Seahorses, wolves and the Labrador who wouldn't: a conversation with animal photographer, Deanne Ward

I’m taking a slightly different tack here to my usual interviews-with-authors, and interviewing a photographer, Deanne Ward, who specialises in horses and dogs. I happen to know this particular photographer, and have done since we were horse-mad girls at school together, made felt ponies together, had model pony gymkhanas, rode real ponies …. and now, after detours for both of us, we’re both working with horses, although Deanne gets closer up than me. You’ll see just how close in a bit.

And so, one sunny May morning, Deanne came to visit, armed with her photography equipment. I provided tea, an elderly Labrador who made sure Deanne spilled that tea over her lap, and who then, having been virtually comatose up to the point of having her photo done, decided she was going to prove just how good Deanne is at working with animals who, well, are just not feeling it.

JB: Welcome to my blog Deanne – so, how did you get started – have you always been keen on photography?

DW: Well, I actually started at university – and then I met my now husband and we started a family and then we started a business. When we decided we were going to stop working on the business after 28 years, I’d already been doing a lot of Photoshop work with the business, so it was just like an extension of that, and then it was a case of well, what would we photograph? And for me, it had to be animals because I love them, and so it was really a case of follow your passion. Do what you want to do.

I remember you always had animals – first family I knew that had backyard chickens!

We had chickens, a cat, lots of rabbits, gerbils – quite a menagerie!

Yes, I remember that. You had more animals than anyone I knew.

In a little house in the middle of a village, with a small garden. And of course I used to ride for other people in those days, as well, so I’ve always had that connection, and then I worked on a farm after university for a while.

So, now you’ve gone back to photography, how did you start?

Well, we started off with dogs – we would basically accost people in the street and say, ‘Can I take a picture of your dog please?’ which kind of took people aback a bit, but once they knew what we were doing it was absolutely fine. We practised on a few dogs and then we started on the horses, and that’s been fabulous. We’re building our portfolio, and we’re working with Huntingdon racecourse.


Yes, I saw you’d been doing that. What do you do when you’re there?

Well, at the moment, we’re creating stock photos, so we’re going around trying to get images that illustrate what it’s all about but we’re also covering family days. Over the summer they’ve got Pony Club, so we’ll be getting involved with that as well.

But we do all sorts of things – we’re working with a lady in Daventry who does dog hydrotherapy. So there may be some underwater photography – who knows what’s going to happen? I’ve never done anything like that, but she knows that. It’s a little bit out of the comfort zone, but It’ll be such good fun.

We’ve also worked with Watermill Wolves. They are amazing animals: theyre going to appear in Thronefest, and we'll be working with them there.

Oh, I was just going to ask you if they were involved in Game of Thrones.

They weren’t, but they were on Penny Dreadful. Thronefest is not what I normally do, but I couldn’t resist. [Deanne and I are both fans and detoured into a GoT fan conversation that you probably don’t need to know about].


So you’ve worked with lots of animals – what is it that makes working with them special?

One of the things I really love – it’s the relationships we get to see. Because it’s so special. And we
we love to see it, to capture it, to experience it’s just really, really rewarding. You see our lifestyle just doesn’t let us do it [keep a dog] – we are just out all the time and sometimes, we might be working with dogs that may not like other dogs. So – we have a cat!

Tell me about Caspar.

Well, he’s a hunter. We get brought a lot of rabbits … they love him at the allotments. He just wanders through the allotments with a rabbit in his mouth, and they say there goes Caspar –

What a cat!

Yes, what a cat. Very popular!

Very popular in the village

Not so much with us …

Xena, Worrier Princess - Deanne's other cat
Something your clients probably don’t know about you is that you had an awful lot to do with another sort of horse …

Yes! I kept sea horses for about 10 years.

It must be very complicated, getting the conditions right.

It is – making sure that the sea horses are stable and that they are feeding. They can be very challenging. A lot of seahorses are endangered, so you really have to stick to tank-bred seahorses to be environmentally sound, and we started breeding our own – that really was challenging. You have about 1000 teeny tiny baby seahorses and of course they all need feeding.

Sounds like a fulltime job.

It was literally a fulltime job. In the ocean baby seahorses float away like plankton, but with tanks, they’re not used to them, and so they gather by the side of the tank and die.

So what you have to do is create like a washing machine effect so the water travels in a circle – you do that with air, and it travels very slowly. They can’t go around too fast, or they won’t be able to eat, and they can’t go too slowly or they’ll all gather by the side and die. They’re very good at dying, baby seahorses. And then you have to feed them nutritious food, which is live, so you have to grow teeny tiny plankton and feed it nutritious algae, so you have to grow nutritious algae.

So you’re growing three things – so you’re growing algae, and you’re growing plankton and you’re growing baby seahorses.

