dogs and cats find new homes and families.

    A clear focus on the eyes helps potential adopters connect with the animal on an emotional level. A bright eye on a dog can communicate trust, vulnerability and a longing for companionship.

    a shelter dog's eyes pierce through your soul at Companions Animal Center in Hayden, Idaho
    Simba’s eyes helped him get adopted and become Frankie

    It also helps humanize the pet. When humans see a dog with clear, soulful eyes, they’re likely to see her as a being with feelings and personality, rather than just another sad shelter dog invoking strains of Sarah McLachlan.

    Side note: Sarah, thank you for Fumbling Towards Ecstasy and Surfacing which invoked an emotional part of 20-something me but those ASPCA ads can fuck all the way off for the trauma they induce.

    What do you see?

    When I ask you, sweet human, sister dog mama, to look into their eyes, I might also ask you to tell me what you see.

    It’s an intimate moment, though, and a moment that may be better kept as a secret between the two of you. It’s OK if you want to keep that to yourself.

    I want you to see the power of the connection you have together, not just by the act of looking into his eyes but also by seeing the image my eye creates.

    Because there’s more to this dog photography gig than showing up to a pretty location with a fancy-ass camera. There’s understanding and appreciating that powerful, all-encompassing love you feel when you look at your dog.

    Without seeing that, I won’t do the job I want to do for you.

    And do you know why I want so badly for you to see this?

    Because I have it with her:

    a Maremma sheepdog and her guardian, professional dog photographer, Angela Schneider share a special, intimate moment
    My Magic Moment

    And I don’t want you to miss out.

    Author

    Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

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