You’re scrolling through the social photo stream and chance upon an image of Axel, a four-month old German Shepherd. Are you immediately inspired to hit the “Share” icon or peg it with a “Love” emoji? If yes, then you are not alone; more than 110K have already reacted to this pup’s pic.
Photographer Elias Weiss Friedman counts two million plus Internet followers. He has shared more than 4,000 different pet portraits, and is in the midst of creating a second book. In a little more than three years The Dogist founder has gone from unemployed to global traveler. He has photographed in 40 countries—Belgium, France, Croatia, China, Italy to name a few. Companies such as Google, Uber and Merck have engaged his eye to shoot advertising imagery. He’s coaxed Dalmatians, Ori-Peis, Boxers, Schipperkes and numerous other breeds to pose.
Social Media Creates Business Success
Started in October 2013, The Dogist is an Internet-fueled photo documentary series profiling the personalities of canines. Coming from a young man who once made his siblings laugh by speaking on behalf of the family’s pets, Friedman has taken a passion to a profession. Self-funded for the first eighteen months, he doggedly persevered, knowing that if he remained consistent and stuck to it success would ensue.
His mission is to create the next big thing—what he deems “The Sartorialist for dogs.” (The Sartorialist is a pioneering New Yok City photography blog that features a constant stream of snapshots showcasing the many ways men and women dress and style themselves.)
Friedman took a popular subject (dogs) and paired it with the rising importance of photo-only social sites and their abilities to influence. “I think when most people use the term “social media” they focus too much on the platform when they really should focus on the content: the social media. What do people want to share with family and friends?” asks Friedman, recognizing that the act of sharing would help market his business. “I’m not only a dog photographer because I love dogs—EVERYONE loves dogs. If your dog just got photographed and was featured in front of two million people that’s definitely something you are going to share!”
Want to go for a Walk?
Friedman captured this image of Sherlock with owner in New York City using the Nikon D750 with the NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G. He worked at f/2, 1/2500 second, ISO 100 and white balance of 5350°K. “The Nikon D750 is ideal for this type of work. It’s light and fits well in my hand. The Autofocus is fast and precise; it locks onto a subject point and then holds very well.” Friedman generally works using Continuous Single point back-button Autofocus. And because he’s out there no matter the weather, “Having a robust weather sealed system is extremely important. I shoot rain or shine in all temperatures.”
He creates images three or four days a week, but weekends are the best time to catch an owner with his or her dog. When traveling, the photographer hits the pavement each day 8am to 6pm. He dons kneepads under his pants, grabs the camera plus a lens or two, squeaky toys and lens wipes.
Early on this Brooklyn native favored primes such as the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED, the AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G and the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G. “For me, the 58mm acts like a more versatile 85mm, and the 85mm is just a bokeh cream machine at the dog park when I shoot action.” He says the NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G is a great workhorse lens. “Perfect for street portraiture, it’s also helped me when working in pet shelters where low light and tight spaces prevail.”
What’s his go-to street lens? The AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G. “It delivers an image that’s not too wide, and works well for proximity to the dog plus people nearby.” If pets are timid, he reaches for a 50mm or greater. When a pet is particularly friendly, he grabs a 24mm or wider. “I almost always get slobbered on when using the 24mm. The shorter the focal length, the more lens wipes I go through. I call them ‘lens kisses.’”
These days, Friedman favors the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED. “I like to have fun and mix things up. That glass gives an ultra-wide-angle. Dogs don’t mind how they appear in photos. The 14-24mm was actually my first lens and remains my go-to for fun angles, plus dogs that won’t sit still. I recently acquired the latest 24-70mm f/2.8 VR (AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR) lens and love its versatility, low light capabilities and presence. I have a tough time leaving home with just one lens.”
Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
After photographing more than 10,000 hounds, and publishing 4,000 of those images to a blog, he’s familiar with pet behavior. When it’s time to frame, Friedman pulls out the squeaky toy. “The element of surprise is important. Dogs grow keen to my tactics pretty quickly. It’s usually the first squeak that yields the best expression, so I must be ready with a responsive camera.”
He shoots Aperture Priority, underexposes a bit and relies on Continuous AF, using back button Autofocus. The focal point is almost always set to the dog’s eye. “The Nikon D750 has such amazing dynamic range in its RAW (NEF) file. If I make a slight mistake with exposure I can generally adjust in post. However, I try to get all elements correct in-camera.”
For The Dogist, there is no typical shoot day. Friedman tries to greet 10 to 20 owners and asks if he may photograph the pet—even when roaming through China. With a grin, he reveals that plenty of smiles are observed when he says, “Ni de xiao gao, jiao shenme?” In Mandarin Chinese that means: “Your dog, what’s its name?”
Elias Weiss Friedman grew up near Philadelphia, in a big family of brothers, sisters, cousins, and dogs. Inspired by his circle of friends in New York City’s startup culture, he decided to combine the two things he has loved since childhood: photography and dogs. Friedman created the wildly successful blog and Instagram feed, @TheDogist, in 2013 and is the author of the book The Dogist published in 2015.