Correct. You end up with Dexter’s laboratory with all these little containers …. it’s very rare to get a lot of the sea horses to survive. We’d manage a few dozen but we did a lot better than Mother Nature, who manages probably zero to one out of every thousand. We loved it, but in the end, I just kept the ones I had: we basically ended up with a fish room!

So, moving on, how do you start when you’re photographing?

Well, you’ll find out for yourself shortly!

The most important thing, I think, is that we take our time, and we don’t worry about how anybody is behaving – we have an idea of what we’re going to do and then we take what we’re given. If an animal doesn’t want to behave or doesn’t want to do the session or what have you – hasn’t happened yet, to be fair – what we do is adapt. [Neither of us had any idea at this point that Holly and I were going to be the first time …]

So, it’s animal-led.

Absolutely animal led

But what if, the owner, say, says but I want Fluffy to be like this? And you can see that Fluffy has got no intention whatsoever of cooperating?

I think gentle guidance is probably the way I would describe it! We haven’t come across anybody who was being, shall we say, dictatorial. We try and accommodate but it’s always according to what the animal wants to give us, and I do have the ability to fake it somewhat! We did have a shoot recently where we had two dogs, where the owners were very keen on having the two dogs together. On the original picture, they were both looking at their owner either side of them, completely not looking at each other, but in the final picture they look like they’re staring at each other: that there was a lovely, lovely connection. If we can’t deliver on the day then we’ll deliver afterwards – and I also make that point. I do it with complete honesty as well.


Another thing I should say is that it’s important to be safe. With the equipment that we use there’s very few pieces – everything runs by battery so there’s nothing you can trip over or animals can get tangled up in or eat!

If you’re dealing with horses, that can bring its own challenge because it needs to really be in a situation where you’ve got a background. And there are things you can’t control. You may have wind, rain – changing conditions: sunny one minute and cloudy the next so you’ve got all of that to deal with quickly, without anybody else knowing that you’re actually frantically trying to change everything.

What tips would you give to someone who wanted to photograph their horse?

Be patient. Just take time. A good height for the camera would be around a horse’s shoulder, or a little bit lower, gives a horse stature. Also, watch your angles. When I’m taking photos of horses I quite like the 45-degree angle. From a personal point of view, I like hooves too, walking away – legs, tails, all those sorts of things, which is just a bit different to just a horse in a field.


It’s best to have somebody to help you as well. I did a picture of a grey, Bertie, walking down a river, and that was taken at Wittering Grange. The owner saw the shot, and said it wasn’t very safe, and not a good idea to show the horse walking down the river on its own.

And they were told, no, there was somebody holding it, but they’ve been Photoshopped out!


Another really important tip is the background – have a really good look at the background. Is there any rubbish, pallets, or stuff you don’t want? And always look for something that’s fairly clean, like a background of trees. Framing is good, if you’ve got a nice gateway or something like that.

***

At this point Holly knocks tea over Deanne, who nobly carries right on. We then get set up for Holly’s photoshoot. All this Holly watches with just a flicker of an elderly Labrador eyebrow. She is chilled. She does not care. 

© Jane Badger
Dog number 4 (Deanne has three others) takes his place so Deanne can check the light levels. Flash, goes the flash.

© Jane Badger
IT IS THE DEVIL IN LIGHTNING FORM, says Holly. I want none of this.

Deanne is ready. We don’t have to have the flash. Dog number 4 waits, patiently, for his next shot. The camera clicks.

THE CAMERA IS THE INSTRUMENT OF THE DEVIL NOW HE HAS FINISHED WITH LIGHTNING, says Holly, quivering. I think I will go.

Deanne takes this absolutely in her stride. Holly is a rescue dog, and having been shut up in a yard for much of her early life, is very prone to FEARS. Fortunately, she is very, very food-orientated. I go off to raid the fridge. We decide to use the camera as a sort of clicker for clicker training. Deanne counts to three, and presses the shutter. The moment it clicks, I shove cheese down Holly. After a few shots she now associates the shutter noise with food. She is a Labrador, after all.

© Jane Badger
 She is now back to being chilled elderly Labrador who quite fancies getting back to sleep, so we seize the moment and encourage her on to the nice comfy foam bed Deanne uses. Holly approves of this and settles down for a bit more kip.

Deanne is equal to this too. She has a repertoire of strange noises it is just as well she did not use at school or she would have been permanently in detention. It does the trick. Holly is interested, looks where she’s supposed to look, and a few minute later, we’re done. Holly is so chilled she decides to hang out on the foam bed while everything is packed up round her.

So we can highly recommend Deanne, who managed a Labrador full of FEARS with effortless ease. It was really impressive.

And here are (some of) the results:



Amazing transformation of photograph into painting
And you get a video featuring all the shots of your lovely animal (I did not cry when I saw it, oh no).




***


If you want to get in touch with Deanne to work with you and your animals, you can reach her here at Deanne Ward Photography.

All photographs © Deanne Ward Photography, except where indicated

Disclaimer: my very kind friend gave us this photoshoot as a present.






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