All images by Stuart Holroyd. Used with permission.
Back in August, photographer Stuart Holroyd reached out to us to share the Bay Tree Project–a photography initiative aimed at getting shelter dogs adopted. Stuart, like many of us, has a love of the furry canines and wants to help them. Shelter dogs are a difficult subject because what happens to many dogs is very depressing. And that’s where Stuart wanted to use his photography skills to help many of the wonderful pooches get the homes that they deserve.
Stuart learned a lot along the way–and we talked to him about what it’s like to coordinate a giant project like this, believing in yourself, and accomplishing goals.
Phoblographer: When we first interviewed you, this was just still an idea. How did you go about taking it from an idea to a full blown project?
Stuart: To be honest I was determined to get this off the ground to start raising money for Kayte over at Bay Tree Rescue. She was struggling with getting donations and was running low on food etc so I had to just get stuck into the social media side of things. Facebook was a huge help, so starting the page, putting goals and timescales in place were the starting point (how long for each photo etc). This wasn’t just some big charity 1000’s of miles away, this was a local rescue centre, 1 mile down the road with dogs being dumped outside.
I think the biggest step from idea to production was to just stop procrastinating and get on with it, especially when there people actually depending on you. It was a huge motivation for me and even though I knew this wasn’t going to get many donations short term, the long term goals were much more beneficial.
I had also said I was going to do this, so I did. That must sound very blunt be I’ll be honest, if I can do this then anyone can, genuinely.
Phoblographer: What made you want to combine your love of photography with your love of dogs to help them?
Stuart: When I moved to Cyprus I was made aware of what Kayte was doing and went to visit her. Once you step foot into the rescue centre there is just an overwhelming amount of love from these dogs, every single one of them was happy to see you whether they were healthy, blind or even had a limb missing……it was unconditional. I wanted to help, but do something a little different so I pitched the idea about doing something photography based and we went from there. I had seen it done before by other photographers to help get dogs adopted so decided I wanted to take it one step further. I wish I could say I was the first but I’m sure there have been many before me and will be many in the future.
“Once you step foot into the rescue centre there is just an overwhelming amount of love from these dogs, every single one of them was happy to see you whether they were healthy, blind or even had a limb missing……it was unconditional.”
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the setups for the images. What were you trying to convey about each pooch? It seems like each has their own personality and feeling in each image.
Stuart: I’ll be honest that was probably the most painful part. I could only take one image at a time and then go back once the one before had been fnished, it was my own process. I tried taking a few at a time but it just confused me and ended up with images that didn’t really represent the personality of the dog. So one at a time was the easiest way for me, then going back to the rescue centre, picking another dog (which was very hard by the way) and then taking another photo.
Once the photo was taken I would then go away and have a think about that dog, think about their personality and start to put together basic compositions, see what worked, looking at lighting and shadows etc.
So a pretty good example of this is Milly (on the beach), she has a disbality whereas her back legs are tied together, so she’s called “Milly The Mermaid” at the centre–hence the lighthouse and the beach. The book is going to have a full backstory on each of the pups.
I wanted one light source for each photo as to keep it simple, this was a theme throughout the process and it kept me on track.
“Once the photo was taken I would then go away and have a think about that dog, think about their personality and start to put together basic compositions, see what worked, looking at lighting and shadows etc.”
Phoblographer: What was it like trying to get the dogs to pose? How did you do it?
Stuart: Ah, now this I was extremely lucky with. Kayte (Wilson-Smith) has had decades of experience with dogs from judging in Crufts, dogs in films and tv all the way to help organising equestrian events for the Olympics. How we met in the middle of Cyprus is very random but if there was anything I needed from the dog, she would know how to get it.
If you are thinking of getting into animal photography, befriend someone who is a (good, respectable) trainer for that animal. Even though they may cost money to help with your shoot, you will be seen as much more professional and I can tell you personally it makes your shoot 100 times easier, without Kayte, there would be no photos.
Phoblographer: What was it like trying to get a publisher for the series?
Stuart: This was about some personal research (Google) and then calling some of the smaller publishing companies that deal with this type of photography. After sending the photos to a few publishing companies and just calling and calling and calling, they took my call and saw some of the images, and then went from there. We had a few offers which we were very lucky about. Skycat Publishications came back with the best price to manufacture with the best profit margins, this was of course important as all monies go straight to Bay Tree Rescue, I take nothing from this whatsoever.
The one thing I will say is the reason I only sent a few images over to be seen is that when you email your images to a publishing company, you have to be careful with the copyright. On some’s T&C’s in the publishers website they will say they can use any images sent at their own discretion, so I sent at 72 dpi in a smaller format just in case.
Phoblographer: Let’s talk about logistics. To do this project you obviously need goals and need to set plans in motion to achieve all of them. Talk to us about these goals. Is the entire project now finished?
Stuart: Well again the first goal is just to get off your butt, stop talking about it and do it. The biggest issue I’ve heard in the past from photographers is them talking a good game but never actually doing something.
“The last bit of advice I would give is that never think you are not good enough, everyone has to start somewhere. This for me has been one of the most amazing journeys in my life, it has been an eye opener and more importantly I have been able to help.”
You have to be realistic. Personally I thought it would take me 6 months to do 10 dogs, in reality it took 9. So time each of your photos based on how long the last one took to finish, I know this moves the goal posts but you find that the more you do it, the better and faster you will become at it.
Also never be afraid to ask another photographer/artist for advice. I had to do this and it helped me become better at what I did. Always choose someone you admire though, someone who’s work inspires you. If you don’t get a reply from one, just go to the next. I get requests from lots of people asking for advice and I’m always happy to help.
I will be honest, I got disheartened on many occasions, lack of creativity and just plain stuck from pixel blindness. I had to put down my wacom and step away for a couple of days. Completely forget about it, then suddenly 2 days later I might see something while walking down the street and I’ll rush back to my laptop and get cracking, sometimes even starting from scratch with an image.
From my side the images have now been completed, maybe a couple of tweeks before they go to print but we are 99.9% there. I have Kayte writing the back stories for each dog and then I will write the introductions and acknowledgements, which of course The Phoblographer will be included as you have supported us from literally day 1.
The last bit of advice I would give is that never think you are not good enough, everyone has to start somewhere. This for me has been one of the most amazing journeys in my life, it has been an eye opener and more importantly I have been able to help.