News Item | PAWS Chicago

The art of great dog photos

by Allison Ledwon | Jul 26, 2016

Volunteer dog photographer Martin Aspera explains how he gets dogs to show their truest, happiest selves.

When high-pitched sound of a squeaky toy is heard on the roof-top garden of PAWS’ Pippen Fasseas Adoption Center, it is likely that pet photographer Martin Aspera is at work.

Martin, the owner of Amstaphy Dog Photography and the Instagram account chicago_street_dogs, volunteers his services to PAWS to capture resident dogs, and the occasional cat, being their truest, happiest selves.

Martin began his career as a full-time photographer after leaving his job as a business agent to pursue his passion. He knew he wanted to specialize in a category of photography, but was not sure what. “I wanted to focus on something I liked,” Martin says as he takes a photo of Barney, a Portuguese water dog. “And I liked taking photos of my dog, so that seemed like the place to start.”

It is surprising, however, that Martin did not have dogs growing up. “I got my first dog since my girlfriend at the time suggested it” Martin says. “She said I was always alone and should get a dog.” Martin says he figured he could be like Max in the second “Mad Max” film, with only a dog keeping the title character company.

Martin ended up getting a bully breed from Chicago Animal Care & Control, and later another from a bully-specific rescue. His own dogs influence his photographing preferences slightly, according to Martin. “Although I don’t have a favorite breed to work with, I tend to gravitate towards pit bulls” he says. “There are just so many of them and they are so often misunderstood."

Martin admitted that he does have a favorite type of dog, though: the high energy, playful and a tad goofy. And he is willing to do whatever he can do to capture the best possible photos of them, whether it be waiting twenty minutes or more, using his squeaky toy under his lens to get eye contact or get doggie-slobber all over.

As this session ends for the day and the dogs head back to their rooms to get some rest, they seem to leave with big smiles on their faces, but not as big as the one on Martin’s face.

Martin’s Top Three Tips for Taking the Perfect Pet Photo:

  • “React to your animal. You can’t make them do something, but you can put them in a situation where you know what they are going to do. No one knows your dog better than you.”
  • “Be ready at every moment and move fast. Once they do something, you have four seconds to snap your photo. They’re like a baby in that way.”
  • “The background makes or breaks the photo. If I take an amazing photo of a subject, but I don’t like the background, I don’t like the entire thing.”

Photo credit: Alena Nicholson