Bowie Shoots Takes Dog Photography to an Even More Adorable Level
Social media has made it easier than ever to connect with innovative business owners from around the world. During the early days of the pandemic, I stumbled upon the Instagram page for Bowie Shoots, a dog photography business that harkens back to the sometimes awkward but always adorable photos we had to take in our elementary and high school days.
I had the pleasure of interviewing owner Andrea Castanon about her process and vision for creating some of the sweetest pet photos you'll ever see.
Meet Andrea and Bowie
Always Pets: How did you get into dog photography, and what inspired you to pursue it?
Andrea Castanon: I started Bowie Shoots about five years ago as a passion project. At the time, I was working as a full-time fashion retoucher in New York City, and I just wanted something fun to do on the weekends that had nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with dogs.
I started taking my dog's [Bowie] school picture just for fun. Soon, I had friends who asked if they could have their dog's school picture taken. The business just kind of evolved from there.
One of my very first jobs was as a school yearbook photographer for children. I loved it. It was so much fun. I don't have human children of my own, so my dogs are my children. All my worlds have now blended together with retouching, photography and dogs.
*Interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Bowie Shoots Offers a Nostalgic Look at School Photos for Your Pet
Always Pets: Outside of working with the dogs, what is your favorite part about the photo sessions and recreating these particular types of photos?
Andrea Castanon: It's just so wonderful getting to know these dogs and their personalities. A lot of parents come back every year to have their dog's picture taken. So I get to see the progress of the dogs and the styles that they bring always change.
The photos are silly and cute but are also a heartfelt keepsake for families. I started doing full family portraits [with humans] about two years ago. It's been fun to be able to recreate the keepsakes that we've all have from when we grew up, cheesy poses and all.
Brainstorm Sessions for a Dog's Best Lewk
Always Pets: How do you work with clients to determine what they want to shoot? What's the process for talking with pet parents on a concept?
Andrea Castanon: Before the session, the client picks the photo package that they want. It can have a variety of backgrounds or be a very specific school portrait, like a one with a laser background or a graduation session.
Once they've settled on the theme, we'll talk about adding accessories on set or in Photoshop. If they prefer just a bandana, that's fine, too.
Creative Costuming is Always Key
Always Pets: Are clients encouraged to bring their own looks to set?
Andrea Castanon: I recommend pet parents bring clothing, but I do have bandanas available. I have black bow ties for graduation sessions. I have like the sweetheart line for the ladies and also grad caps. I can photoshop accessories, like sunglasses and hats, pretty well. Bigger items like sweaters and vests are actual proponents on the dog.
Some dogs are super comfortable and like being dressed, so their shots are all in camera. In those cases, I'll I just touch up a few things that need removing, like an eye booger or treats in the beard. For other dogs who aren't really fans of accessories, I use Photoshop.
Calming a Case of the Canine Jitters
Always Pets: So that brings me to the next question — how do you handle nervous dogs and get them to look at the camera? Are you dangling treats, or is there a pet parent behind you? When I take a photo of my dog, he somehow knows I'm doing it and will not look at the camera.
Andrea Castanon: Oh my gosh, yes! My dog does the same. I understand their anxiety, and I don't want their photo to come across as something painful.
As you know, some dogs are very shy. I have a big light behind me and a big camera. I'm a stranger, so I totally understand. I typically work around whatever is comfortable for the dog. If that means their owner is actually sitting in the shot with the dog in their lap, I photoshop the owner out.
The first shot typically catches them off guard. They're not sure what is going to happen. That is usually the one clear shot of them sitting. If they get really spooked, I point the light away, and just have them sit with their parent. That immediately makes them more comfortable, and I don't get anywhere near them.
I may use a squeaker or some other noisemaker to get their attention. Treats work really well for getting expression shots. I just need the face. When I get it, I'll combine it with all the other elements.
Picking the Portrait Package
Always Pets: When you're done, do you have clients choose from a group of photos? When we were in school, every year we would get a couple of larger 8x10 shots, some 4 x 6 shots and some wallet sizes. Is it basically the same for pet parents?
Andrea Castanon: I work with a third-party company that shoots school portraits for elementary and high schools. It's the same process. You get a code in an email once your photos are ready. With that code, you can select wallet sizes, 8x10s, or a even a mug or banknotes.
Andrea's Most Memorable Shoots
Always Pets: What's was one of the most memorable photoshoots you've done or one of the weirdest? I was going through your Instagram page recently, and I believe a saw a grasshopper posing. I've seen birds, too.
Andrea Castanon: I took those during the COVID pandemic. I was just out of my wits and wanted to shoot something new. I found a praying mantis in my house, so I just took my camera out and shot a few photos. I found a snail on my steps the other day, so I took a picture of it and thought it would be funny to photoshop a necklace or scrunchie. I get inspiration from all sorts of animals —reptiles make some funny portraits, and guinea pigs also have hilarious expressions.
Senior dogs are just such a treasure. One of the most memorable photoshoots I did was with a dog that was 17 or 18 years old. I've had many spunky senior dogs, and he was just so precious. I honor sessions with senior pups because I know they mean so much to the owner.
Sessions Are Private and Offer the Utmost in Comfort for You and Your Pet
Always Pets: I've been thinking about doing it myself, but my dog can't be around other dogs. During the sessions, are the dogs in separate rooms?
Andrea Castanon: Yes, it's usually private. There are some events that might be a photo booth style, and those are on-leash step and repeats. Typically, I have private sessions in a private room.
Picking a Virtual or Real Visit
Always Pets: I know that during COVID you were offering online sessions that allowed people to send you a photo of their pet to work on. I know you're back to traveling for shoots, but do you still do virtual sessions for people who can't get to you?
Andrea Castanon: Yes, that option is still on my website. I try to change out the background seasonally, so I have a spring background up right now, and the classic laser session that's also available.
I try to add a few special "virtual only" holiday backgrounds. Those are up year-round, and they're a great way for people who can't make it out to the set or who have dogs who wouldn't do well in those situations.
Bowie Shoots May Be Coming Soon to a Town Near You
Always Pets: What are your goals for Bowie Shoots in the future and some things you want to do that you haven't done yet?
Andrea Castanon: I am focused on expanding to new cities. I actually lived in Los Angeles for a little bit, and I live close to Maryland and D.C. now. I also used to live in New York, so I shoot in these areas a few times a year, but I want to expand to cities that I've never visited and focus on pop-ups in those places.
Other than that, I now have a calendar of my favorite shots, and I'd like to expand on that with cards or motivational posters. I want to continue creating uplifting things that make people smile.
Booking a Session with Your Pet
Always Pets: Where's the best place to find you online?
Andrea Castanon: Instagram and my website are the biggest hubs of information on Bowie Shoots. When new events are confirmed, I post them. I don't have a set calendar for the year that comes out every January.
My newsletter is also a great resource for announcing events and when reservations open, which go pretty quickly because they're so limited. With each event, I donate 10 percent of proceeds to a local animal rescue. I try to help the community wherever I go.