Three years ago Kari Maples was relatively uninterested in photography but always harbored an intense passion for dogs, even though she never owned one as a child. After moving out on her own and purchasing a home, however, she soon discovered how the magic derived from following one passion can quickly lead to the unveiling of hidden talents of expression in another, as if the pursuit of one love could actually fuel another, creating a newfound career in the process.
Today Kari not only a compelling photographer and a happy dog owner, but the successful entrepreneur and owner of Say Woof! Photography – a unique hybrid, if you will, of animal portraiture, advanced photo developing techniques, and innate sensitivity that allows dog, cat and animal lovers the opportunity to capture the essence of their pet behind Kari's watchful and ever poised camera lens.
In terms of her love of photography, until digital photography evolved on the scene, she had little interest in spending money on film and experimenting with various camera settings. "I would play around with photography but never really did anything with it until I bought my first digital camera," she explains, "which was a 3 mega-pixel device and started taking photos of my own dogs."
"I quickly became really excited about what I started shooting quite by accident and then started to study and learn the various settings involved," she continues. "What surprised me most and what I found discouraging about traditional film is that with digital photography I became unlimited – it offered the freedom of taking as many photos as I wanted, without being limited to 24 or 36 exposures before I needed to change film."
"Having this camera allowed me to take 100 photos and obtain ten great ones, which I started practicing with on a friends' dog out at the park," she notes. "But I quickly learned the limitations of my 3 mega-pix camera because it can't go very fast. Consequently, I did a lot of research and purchased my first SLR camera, took classes at Midland Center for the Arts, and studied Photoshop at Delta College. For the first time in my life I found something – a passion, if you will – that last longer than six months," she laughs.
As for her passion for dogs, Kari says she loves every aspect of the 'dog world'. "I don't have kids and don't really want them," she explains. "But I love working with dogs and training them. One of the dogs I own is a 'Therapy Dog' and we'll go around to nursing homes. There's a certification that goes along with that, but this is another way to make dogs more of a career without being a licensed trainer. I like doing training, but don't like training other peoples' dogs."
Kari purchased her first dog two weeks before she could move into her house and today owns three animals, which are all rescue dogs. "I don't believe in buying from breeders of puppy mills," she explains, "although there are a lot of responsible breeders out there that form a good source of my income."
"My preference is for mutts even though I go in and do a lot of research before buying a dog," she notes. "Petfinder.com is an awesome resource, although the first dog I owned I obtained from Bay Animal Control, which was a Siberian husky. The second dog we got was a black lab mix from the paper and the third one found us, which is also a husky. She wandered up the driveway and is now my spokes-dog and my first real photo subject. I named her Karma and she is also my 'therapy' dog."
When asked why she prefers shooting portraits of dogs instead of people, Kari quickly responds by nothing how "Dogs are not self-conscious. You don't have to get them to relax in front of a camera."
"I don't do 'posing' but tend to follow them around," she continues. "It depends upon what the client wants and some prefer traditional posed shots. Generally their dogs are well trained enough to pose and most dogs will know a sit command; but I generally find that almost all my best shots that look posed actually aren't. It's just me playing with the dog and catching the dog in the moment. My style is more natural and candid – more of a documentary style."
With a preference for natural lighting Kari manages to catch animals best when they're simply doing what they love to do. From there she follows the nose of her own instincts.
"I might give them an empty jar of peanut butter and set up a scene now and then, but my experience with my dogs is that you've got to have a lot of patience," she explains. "A shoot might not seem to be going well but then most clients are surprised by the shots that I manage to get."
Kari started out her newfound career by word-of-mouth and has developed at least fifty clients. When asked what most people are looking for, she notes how it depends entirely upon the owner.
"I had people bring 14 costume changes and once a client brought a mini-piano and had the dog dressed in tuxedo," she laughs, "but I have backdrops and lighting, even though I do prefer natural lighting. Everyone is different."
When asked what she feels distinguishes her work, Kari is reflective.
"Every photographer in town will let you do a family portrait with a dog, but to me that looks plain. What I do is capture the spirit and personality of that dog. I know I've got a good shot when a client looks at the photo and goes, 'Oh my God – that's her!'
"What I tend to go after is the essence of the dog, whether it's laying in bed or tearing up a backyard. I don't make them pose and a lot of people will call and say they don't think I'll be able to photograph their dog because they won't sit still, but I always hang out with the dog and let them to get to know me before I start shooting."
"Another time there was a dog that knew no commands, not even how to sit, but I gave it a treat and got it to actually sit for two minutes straight; so I don't go into a shoot with any expectations. I follow what the dog does and what the dog wants to do and that's what makes me different. It's about the dog, not about the family putting the dog in a portrait."
Undoubtedly, the most challenging component to Kari is not having control over the environment. "Some day I'd like to have a studio, but dogs tend to be more comfortable at home."
Most of Kari's sessions last one hour, but clients can purchase more time. Usually she will take 200 to 250 shots per dog and out of that each client will get 20 to 40 uncommonly good shots.
"I also do something completely different in this are," she notes, "and don't make the client buy any prints. I will sell prints, but they get a CD-rom with all the digital negatives to keep. In this day and age prints are silly. A client can print them on their own computer or go to Walmart or Sam's Club for prints, although again, I will do them upon request and include prints in the package if the client isn't digitally savvy."
"I also offer T-shirts and Tote Bags with the photos printed upon them and a lot of photographers will charge extra on that, but I can't see it and would rather provide a gateway for obtaining those services."
With a basic package that runs $75.00 the client can obtain one location shoot, one hour of time and a cd Rom. Additional dogs or locations can bump the price up, but Kari also offers a $45.00 'down-and-dirty' package that includes one 8x10 print and two 5x7 prints without the CD.
The best way to check out her work and obtain her services is to go to saywoofphoto.com or phone 989-684-4048. Kari's website has tons of examples and she also offers her services free to charity groups.
"Recently I did a Great Dane Adoption Day that was a rescue mission between four states that took place in Ann Arbor," she notes. "I try and shoot every dog and post them online so people can purchase the animals online with a credit card and a percentage of the profits go back to the rescue mission. This is my way of giving back. Plus, I'll offer an automatic 25% discount if the dog that I'm taking photos of is taken through a Rescue Mission."
Oh yes, and in case you were wondering, Kari will also shoot photos of your cats.
"I'll photograph any pet," she laughs, "and was even asked to photograph a tarantula once!"
16th November, 2023