How'd you get that job: Photographer Amanda Jones finds her niche among man's best friend
After a long day of work, there's nothing like coming home to your best friend waiting by the door with their tail wagging, eyes wide and ears flopping as they jump up to greet you. It's that kind of joy that Amanda Jones tries to capture in each of her photos. She understands the connection between dogs and their human friends and knows that they're more than just a pet, they're a member of the family.
"It's that kind of love for dogs that enables me to do what I do," said Jones, a North Adams-based professional photographer who's been capturing images of man's best friend for more than 20 years. She's published six books — including her newly released "Unleashed."
What keeps her going back to the same subject matter? She recalls a friend for whom she once did a portrait. Although his dog has been gone for eight years, the photo of his Ruby is still hanging in his entry way to this day.
"The joy these photos bring [pet owners] for years it's remarkable to me."
From weddings to tennis balls
Photographing and working with dogs all day sounds like a dream come true, and Jones can confirm it is. She loves connecting with other dog owners and learning about what makes their furry friends special. However, Jones didn't always have a job as a dog photographer — actually, there was a time she wasn't a dog owner.
Jones was a portrait and wedding photographer in Maine until 1994, when she and her husband moved to San Francisco, Calif. Inspired by this new beginning, Jones told her husband she no longer wanted to photograph people and although at the time she wasn't sure what it was she wanted to do, she assured him she would find something.
She worked as an assistant in a photographer's studio, which allowed her regular use of the studio on the weekends. One weekend, Jones invited a few of her friends with dogs to come in for a photo shoot.
"It was the best day," she said. And that's when it hit her: "What about dogs?"
Although she was hesitant at first, she was determined to try.
While walking through a pet store one day, Jones noticed the back walls of the store were plain white, so she asked the manager if she could hang up some of her photographs to make the walls more appealing. They allowed her to hang the pet posters, which were several feet long, as well as her business card. She got several calls the next day and found that there was, indeed, a strong market for pet photography.
More than 20 years later, she has been photographing dogs ever since.
Getting to know the subject
The majority of Jones' photos are square, due to the mechanics of her camera, and feature a collar-less dog with a simple white background. Jones does not use props or pose the dogs, but rather works to capture their natural personality and emotions as the focus of the photo, whether they are playful, sleepy, shy or an endless ball of energy with floppy ears.
While she can't tell a dog to smile and say cheese, she says using squeaky toys and treats are good motivators to bring the dogs interest near the camera lens.
"I get to know the animal and talk to the owner to learn what motivates them and what do they like to do," Jones said. She said sometimes being in a new area can be scary for the dog, and sometimes the background paper can be slippery under their paws. "Some dogs are completely comfortable when they come in, and some like getting treats, playing with toys or just being spoken to. We try to judge that and make them feel comfortable."
While Jones has photographed other animals, such as horses, birds and cats, she says their personalities don't shine through like a dog's does.
"There's no engagement with cats, whereas dogs dance and chase tennis balls," she said.
Behind the lens
Jones uses a Hassleblad camera to get the shots, a camera that her mother bought used and gave to her for a high school graduation present. It's originally a film camera, but modern adapter attachments allow it to take digital photos, using a memory card instead of film. She has been shooting digital since 2005. The camera's design allows Jones to look down through the viewfinder at her subjects in front of her so that the camera angle can capture her models on their level while they sit or play on the floor. The camera lens has a manual focus, which means it won't automatically find and focus on a subject like many digital cameras today will. Jones must constantly refocus the lens to be sure her photos come out sharp.
Although Jones also owns DSLR cameras, she says she wouldn't be able to do what she does without using her Hassleblad. Using a typical digital camera would mean Jones would have to be flat on her stomach to get her shots, which makes it difficult to move and follow her moving subjects. The Hassleblad allows her to crouch down low while still being mobile.
In a typical shoot day, Jones schedules five sessions back to back, each an hour and a half long. For $1,500 a session, she takes about 180 photos, which she later narrows down to 120. Along with a CD of low-res photos, each photo is printed as a large thumbnail onto proof sheets for clients to look through and select their favorite one. The photos are kept on file for clients to order whenever they chose to, and they are printed right in the studio.
Books and beyond
Jones and her husband moved to the Berkshires in 2002. They wanted to raise their daughter in New England and her husband has family in North Adams. Jones had dreamed of someday owning a studio on the Mass MoCA campus, being surrounded by art and a creative atmosphere. She worked in a studio on Main Street until a space was available at MoCA in 2005, where she has been located ever since.
She is not only the head of Amanda Jones Photography, but also is the creator of The Dog Studio, a merchandise company launched in 2014, which features many different breeds of dogs she has photographed over the years. She currently has 132 greeting card designs and stationery items, as well as jewelry and portraits.
During the week, Jones typically does business work, answering emails, preparing sessions, going through receipts, cleaning the studio and taking her dogs for walks. Her family owns three dogs, Benny, Ladybug and Dobby, and each of them accompany Jones to her studio every day. Jones does a lot of traveling for work, typically to metropolitan areas, such as Boston, New York City, California, Texas, D.C, and more.
When she's not shooting, Jones says she's busy working on bigger projects. Three of her books are breed specific, featuring greyhounds, French bulldogs and dachshunds. Her fifth book, "Dog Years: Faithful Friends Then and Now," was inspired by her first dog, a long-haired dachshund, Lily. Jones photographed Lily throughout her life and compiled these images of Lily every few years next to each other into one photo.
Losing Lily was heartbreaking, but looking back at the photos gave Jones solace.
"I was looking for a silver cloud, something to make things better," she said. Jones shared these photos online, but never expected them to go viral. "I'd never had anything go viral before. Even websites in Hong Kong were interested. It touched a lot of people."
This lead Jones to think back to all of the dogs she photographed as puppies and how they're doing now. She looked back through her receipts and invoices, finding pet owners she worked with in the past and re-found her four-legged models. The dogs, now full grown, returned to the studio. In the end, the book, which Jones refers to as her "swan song," featured 35 dogs with a brief introduction written from an interview with the pet owner.
"They used to be so playful and now they're like grumpy old men," Jones laughed. "They have gray hair, and jowls and wrinkles they age the same way that humans do."
Jones said that while it was nice to reconnect with the dogs, it was also interesting to reconnect with the pet owners.
"Clients become friends," she said.
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