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'Dogs Are the Best People': Heather Lighton's Dignified Canine Portraits

We spoke to the photographer on National Puppy Day about the fine art of taking pictures of dogs.

by Heather Lighton
Mar 23 2015, 12:00am

All photos by Heather Lighton

Heather Lighton isn't technically a "Dog Photographer" but she may as well be. The Melbourne-based shooter has developed a reputation for being able to make pets look far more dignified than their usual butthole-licking selves. A long time-dog fan herself, her off-the-clock street shots of cool animals chilling on the weekend turned into a bona fide dog portraiture service called Dog Photog.

In honor of National Puppy Day, we asked Heather to share some of her favouite shots and give us a glimpse into life at the top of the dog-photo pile.

VICE: Hey Heather, so you didn't start out photographing dogs, how did it become a focus?
Heather Lighton: In my personal work I've always been photographing dogs. If there is a dog near me and I have a camera, it's probably going to get its photo taken.

When I get my film back from the developer, I'm still surprised at how many frames are of dogs—so I suppose it can be a little subconscious.

Why are people so obsessed with dogs?
Dogs are the best people. They are there for you, they love you, they're cute and they never say anything mean. I could never date someone who didn't love dogs because I don't think I could trust them.

Do you have any animal photographer heroes?
Lots of my favourite photographers loved dogs and incorporated them into their work, Elliot Erwitt and Helmet Newton are two that come to mind. I'm also a fan of William Wegman and his work using his Weimaraners.

Your animal photos are actually really beautiful, but do you ever feel people take you less seriously because they're like, Oh she's that girl who is just obsessed with cute animals?
I've never thought about it, but maybe they do. Humans in general have a tendency to take themselves really seriously and dismiss animals. I hope that my photos of dogs, particularly street dogs, have enough feeling in them to be taken seriously.

You really are great with animals, do you have any tips to get a good shot of one?
I think if you really love animals they can tell and will feel better around you straight away. I also have a naturally high-pitched voice which dogs respond well to. In terms of tips, get down to their level and bring a treat.

How do you always make the dogs look so dignified?
Many dogs already look dignified. Some people think dogs are silly slobbery creatures, but if you sit them still you see they are all very different looking and often rather regal. Dogs don't have a "photo face" to hide behind. You see all of them in their faces which is both powerful and endearing.

Isn't it tiring working with animals for long periods of time?
It's extremely tiring. It's such a physical job, you use your body in ways you don't in day-to-day life. It's like doing a never ending yoga class. The dogs are so great to be around and give me so much joy that it mostly takes the pain away.

Have you always loved dogs?
Yes I've always loved animals, but especially dogs. I was always rescuing things from mouths of cats and saving bugs from pools as a kid. One of my first big dreams as a child was to one day have a dog sanctuary where I could look after all the dogs that needed homes—I still dream about that.

Interviewed by Wendy Syfret. Follow her on Twitter: @wendywends