Photography is an art. The art of capturing precise moments in life and transforming them to treasurable, memorable keepsakes. To Robert Semrow, professionally known as the famous Pawtographer, photography became of interest at a young age. He was given his first camera at seven years old for Christmas, “It wasn’t anything fancy, but to me at the time it was the best camera ever.” Little did he know, his mere interest would launch into a successful and well-known career where Semrow has been compared to Rachel Hale and even referred to as “The Anne Geddes of the animal portrait world.” He was named a Top 5 Must Have Dog product and his past work includes portraits of many celebrity pets and their families.
The Pawtographer has gained stardom not only because of the beautiful portraits produced, but his ability to capture natural to documentary styles of our beloved pets at any given moment. “Photography is such a beautiful form of art that allows you to capture a moment in time forever, even though that moment or scene may never be able to be recreated.” From scuba diving poodles to sushi chef pugs, The Pawtographer has surely created pictures making us awe and ooh at the cute, hilarious and impossible shots of our furry friends.
You would assume The Pawtographer had gone through extensive formal training to earn the acclamation and honorary titles he currently holds, but no formal training was received here! Semrow built his photography skills and knowledge through advice given by fellow photographers, attending seminars, watching DVDs, and simply learning from peers.
Many ask how he is able to capture those precise moments with difficult animal clients and his common response to the questioning fans and photographers is, “I am not the world’s greatest photographer, but my passion for my subjects is among the greatest, and this is hopefully reflected in my art.” The Pawtographer’s inspiration to photograph animals stemmed from his deep love and respect for animals as well as influence of his wife, Amber, and two canine rescues, Sugar and Zoey. Sugar is a sweet, gentle Shiba Inu/Lab mix and Zoey is a free spirited, loving Lab/Shepherd mix. The stories of how The Pawtographer and his wife came to adopt both canines portray the heart- wrenching truth of abandoned animals in desperate need for loving homes.
Before adoption, Sugar had been tossed out of a car at the Cabazon Outlet Mall in Southern California. A security guard rescued her and she was then placed into a shelter. The rough past of Sugar made her more special to The Pawtographer and his wife who were looking for a dog to run around the couple’s “Tremendously large backyard.” The first week of fostering Sugar was a learning process for both sides. Sugar didn’t respond or glance when called and she expressed nervousness around cars. To communicate better with Sugar, The Pawtographer quickly learned doggie sign language, which proved to be a success when Sugar responded to calls. A few weeks after having Sugar, a rainstorm flooded the property confusing Sugar of the deepness of the water. Sugar slipped and damaged her leg, making even the slightest pressure on the leg painful and difficult to bear. After a visit to the animal hospital in Irvine, CA, a titanium leg was crafted where Sugar’s skin was sewn over and her leg was attached above the non-damaged growth plates.
The Pawtographer dedicated much time towards Sugar’s recovery by taking her for daily walks by strapping her 30-35 pound body on his chest. The sight was definitely an unusual one but The Pawtographer’s devotion for Sugar to continue socializing and familiarizing with the environment was steadfast. His experiences with Sugar were actually a major inspiration to start and continue his work today. Sugar eventually made a full recovery and went on winning several dog shows, even placing second in an agility competition. The Pawtographer describes his canine friend as an intelligent, vigilant, and loyal pet who serves as a guardian of the family. Sugar also resembles the Terminator to The Pawtographer because of her titanium leg but also for her protectiveness, selflessness, and warm heart for her loved ones.
Zoey was an abandoned young pup left on the freeway close to The Pawtographer’s home. She was one of three black lab/German shepherd puppies who were brought by a rescue group in hopes of finding caring foster homes for the abandoned puppies. While Sugar and the three puppies were playing, The Pawtographer jokingly stated, “whichever one jumps in the pool is the dog for us.” Soon enough, a black puppy with a prominent white stripe down her belly with tips of white on her toes and tail jumped into the nearby 55-degree pool. In hopes of rescue, The Pawtographer jumped after the puppy in his Sunday best with wallet and checkbook still in his pocket. The puppy had already hopped out of the pool by then, but jumped back in to swim towards the odd man flailing in the water. After the hilarious occurrence, The Pawtographer had found the perfect addition to his family. Zoey is described as “a big ball of love who wants nothing more than to be next to you.” She reminds The Pawtographer of the actress Zooey Deschanel not because of the shared name, but their similar “just enjoyment for life” and “be in the moment” attitudes. Both Zoey and Sugar are often found lying next to The Photographer while he works on his computer. His canine companions are not just pets to him and his family, but actual family members. “To them I say, thank you for all of the love and devotion.”
