An interview with Jonny & Hotspot Media
Can you tell me about yourself & how you become interested in photography?
It all began in Egypt back in 2005 shortly after becoming a qualified Scuba Diver. Having become fascinated with the aquatic life in the Red Sea, I bought a second hand waterproof housing for a little compact camera I had. I booked myself on to a speciality course in Underwater Photography and was immediately hooked. I returned regularly to Egypt to hone my skills whilst continually investing in new and better equipment. In 2011 I was approached by a swim school to photograph babies underwater. A totally new concept for me but a successful exercise that I decided one day I should pursue on a more permanent level.
After a redundancy I decided to take the opportunity to pursue underwater baby photography and set about developing a unique business strategy and launched Watercolours Photography just a few months later. www.watercoloursphotography.com
Can you describe what we see in your pictures in your own words?
Freezing the moment a dog breaks through the surface of the water in pursuit of a toy or treat often captures it's primeval hunting instinct and is exaggerated by the way it's body takes on fascinating forms within the water. Facial expressions are captured that we wouldn't normally see in our pets providing unique and explosive photographs that provoke the viewers emotions.
Why did you decide to photograph dogs underwater?
It wasn't so much of a decision but more of an opportunity. I was busy developing my new business aimed at underwater babies but I'd always dreamed of combining my 2 passions; dogs and underwater photography. I found it impossible to persuade anyone to allow me to put a dog in their pool for me to photograph until a chance meeting in a shop one late November morning with a canine hydrotharapist allowed this to become a reality. She was working locally at the Greyfriars Veterinary Rehabilitation and Hydrotherapy Referral centre in Guildford and explained they were looking for ways to raise money for their own charity, The Barney Fund. I suggested we gather together some dogs who were keen swimmers and produce a calendar of Underwater Dogs. We only had a couple of weeks to organise the shoot, put it all together and commission a printer to produce several hundred copies in time for Christmas. It was a great success and raised a healthy profit for their charity.
Following the calendar, I was approached by a new business, a Dog Hotel and training facility located near Brighton. They were looking for new ways to increase revenue through their Hydrotherapy pool and explained that a TV company were following their journey and invited me to feature in an episode on the show.
How were you able to create these amazing images?
A lot of patience, fast reactions and some high-tech camera gear. I use a Pro grade Nikon DSLR camera with a super wide angle lens housed in a very expensive waterproof housing and twin underwater strobes. I use a combination of photo editing software to 'polish' the shots ready for clients to purchase through my website following their shoot.
Is it difficult working with dogs?
It can be yes. The main obstacle I face is when a dog refuses to 'play ball' and perform for me in front of the camera. Often a client will come to me believing their dog will dive straight in as it loves swimming in the sea, rivers or ponds. However, a swimming pool can be an alien environment for many dogs as the water is clear and smells very different to the murky water they love to play in. This is usually overcome with a bit of patience and a little bonding with the dog before the shoot begins. Some gentle persuasion in the form of a treat or a squeaky toy is often all that's required to build up confidence but safety is paramount and I never force a dog to do anything it doesn't want to do.
With teeth and claws flying at you at speed I get scratched quite often and have even been bitten on the hand once by an over excited staffie who mistook it for a ball. As I use a very wide angle lens, it's necessary for me to get really close, usually just a couple of inches away and with a powerful set of jaws searching for a toy it can get a little hairy
What kind of reaction do you get from people when they see your pictures?
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is to observe the amazing reactions my pictures evoke, especially from a client seeing their own dog captured in this unusual perspective. Although people find my pictures compelling, a handful of people have said they find some of my photos 'scary'. I think we're programmed from an early age to recognise images showing teeth and claws to be 'frightening' but when they stop and consider what they're actually looking at, a dog enjoying it's self in the water, they usually see the allurement.
A few quick facts: How long does it take you to get the perfect picture?
It depends entirely on the dog. Some dogs jump straight in providing photo opportunities from the outset where others need a little encouragement.
How long have you been working photographing dogs?
Since 2013 when I shot the Barney Fund Calendar.
How long do the dogs spend underwater?
I capture the dogs the moment they break through the water, it's all done in a split second. Some dogs will dive to the bottom of the pool so I get a little longer to compose a shot but generally it's all over in a flash.
How do you get the dogs to dive underwater?
Not all dogs will physically 'dive' under the water, in fact it's quite rare for a dog physically dive down to the bottom of the pool, hence most of my photos capture the moment the dog hits the water after launching itself from the side of the pool. However, I do get the occasional 'diving' dog and I always embrace the opportunity. It's difficult to predict the exact spot a dog will enter the water so I target my camera on a toy floating on the surface whilst the owner or assistant keeps the dog from jumping in. Once I'm ready and happy the dog is focused on it's toy, I call for the dog to be released. The process is repeated several times to allow for me to achieve a variety of perspectives.
How much does the photoshoot cost (if you don't mind me asking)?
The cost of the shoot itself is £75 for one dog and £95 for two. Clients are then sent a link to their own private password protected gallery where they can purchase prints or digital files. Digital files are by far the most popular option as they can print the photos whenever they wish on whatever medium they choose. They can also share them on social media and email.
What kind of dogs do you photograph (breeds)?
All breeds as long as they love water and are fit to swim. Bulldogs aren't generally the best swimmers due to their short legs and stocky bodies but it doesn't mean I can't produce great shots of them. With dogs that aren't keen or can't jump into the pool, I focus on head shots with them standing on pool side dipping there faces into the water to catch a toy or treat.