CultureMad Lifestyle Magazine – “Animal Photographer” – Ken Drake Interview 2017
An Interview with ‘Pawtraits’ Photographer Ken Drake
By Mark Moray – Mar 21, 2017
Ken Drake is the director and Master Photographer at Zoo Studio, the proud Dad of two dogs, several cats and a clutch of chickens. Ken has been recognised for his beautiful animal portraits all over the worlds, has been published on at least three continents and has won major international photography competitions. He is passionate about animals, being a keen advocate for animal welfare in all its guises and a proud supporter of animal welfare charities including the RSPCA Queensland and GSDs (German Shepherd Dogs) in Need.
In the wake of the newly published photographic collection appropriately titled Pawtraits, Mark Moray recently spoke with Ken Drake on his origins as a professional photographer and his passion of pet photography.
Mark Moray – Most people start photography as a hobby that may eventually become a career, how did you start?
Ken Drake – It did start off as a hobby; my father had photography as a hobby as well. He was always getting the camera out and taking photos. I guess it was intriguing for me that made me take out a camera. I never really had much of a chance taking photos as I was a drummer in a band that being on stage, and after that I went into software where I was travelling all over the place and never had a chance to do it. When I gave up software and took a few months off, this was about eleven to twelve years ago, I bought a digital camera, my first digital camera, and bought a couple of cats as well. I started photographing them and that is basically where it all started.
MM – Do you recall what camera it was that you bought?
KD – Yes, it was a Canon 10D, It had 6MP.
MM – So what camera are you currently using?
KD – I use the Nikon D810. It offers exactly what I need for my photos. The dynamic colour range, for when I shoot black against black is great. It’s all about finding the right gear for your job.
MM – Back to photographing your pet cats, did that make you think that photographing animals is where you want to start as a photographer?
KD – That was something I was doing when I took time off. I met my wife at that point. I was planning on travelling and I didn’t want to leave her, at that time she is also my business partner who actually runs Zoo Studio. I didn’t really have any expectations of my photography of the cats, but I felt that wasn’t only their likeness in images, but I was also capturing their personalities. The cats, I still have them, ‘Will’ and ‘Lucy’. Will is a very out going cat, very bossy and domineering, and Lucy is a very quiet cat, a bit of a princess, and this is what was coming across in the photos and that was a whole thing I didn’t really consider. That’s what I am really addicted to is capturing the personality of the animals rather than just photographing them. That is my thing.
MM – Did you have pets as a child?
KD – Always always, my mum is a real animal lover, well actually the whole family is. Particularly my mum as she grew up with dogs all around her, in particular with my Grandfather who had an interest in Boxers and we always had two dogs and when we would be sitting around watching the TV, I would be sitting around with the dogs.
MM – Dogs certainly have different personalities to cats.
KD – Very much so. We have dogs as well as cats and I love watching them interact with each other.
MM – One of the so-called rules of show business is “Don’t work with animals or children”. I guess this is because they can easily become uncontrollable. How hard is it working and photographing animals?
KD – I don’t actually find it difficult; I actually find that it comes naturally. If you do find it difficult I’d assume it is probably the wrong thing you are doing. I had to study hard at that, watching animal body language and understanding all about the animals that I am photographing. If I am doing something that is annoying them or upsetting them, I can tell very quickly. I learned over the years how to get the best performance out of the animals, and how to get them to do all those little things, like a very playful shot, or a very cuddly shot that the owners love.
MM – Are some breeds of dogs easier to work with than others?
KD – On a kind of high level then yes, although I don’t ever judge a dog by its breed, as you never really know what you are going to get from an animal. A session I was doing this morning was half Husky and Half Border Collie and she was absolutely active as a Husky could be, but when she was interacting with her family, she was rounding them up like a Border Collie, it was really weird, so cool to see.
MM – Have you ever been bitten by a dog?
KD – Actually yes, and I always blame myself for when that happens. I never blame the dog, and I have never been mauled at all, but have had warning bites. From my experience there are very very few aggressive dogs out there. I have photographed over 9000 dogs now and I would say there were three dogs that I didn’t trust. None of those actually bit me, because I was on my guard, and wouldn’t let it happen, as I would understand their body language.
MM – In 2006 you started your company ‘Zoo Studio’. With the name ‘Zoo Studio’ do you take photos of other animals besides dogs and cats?
