Years into the future, Ron Schmidt‘s photographs of Grace, Joy, Rudy, and Scout will be with us. With any luck, canine lovers will be uttering those names and talking about Loose Leashes for a long time.
“When I create an image, I try not to use any really modern props. I try to use things that have a timeless feel,” Ron says. “Whenever I have a prop, I look for something older with a retro feel to it.” Loose Leashes is the name of Ron’s company, which creates smart, witty images for dog lovers globally.
Dogster readers who have oohed or aahed at a photo of a dog in a swing, blowing a bubble, or licking a bakery store window have experienced the magic of Ron’s work.
Loose Leashes, which was formed in 2004, is a fitting company name, as Ron tells it: “All the images represent the freedom that a dog would have without someone holding its leash. These are the things dogs would do if no one was around and they had absolute freedom.”
A dog lover, Ron was always a photography buff, having studied the subject at the Brooks Institute. So how does a fashion and celebrity freelance assistant branch out on his own into the world of dog photography? Ron’s branches extended via a Christmas tree, a Labrador Retriever, and the cover of a holiday card.
“I took a picture of my dog, Indy, carrying a tree on her back,” he says. “A bag full of cheese and a hundred photographs later, the photo became our Christmas card that year. It was a fun, conceptual image that was a big hit with everyone who saw it. Since I love dogs and photography, this worked out really well.”
As an artist, Ron considers his images concepts and not portraits. Sitting with his idea book, he flips through magazines for objects and inspiration to start the creative process. He explains, “I want my images to be strikingly interesting and classic humor but not over the top.”
Case in point, the photographer’s favorites: Lewie and Clark, two Labrador Retrievers on an eternal quest for a tennis ball. Ron builds the props for his images, including a bottomless canoe built in his basement for the famous “The Adventurers” shot. “That image sums it all up, having this pair on a timeless adventure for an ever-lost, just-out-of-reach tennis ball is a great story,” he says.
Perusing his puppy pictorials, there is a uniqueness to the way images are labeled. “The names come after, and that is one of the unique things about my work. I try to make them characters. My wife, Amy, and I will come up with a name first and then develop some bullet points about the dog’s personality,” he says.
With all of these off-the-beaten-path doggie depictions, the photographer has experienced some unforgettable moments. As Ron’s photo assistant and dog handler, Amy tells of one encounter. “For the shot of Biscuit [the dog licking the bakery window] we had a woman who came for the shoot with five Boston Terrier show dogs. I had to pick them up and have each of them lick cheese off the glass. It turns out I am very allergic to Terriers and was completely covered in hives by the end of the shoot!”
Amy also blogs as Sam, the couple’s Labrador Retriever. Ron beams, “Amy will come up with a concept or idea of something that happened last week and write it in Sam’s words and how he might react, with her own twist.” Sam’s Dog Blog has become a popular feature of the Loose Leashes site.
Combining pictures and prose is another layer of Ron’s passion and vision. With one kids’ book already in his portfolio, he’s working on a second for Random House, featuring a day at school told through the eyes of a puppy.
If you’ve tried to photograph your own dogs in an attempt to capture that one perfect photo, you know how difficult it can be. “Take lots of pictures, since you can always delete the ones you don’t want,” Ron says. “Sunlight is always helpful for dark-colored dogs, especially for black Labs who are notoriously hard to light. Take photos from a variety of angles.”
During some shoots, Ron says he takes 500 to 1,000 pictures to capture just the right expression, with the right twinkle in a dog’s eye.
For the Schmidts, touching lives goes beyond creating an image. Each month, they donate. They focus on dogs or animal-related charities, like the Humane Society. “We have a lot of Facebook fans, so we can highlight the charity on our page. That is ultimately the goal,” he says. “The more we can do, the better.”
With all of his successes, where else can this creative mind go? “We would love to have a Loose Leashes store/gallery. We love the social component of having people and dogs in our workspace throughout the day.” He envisions doubling or quadrupling the amount of images he has, and to have staff as well.
Much like the dogs he photographs, Ron is a free spirit following his dream, embracing his passion, and capturing the timeless energy and essence of canines in their purest form.