Sometimes, in photography sessions with human subjects, photographer Diane Costello might unintentionally whistle, make kissing sounds, or clap to get attention — just like she does for the canines she photographs. Most people don’t mind.
“It lightens the whole thing up,” said the fine art photographer who specializes in dogs (and their people) at her studio, Fog Dog Studios, in Half Moon Bay. Her work captures personality-driven, memorable, and inimitable images of dogs, big and small, young and old. Their graceful heads tilt, their soulful eyes follow the viewer; some look curious, others regal. They are lovely works of art.
Costello has been at the profession for about two decades, a big fan of light and color. She landed in Half Moon Bay via Bismarck, Duluth, and Houston. Initially, her lens was focused on landscapes and still life using black and white film. She embraced the digital world, enjoyed a successful commercial career, but she returned to her true love, fine art photography (and dogs). Costello credits her late dog Gromit, a boxer, for her much of her success in her dog and human portraiture.
“He taught me so much about patience and perseverance,” she said in a recent telephone interview. Today, her muse is Dot, a very expressive brindle pug-Boston terrier-Chihuahua-mix cutie with a big personality. Dot is aside Constello day in and day out at the studio and can been seen in many cotumes. “Dot has a better wardrobe than I do.”
For Constello, it’s important for her studio to be a fun place for dogs and their peeps, so she keeps toys and treats around. For the studio side of the shoot, she uses an assortment of backdrops like chairs, couches, and benches, though she has also used cups, hat boxes, colorful buckets, and a few clever props. Her ultimate goal is to present a timeless portrait that reflects the personality and spirit of the subject.
While Costello said she doesn’t consider herself a dog trainer, she did admit a certain mastery of some of dog-handling skills, cheerfully acknowledging “good cookies” go a long way in getting and holding attention and sparking adorable expressions.
“We make a game out of it,” she said about her photo sessions. For instance, she might incorporate a game tug of war, toss a treat for a pooch to find, or break out an appealing squeaky toy for a short break in the session. She said she likes to keep the action moving and has fun, stopping if dogs get bored or restless and then taking things in another direction if necessary. Sometimes owners join the ebullient Costello in revving up (or calming down) the canine charges. “I like to put the owners to work, not heavy work.”
“She’s great,” Kay Twitchell of San Jose said, complimenting Costello for being
able to exquisitely capture the personalities of her French bulldogs. “I don’t know if
you know Frenchies,” she said, alluding to the breed’s independence. “They do what they want when they want and how they want.”
Which can make for complicated photos sessions, though apparently not for Costello. Twitchell, a former Half Moon Bay resident, said Costello tends to take her time with the dogs and gets to know them, coaxing and finessing superior expressions and poses, sometimes using cute props or making the setting interesting.
“My dogs love her,” Twitchell said. “She’s got that knack. My dogs will do anything for her.”
“I am so grateful for Diane and what she was able to do with my dog,” Twitchell said, recalling a session Costello did with her very special Frenchie, Viola, who has since died. “I have that captured.”
“I recommend her to anyone I meet,” Twitchell said.
“Amazing,” enthused Kelly Davis of Half Moon Bay who also has Frenchies. “The skills she has with those dogs are unbelievable. She can get them to do poses I would have never fathomed, and she has the patience of a saint.”
“She has great props and great ideas,” Davis added, describing Costello as a “super creative” photographer whose inspirations and conceptualizations are unique, fresh, and surprising. “I love her energy.”
Besides studio work, Costello does on location dog photography around Half Moon Bay. She also travels to teach photography workshops about how to get better dog photos, and has clients throughout the Bay Area and in Southern California.
She has a few tips for amateur dog photographers: Dogs want to see your eyes, so if you hide them behind the camera, that might be problematic at picture time. Before using an iPhone to take photos, introduce it to your dog and let your dog become familiar with it. Mean it when you issue a sit, stay, or come command — don’t ask. Use “wait” instead of “stay” for a more dynamic pause.
Costello has a master of photography degree and is a certified professional photographer through Professional Photographers of America. She recently completed a book, Top Dogs: Portraits and Stories. While clients prefer seeing themselves and their dogs in color, Costello interestingly now finds herself drawn to black and white film and medium-format photography, a full-circle photographic journey for her. The format means Costello has fewer chances to get the images right, perhaps 10 frames. “It make me strive harder to get it just right every time.”
Learn more about her and her work at www.FogDogStudios.com.
Main article photo by: Photo by Diane Costello, Fog Dog Studios