When asked what his favorite animal to photograph was, the answer was simple: dogs! “Dogs instinctively want to please people and therefore seem to get joy out of people getting joy while they are being photographed.” The wide array of breeds, colors, and personalities make picture snapping “fresh and fun” for The Pawtographer. The photo shoot he found among his favorite was of a dog in the scuba outfit. The crew hoped to mold the perfect scuba scene just by getting the flippers on the dog and snapping away. But when the dog allowed a mask and snorkel to be added to the costume, a tank was quickly crafted and the perfect scene had fallen into place. As a certified scuba diver himself, The Pawtographer was amazed and enlightened to find the canine model flexible in working with the team and costume. Another favorite shoot was the Sushi Chef Dog portrait where real food was used as props. This was a main concern before the actual shoot but it turned out to be the least concern after the dogs were placed on set.
They found no interest in the sushi surrounding them and were star models during the shoot. The set was quite a showstopper since people who saw the portrait was often found uttering “Oh my Dog!” The funniest memory during a shoot was with a burly, playful Great Dane who believed he was a lap dog. To prove his excitement and enthusiasm on set, he wagged his tail faster and faster which eventually caught onto the backdrop bringing down the entire set. As the backdrop fell to the ground, the Great Dane jolted to the lap of The Pawtographer. It seems that there are no ordinary photo shoots that take place at the Orange County Studio. But who needs ordinary shoots when ordinary can be replaced with memorable, comical, and entertaining shoots?
Taking photographs of animals in real clothing and food may appear enjoyable and pleasant but at times, it can be chaotic and brutal. Patience is a key quality every photographer should withhold, especially for an animal photographer since communication between human and animal is an issue. For The Pawtographer, any animal in the cat family is challenging to photograph. “In my experience cats do not like to be out of their environments, and then trying to place them in a scene or getting an outfit on them…well, let’s just say it’s always a big challenge when we have photo sessions with cats.” Their quick and nimble agility definitely serves as an obstacle on set, whether it be dressing them or placing them in a specific spot. Being patient and allowing the cats to feel comfortable can lead to that “perfect” shot, even if it means waiting for hours on end.
The first 5-10 minutes of The Pawtographer’s sessions are spent with the animal, allowing them to familiarize with the environment so they don’t feel harmed or uncomfortable. In addition to patience, understanding your subjects is crucial for photographers. “We make safety our top priority. If everyone is safe, the pets and their owners are much more relaxed.” An atmosphere with positive energy de-stresses everybody making it easier for pets to be less anxious and skittish. Eye contact is another important aspect for successful picture taking. “Animals’ eyes are so expressive, so we spend a lot of time trying to make sure that we capture their eyes in the photos.” Even scientists admit the eyes are a window to the soul so successful eye contact through the lens means successful production of an expressive portrait. Creating your perfect vision of a set is no easy task but according to The Pawtographer, “When you can think it up, create it, and then it actually comes out the way you dreamt or better…wow, that is something to be grateful for!” In the end, all that hard work really does pay off!
The Pawtographer provided his Top 5 Tips for an amateur photographer to snap a “perfect” shot of their pet. They are as follows:
1. Know your animal and the environment that it is most comfortable in.
2. Exercise them before you want to photograph them. Not to the point of them taking a nap, but to just expend some of the nervous energy that they feel when something strange like a camera is stalking them.
3. Figure out your lighting and angles and what you are hoping to capture so that you can position yourself and if need be, light the area.
4. If your animal pet won’t let you take pictures of them, ask a friend. Often our pets see our actions as signals to come. So, if you kneel down to take a photo, that may be a sign to them that you want your pet to come to you.
5. Have fun and snap away. There is nothing wrong with taking 10 photos to get that one that you will treasure forever. With the gadgets we all carry these days and the technology advances, it’s always worth snapping the photo.
Photography, gift certificates, giveaways, and donations are some of the ways The Pawtographer supports and contributes to animal charities. “We try to work with one charity every month, whether it’s a rescue group, therapy group, or service group, by taking portraits of their animals to assist in promoting them.” Using his unique talent to help charities is an important and inspiring aspect for The Pawtographer and his beliefs.
Currently, The Pawtographer has been keeping busy with his radio and TV show production, Pet World Insider, which is a program that provides the latest inside scoop on news, stories, and advice for animals and their people to live a healthy and informative pet-friendly lifestyle. In addition, he isworking on several projects including the release of a new gift book called Life is Pawfect. The book is a collection of his 55 most memorable themed portraits that includes fun facts and knowledge for pet parents. In 2013, a new book is expected to release about pet healthy and safety and how pet owners can accommodate safe living.
We all know that a picture can be worth a thousand words. A single portrait has the ability to arouse emotions for a loved one, treasured moment, or meaningful idea. Being a part of capturing these portraits and sharing it with others is an aspect of photography The Pawtographer relishes. The famous animal photographer ensures no critter is unable to be snapped with poise, creativity, and patience. So if you’re in search of that “perfect” portrait of your pet gorilla or prairie dog, put The Pawtographer’s number on speed dial, he won’t let you down!
The Pawtographer Studio is located in the South Coast Metro area of Orange County, CA. To see more samples of his work and to find more information, check out his website here: http://www.thepawtographer.com