Celebrated pet photographer Grace Chon freely admits that she’s always dressed up her two rescue dogs, Maeby Funke and Zoey, in silly costumes. But when she gave birth to her son Jasper, Chon began collecting cute hats to use as props in photographs of her baby boy.
When Grace placed a baby hat on the head of Zoey, a 7-year-old Formosan Mountain Dog, a new photography project-Zoey and Jasper-was born.
Chon published the Tumblr page earlier this year. The launch immediately incited squees from all over the Internet as people clamored to see the newest photos of the dog-human besties posing in their latest headwear.
We asked Chon to talk about her inspiration for the photo series and to share tips for taking your own stellar pet photos at home.
Pet360: What gave you the idea to start the Zoey and Jasper project?
Grace Chon: I've always dressed up my dogs in silly costumes, so naturally when I had a baby I started collecting some hats for photos. One day I put one on Zoey and I had the epiphany that baby hats look ridiculously adorable on dogs too! My sister had the brilliant idea of sitting them side-by-side in a photo. The response was immediate and I just kept going with it. I love my dogs fiercely (I'm a crazy dog lady through and through!) and it was really important to me that my dogs have a great relationship with Jasper. Zoey has exceeded my expectations as a big sister and I'm so glad I've found a fun activity that involves both of them!
Pet360: Where did you get all of the hats? Some of them are so crazy and cool!
Chon: I get them from all different places! Some are from online stores (like the aviator hats), some I pick up while I'm out shopping at the mall (like the New York hats), and some are handmade (like the funny pointy knit hats).
Pet360: How do you get Zoey to be so well behaved for the photo shoots?
Chon: She loves the camera! Usually when I work with dogs I have to use a lot of treats to keep them motivated and in their place. Zoey gets so excited when the props and camera come out. She goes running over to her place and sits very patiently-with no treats involved! After we're finished she gets lots of hugs and kisses and treats.
Pet360: What is the relationship like between Zoey and Jasper? They seem to have a very strong bond.
Chon: Zoey actually was quite afraid of Jasper for the longest time. Because of her shy nature, we knew she would be hesitant around him. We didn't want to force anything, and really respected her space and her need for getting to know Jasper on her own time. A huge breakthrough happened when Jasper turned 7 months old. Zoey was laying on a bed and when Jasper came crawling over, she rolled over to show her belly and allowed Jasper to gently pet her. I was so proud of my girl! Ever since that moment their friendship has been growing fast. Zoey's the first to go running into his room in the morning and she likes to lay by our feet when I'm feeding him.
Pet360: Can you tell me a little bit more about Zoey’s story?
Chon: Zoey is a rescue dog from Taiwan, and we believe she's a Formosan Mountain Dog, which is the native breed there. She was born in front of a store and the owner washed her and all her siblings into a gutter. A schoolgirl walking by witnessed this and scooped up all the puppies and carried them home, with Zoey's mom following her all the way. She contacted Animal Rescue Team Taiwan (http://www.savedogs.org/english/) and they prepared the puppies and mom for adoption in the states. I went and picked up Zoey at LAX and the rest is history.
Pet360: What is your approach to taking photos of pets? What do you need to bring to the shoots?
Chon: The key to photographing animals is a lot of patience and positive reinforcement! I try to make it as fun as possible, and listen to the animal as much as I can. It's all about working together-I'm not there to make an animal do anything they don't want to do. When they sit and pose, I reward them with lots of praise and yummy healthy treats. If I try to get a shot and the animal isn't into it, I simply move on. I never go to a shoot without high reward goodies like freeze dried steak or duck treats, and I also bring little squeaky toys to help get their attention as I shoot.
Pet360: What advice would you have for other pet owners for taking photos of their own pets?
Chon: Even if you're at home trying to get a photo of your pet, whether it's a DSLR or an iPhone, try using treats and positive reinforcement to get the shot. If they look at the camera, give a treat! If they sit patiently, give a treat! It helps keep their motivation up and makes it fun for everyone. Most importantly, don't get impatient if they are uncooperative. We all know how sensitive pets are to energy-both positive and negative. If you get impatient or upset, it will only make things worse. Keep things fun and lighthearted. If your pet isn't into it, give lots of hugs and love and just try again later.
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