KD – I wanted to photograph all animals. In Zoo Studio we photograph people’s pets, but I do photograph a lot of wildlife as well, for instance we do a calendar for the RSPCA every year and that is in Queensland. I have photographed kangaroos, frogs, bats; I had a snake in the studio again this week and a couple of ducklings. All sorts of animals. Never an elephant, but I am looking forward to photographing an elephant, but it might be a bit big for my studio.
MM – Is There An Animal you wouldn’t photograph?
KD – No, there isn’t. I wouldn’t photograph an animal that was dangerous that didn’t have an expert that was in control of it. I photographed a crocodile once and in the middle of the shoot, the trainer said that he thought that would be enough. As I couldn’t read the body language of the crocodile, I took the guidance of the trainer and stopped the shoot. It wouldn’t be good for me or for the animal if I got mauled.
MM – Have you done underwater photography?
KD – No, I am really not a natural water person. I have occasionally photographed animals in a tank, last year the RSPCA brought in a turtle and I we got some fabulous photos of him underwater, but I was dry.
MM – ‘Pawtraits’ is a beautifully bound book of dog portraits. Do you know how many different types of dogs and how many photos you took to get to final 365 dogs that were published?
KD – Its not just a celebration of dogs its also a celebration of the last 10 years of Zoo Studio. These are my favourite and my wife’s favourite photos over the years. All the photos in the book are actually client’s photos that we had to get their permission to have in the book. There is not one photo that I took specifically for the book; they were taken for the individual client, and these are the favourites over the years.
MM – Then there would have been thousands that you would have gone through?
KD – Yeah, I must admit I keep a file of my favourite photos, but you can thank my wife. I said there are a couple of hundred photos and she also had a lot of her favourites as well. We had to do a little bit of negotiation.
MM – Your photos in the book all have a very distinctive black background. Why did you choose ‘Black’ as the backdrop?
KD – I love shooting on a black background; there is just something about it. It makes the photos very dramatic and if you get the lighting right you can add a lot of texture into their fur. I just have this thing about photographing black animals on a black background which I love doing. When I started doing the studio photography ten years ago, I started using grey backgrounds and that worked really nicely especially with grey dogs but if I had a darker background then it would set a better mood for the photo, so I started using black backgrounds. I also like photographing white dogs on white backgrounds.
MM – Somehow, many dogs seem to look like their owners in their own sort of way or even carry their personalities. Do you see this with the owners of the dogs that you photograph?
KD – Sometimes the owners can be very contrasting to their dogs. Sometimes you will get very outgoing families, where their dog is very quiet and laid back, and sometimes you get a lady with very curly hair and they come in with a poodle.
MM – Have you ever considered publishing a book of pets and their owners together?
KD – It’s not something that we would specialise in, although we were part of a book which was fund raising for a charity, a few years back which included other photographers from around the country that were to photograph people with their pets. Part of the sessions we do include photographing people with their pets.
MM – A portion of your book “Pawtraits” sales is donated to the RSPCA, how did that come about?
KD – My wife and I are very passionate about animal welfare, and ever since the beginning we have done work with animal charities, so every year for the RSPCA we do a calendar called ‘Hope’. The calendar is not something you can buy on their website, it’s something that they give to their guardian angels in supporters. These are people that donate regularly to the RSPCA and the RSPCA want to thank them for their support so they give them this calendar that no one else has access to and we photograph that every year. We also do ‘Santa Paws event here every year for the RSPCA. Last year it raised $26000.00 for them, and that was great.
We do calendars as well for other charities. Tuesdays are charities day, and that’s when we do charities here in the studio. Last year we raised $82000.00 in total.
MM – Finally Ken, what’s next on your agenda?
KD – I have my next book coming out in May 2017 and I am working on photos for a third book, so there are more books to come, which is really exciting.
Pawtraits by Ken Drake is a stunning photographic collection capturing man’s best friend at their most adorable, playful, mischievous and just downright loveable moments. Each ‘pawtrait’ is an artwork in itself – a beautiful, personal ‘tail’ of the life and loves of a dog– captured in Zoo Studio’s signature style. Since 2006, Zoo Studio have photographed over 8,000 pets (fur-kids) – giving them a strong understanding of animal behaviour, animal body language and how to bring out the very best in their furry subjects.
Something else to woof about: a portion of the sales of Pawtraits will be donated to various animal welfare charities.