Stories

Talking Dogs with The Dogist Elias Friedman

March 4, 2020 Elias

Photography

How did you get started? Did you always know you wanted to work with dogs and/or cameras/photography?

Being an artist was always a fantasy, like any kids’ dreams growing up. I wanted to be a professional tennis player or a musician or a successful photographer, but it just all seemed so far fetched. I grew up doing photography but always saw it as a hobby. We had dogs too, but it’s not like I could really tell my parents (both doctors) that I wanted to be a dog photographer. It wasn’t until I got laid off and saw the potential of Instagram did I really have the confidence to go for it. And dogs were the obvious choice.

Are you a self taught photographer? Did you take classes?

I grew up doing photography as a hobby (I would sometimes use my dad’s dark room). I took classes growing up too, but I never felt like I had a distinctive style or purpose. It wasn’t until I started The Dogist that I realized how bad I was! Only through taking hundreds of pictures every day did I really feel like I was developing my craft. Classes are a good place to start, but practice is really the thing that brought out my specific craft and focus on dogs.

What’s your must have camera gear?

A camera with fast enough focus and a 35mm lens is all I really need most of the time. 

Do you use your Nikon for cookiecam?

#Cookiecam is all shot on iPhone!

What lens do you use? 

24mm or wider lets you be closer to the dog and have more interaction - better if your dog is a spaz. If your dog will sit obediently and stare at you, 50mm+ is great because you can get more compression in the image for that striking effect of isolating the subject. 

What's your secret?

The secret is practice (and dog treats). 

 

The Dogist Beginning

Why/What made you start The Dogist?

I created The Dogist because I wanted to live life as my own boss and I missed having a dog. I was inspired by what Humans of New York and The Sartorialist were doing and wanted to create the analog for dogs. People photography never really inspired me because it’s almost impossible to photograph someone candidly if they know you’re there with a camera. Always “smile!” or some projection of the ego. Dogs don’t have egos, so when they look at the camera, what you see is the real them! 100% candid expressions every time!

What did you do before The Dogist?

I worked in brand strategy at an agency in NYC. I learned a ton about how companies should communicate and tell their story, which all helped me create my own voice for my own company!

How many different dog breed did you know when you get started?

I was always dog obsessed, so I knew more than the average person, but there was a lot to learn. I now know just about all of the AKC breeds and a few more, but there are MANY breeds that I’m not familiar with and wouldn’t recognize at all, but they’re also extremely rare. 

What were the hard things you had to get through at the beginning?

Anyone pursuing something outside the box faces doubts and criticism from others, but really it’s about facing yourself. I knew to surround myself with “Yes!” people, which was very important, but having a vision for what you’re doing that you stick to and love makes it much more likely to evolve to levels 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. Most people never get to level 2 because they don’t trust themselves enough. 

The Dogist - All around

Do you have a favorite dog you’ve photographed? What's one that sticks out more than others?

I have so many great dog memories at this point (I’ve photographed about 40,000). One that’s always stood out is Pudding, a Pit Bull rescue I met very soon after I started in 2013 that had been the victim of breeding abuse. I realized that the project was much more profound than just “dog pics”. Every dog has a story and I could have an impact on the way many people think about and understand dogs. Happy, sad, funny, or remarkable – every dog can teach us something about life and ourselves. 

Did anyone ever get weird when you ask to photograph their dog?

90% of people are very open to me photographing their dog! Some people, just like some dogs, are less trusting of strangers, and that’s ok and to be expected! I don’t have any real expectations of people when I walk outside and have experienced the full spectrum of love and hate far too many times to really let anything sit with me for very long. No dog has ever said no! (wouldn’t it be awesome if they could speak?!)

How long have you been “The Dogist?”

I’ve been a Dogist my whole life, but officially The Dogist for about 6 years.

Cookies

Are you the one that sucks at throwing?

I am! I’m the worst at it and will never get better at it no matter how hard I try! 😀

Why do you hang onto the cookies while dogs try to snarf them?

It’s funny I get this question more often than I expected. I’ve always done this! I think it somehow creates a bond like “this is our food and I’m sharing it with you”. They nibble and savor it instead of just snarfing it down and then look at you like you’re a vending machine. Oh, and it’s funnier when you get to see their chompers working.

How many cookies do you carry about with you?

I carry about two handfuls of dog cookies with me at any given moment. I’ve always found the Old Mother Hubbard brand to be the most universally loved, best sized, and least disgusting to have in your hand/pocket all day.

Interacting with Dogs/People

How do you decide which dogs to photograph?

