pet owner taking a selfie with her canine
Dogs | Pets

A Brief History Of Pet Photography

We’ve been taking photos of our pets for as long as we’ve had cameras. We can trace back the history of pet photography to the very first use of film.

If we wanted to go back even further, we could discuss the many instances of animals in art and painting — and there aremany. From the Ancient Egyptians to the Great Roman Empire and even further back, to the times of Neanderthals, people always found a reason and a way to capture the likeness of animals on some type of medium.

But to get a better understanding of why we love capturing our furry friends on film, let’s just go back to the inception of the camera.

The first recorded image of an animal on film occurred in the 1850s. The animal was a dog — a white poodle to be exact. It was titled, Poodle with Bow, on Table.

Purebred Dog, the first canine ever photographed
Source: Southby’s

This dog photograph was taken using the very original style of photo taking. This style of photography is calleddaguerreotype, that means that it was taken through an early photographic process of taking a direct positive on a silver copped plate.

Back in the day, photographs took time — lots of time. Can you imagine your pet sitting for more than a few seconds for a good photo? This poodle had to sit anywhere from three to fifteen minutes for their portrait!

In the end, this was a very good doggo. The piece survived the years and in 2009, it sold for over $8,000. Unfortunately, this method of photography was unsuitable for pets, and it would take later evolutions of the camera exposure process to really capture these animals despite wagging tails and antsy paws.

One method of photo taking that worked well was through Stereographs. This process involved overlaying two nearly-identical images taken with a double lens camera. The two images were placed side-by-side and were viewed with a Stereoscope. The resulting image was a 3D masterpiece that jumped from the screen. It was extremely popular with Photographer Frank Haes who used this process to document animals at the London Zoo in the 1860s.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw major changes to camera exposure times and the optimization of the photographic process as a whole. No longer did people — or pets — have to sit for minutes to grab a clean portrait. These transformations allowed for the capture of animals in motion, like that of Alexander Rodchenko catching a horse on camera mid-leap.

Come the 1950s and 60s, the photographer’s eye turned to domestic animals. One famous photographer, Elliott Erwitt, began capturing New Yorker’s on the streets with their pets. He focused mainly on dogs, and one of his most famous photographs is titled New York City, 1974and captured a small Chihuahua standing next to its female owner. But what really stands out is the giant Great Dane legs that towers over the small dog.

small Chihuahua standing next to its female owner
Source: Elliott Erwitt

Another well-known pet photographer was William Wegman, who began a peculiar photo series with his dog, Man Ray. The series depicts both dog and owner staged in strange and head-turning ways.

These works paved the way for many more individuals do delve into pet photography. But they have also created a norm around taking photos of pets and animals that is very present to this day.

Today, we might not take photos of our pets for the art of it. But these photos still hold a very special place in our hearts.

That’s what we’re here to protect and promote at Iconic Paw. We want you to be able to hold onto these memories for years to come. Photography might be more modern, but with your pictures we can take these prints back to an earlier time, creating painted pet portraits that stand out.

To turn your pet photos into painted canvases, learn how our pet portrait process works!

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