Photographer Rogier van Bakel photographs dogs for portraits, such as this one named Stevie in places the dogs are most comfortable. PHOTO COURTESY OF ROGIER VAN BAKEL/YOU LUCKY DOG

Pet photography supports shelter

MOUNT DESERT — Photographer Rogier van Bakel has gone to the dogs.

In a new business venture, You Lucky Dog, begun this past spring, van Bakel is shooting to bring out the unique character of the family pet.

“Americans spent 72 billion dollars on their pets last year,” he said, “and the amount keeps going up. Pet portraits — pawtraits, as I like to call them! — are already a healthy part of that mix.”

Photographer Rogier van Bakel gets to know a canine client. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

Weddings and people portraits have been van Bakel’s focus as a professional photographer for the last 13 years.

“I do a lot of family portrait sessions and often the family dog isn’t part of those,” he said. “So, I made it my mission to try to immortalize him or her, too — separately.”

It is a bit tougher to get his new clients to sit and stay, he said in an email, but dogs are much less self-conscious than humans.

“Of course I photograph people flatteringly by using nice light and good posing,” said van Bakel. With dogs, “I do the same, but it tends to fall into place a little more easily.

“Dogs are 100 percent themselves. They’re not worried about mussing up their hair or being photographed with their mouths open.

“They’re a constant reminder to live in the moment, freely and enthusiastically.”

van Bakel said the inspiration for You Lucky Dog came from a book of found photography called “In Almost Every Picture.” It is a book of photos where the family’s dog is in every photo but often in the background, or out of focus. Van Bakel said he looked through the book thinking there must be a good photo of the dog in there somewhere.

van Bakel often tries get down at eye level, or lower, when taking photos of dogs. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SARAH HINCKLEY

A dog owner since his youth, van Bakel reminisces about past pets he didn’t take the time to capture in their true essence.

“In a way, my job now is to help other people avoid that mistake,” he said.

So, who is signing up?

“People who are in love with their dogs,” he said. “But, I guess that’s 99 percent of us! I get some clients who’ve been saving their loose change and who have just a couple hundred dollars to spend. Others have budgets of a thousand dollars or more. In any case, pet portraiture has been democratized, and I’m glad.”

It is not a risk-free job, though, and can take some creative maneuvering, entertaining props and patience to capture the perfect pet pose. Don’t be afraid to get down at eye level, or lower, when taking photos of your pets, advises van Bakel.

“A Chihuahua or a dachshund can look just as imposing and dignified as a German shepherd or a mastiff,” he said. “But, eight out of 10 times you have to get on your haunches or lie on your belly to get something soulful and emotionally valuable.”

While he does take some time to get to know the dogs, van Bakel has been bitten once, so far. He chalks that lesson up to not paying attention to the dog’s cues.

“I felt a little bad for me and a lot bad for her, because she’s ultimately a good dog,” he said. “You’re going to get some battle scars in this business one way or the other – not all of them physical.”

There are a few places around Mount Desert Island that van Bakel enjoys taking photos of the dogs, including a dog park near Little Long Pond. But, he said, too many people and other dogs can sometime make for a difficult photo session. Usually, the best captures come from places the dog is most comfortable such as hiking trails, the beach, inside the home or on a dirt road.

“Often, the clients present the ideas, whether they know it or not,” he said.

There was a yellow lab named Tucker, whose human “mentioned that Tucker loves to go for rides in the open-top classic Corvette,” he said. “So I created some nice light and photographed the dog and the owner in the car together.”

Through word of mouth and social media, You Lucky Dog has been growing steadily. While van Bakel is happy to take photos of other family pets, dogs are his favorite muse.

A mix of mutts posing in a tri-fold portrait by Rogier van Bakel.

“Most dogs are an open book,” he said. “Their emotions and thoughts are visible in their eyes, their expressions and their body language … Dogs excite and inspire me the most.”

Van Bakel also volunteers at the SPCA in Trenton, lending his craft to help dogs there get adopted. He has also pledged a portion of the business’ revenue to the nonprofit shelter.

“It’s easier for people to emotionally connect with a dog if, when they first see him online, he’s captured in a beautiful photo,” he said. “There’s just something magical and moving about the canine-human bond, this trust and mutual dependence we’ve built over the past 15,000 years.”

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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