'Little Friends' Pet Photos Make a Big Impact
Photo Courtesy of LittleFriendsPhotos.com
Photographer Seth Casteel gives back to animals through pictures.
There's an indescribable it factor to Seth Casteel's photographs of dogs underwater -- swimming, playing, blowing bubbles -- that made the shots go viral earlier this year, driving the number of hits on his website from several thousand to hundreds of millions over the course of a few days in mid-February.
But the Illinois native says there is a simple explanation to account for the pictures' -- and his own -- sudden rise to fame.
"I think the short answer is people love dogs," Casteel told Zootoo in a phone interview, as he drove from Michigan to Chicago, in an ongoing summer leg of a photo shoot work run. "I think that these pictures really show a side of dogs we haven't seen before."
Casteel's photos, displayed on his website LittleFriendsPhotos.com, include "on-land" shots as well, but it is the real-time depictions of underwater dogs, with their faces illuminated, eyes often wide, that stick: a Boston Terrier baring its teeth like a barracuda, a Labrador Retriever extending its four paws like a starfish.
It's a concept that hasn't been tried before in the world of pet photography, and one that Casteel says he stumbled across by accident, when he was taking photos of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in his backyard in 2010, and the dog hopped into the pool. Casteel kept on shooting, and he noted the difference in the photos he later produced from the session.
"I just thought it was a really fantastic way for dogs to showcase their range of emotions and how they have a really similar range that we do, from primal to hilarity to surprise," Casteel, 31, explained.
It took Casteel more than a year to acquire all the proper, costly photo equipment to continue taking shots of dogs underwater, during which time he says he struggled to make ends meet.
"All my friends told me it is crazy town, and told me that you need to do weddings. I said, 'I'm doing this because I have to.'"
The perseverance ultimately paid off: Casteel began securing private commissions for photo shoots in California, where he lives, and scored a deal with a calendar. He started a non-profit organization, Second Chance Photos, in the fall of 2011, based off of the idea that a beautiful, happy photo of an animal can make a life-saving difference.
Second Chance Photos offers free workshops to animal shelters and rescue organizations to give tips on how to portray their dogs and cats in the best possible light when posting photos on their websites. The idea is to show dogs and cats at their very best -- not as desperate pets waiting in a cage.
Casteel himself gives the workshops -- in the past few months, he has led sessions in Utah, Florida and Texas -- but people everywhere are welcome to visit the organization's website, SecondChancePhotos.org, to get tips on lighting, camera equipment and editing.
"Positive photography can really make that difference," he explained.
Casteel is hoping to set dates for new workshops soon, and to also add sessions for places outside the United States. But recently, he says, he's been pretty busy -- he has a book, aptly titled "Underwater Dogs," coming out October 23. People can purchase the book on Amazon for $11 -- its bookshelf listing will run for more, totaling at $20. Readers can expect to find new shots in the coffee table book, as well as some classic ones that helped popularize the photo series.
And Casteel says that he now spends about 25 days out of every month traveling across the country, taking photos of dogs underwater that people privately commission and developing work for his second book that he says is in the works.
Sometimes, his two dogs, a "some kind of doodle from the pound named Nala... and a terrier named Fritz," explained Casteel, join him on the road. But they aren't what you'd call water dogs -- most of Casteel's photos of them show them sleeping.
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