I’m always basically looking for something that stands out from the norm. I truly love all dogs, but as a photographer, some dogs just have some extra photographic appeal. You know it when you see it. Like a dog with a unique facial marking, or wearing booties, or a wonky ear, or wearing a bowtie, or has striking eyes, or is in a bag. Sometimes it’s the owner that has some really cool outfit that with their dog makes for a really great picture. Sometimes it’s the context of a really cool backdrop or landscape, or the lighting is just amazing. There’s no one thing I’m looking for and that’s what keeps it so fascinating and unexpected! 

Have you ever been bitten?

Not really. I’ve had a lot of close calls and lunges, but I’m good at reading dog energy and it’s usually the camera that they’re scared of, if anything. I’m sure it’ll happen someday. Chihuahua bites don’t count.

Do you get super excited and run when you see a super rare breed?

Yes, some dogs I consider “runners”, i.e. I’ll see them from across the street or park and literally run to catch them before they disappear. 

Favorite breed to shoot?

Any dog that is generous with eye contact is amazing to shoot. My signature is direct doggy eye contact, and if a dog is staring right down the lens with fascination/adoration, I’m a VERY happy Dogist. 

How do you approach people on the street?

“Hey, may I take a quick photo of your dog?”

Do people recognize you on the street?

Yes, more and more every day, especially in NYC. As a photographer I like being invisible, but as a person, I of course enjoy a little recognition and praise for something I work so hard at. 

What do you ask people to get the tidbit about each pup?

I just try to get the owners talking with things like “So, what’s he like?” Many people have something top-of-mind that’s funny or interesting; some people need some extra coaxing to get that unique soundbite. “He’s super friendly” or “He loves squirrels” may be true but not exactly noteworthy. 

Funniest dog you’ve met?

Hard to recall just one, but Golden Retrievers overall are hilarious. They SO eager to give you attention and have no filter. Most likely to get tackled by a dog award goes to Golden Retrievers, which makes them pretty funny.

The Dogist Business

Do you do shoots for hire?

Not quite yet. I’ve always felt that my street photography series should be kept to my own artistic discretion, not available for purchase. I work with a number of companies that have an interesting project or product, allow me artistic control, and have enough of a budget to support me and my team’s work. 

What is Talking Dogs?

Talking Dogs is our new interview series where we explore the minds of dog people and what makes dogs so great!

The Dogist Studio

What do you intend to use the new studio for?

I’m very excited to get into studio photography and learn to use lighting. It’s much more technical and expensive than street photography (we have to rent a space in NYC), but overall it’s way easier because you don’t have to really go anywhere! I’m beginning to love both mediums, but I will always love street/nature photography because I feel like I’m closer to the feeling of actually being a dog - outside and exploring the world and its nuances. 

Do you take pics of dogs at a studio? If so, how much do you charge? Location?

Our studio is in Bushwick in Brooklyn, NY. We don’t charge for adoptable dogs, but are considering our pricing for doing studio pet photography.

Humor

Cats? Love em? Hate Em?

I like and am fascinated by cats! I’ve never had one, so I don’t speak cat as fluently as I do dog, but I would love to one day. 

What type of dog breed would you be?

Probably a black Lab. Classic, goofy, food motivated. 

Dog vs People

All dogs are great. Some people are great. 

Personal

Did you play sports when you were a little kid?

I did! I grew up playing and love tennis. Coincidence that dogs also love tennis balls? 

Are you single?

I am! I’ve had some great relationships over the years but have yet to find that person I can’t be without. The catch 22 of being a dog photographer is that many girls walking around with dogs have boyfriends!

Do you have your own dog?

I don’t have my own yet, but I would love to. I’ve done so much traveling in the last few years of my life and felt it would be irresponsible to have some dogs waiting at home while I’m on the road. It’s like having a kid! So I think this upcoming phase of my life in the next few years will be the time to welcome a dog into my life. 

Are dogs your favorite animal?

Probably! It’s weird to think of dogs in any other category other than “dogs”. We designed them over thousands of years of selective breeding to be basically the perfect companions. Other animals are just as fascinating, but will never quite serve the place of a dog as a pet.

How old are you?

Thirty-two!

Did you have dogs growing up?

I grew up with Labradors, Ruby and Matilda, and my extended family had Poodles as well.

What are your favorite pup non-profits?

I’ve worked with so many animal rescue non-profits over the years, it’s hard to mention any one in particular. I think if you’re interested in helping dogs live a better life, get in touch with a shelter in your area, learn more about them and maybe even volunteer!

Dogist Dogs

Who is the goodest? Finn, Waffle or Simon

They each have a very special (and equal) place in my heart. They’re each very entertaining for their unique qualities and quirks.

If you had to babysit one of the dogist dogs, which would you pick?

I’ve babysat Finn a bunch, Kate needs Waffle 24/7 as her PTSD service dog, so that’s out. I guess Simon’s the one I have yet to dog sit!