Photographer Carli Davidson spends a lot of time cleaning her walls and furniture. That’s because she’s got a jowly French Mastiff named Norbert, who is always shaking his big head and flinging drool everywhere. “It was during one of those moments when I was cleaning that I was like, ‘Oh man, I wonder what this actually looks like--what it looks like when he is shaking his head,’” Davidson tells Co.Create.
Norbert, whom Davidson describes as sensitive, was notoriously camera shy at the time, so she brought a friend’s French Mastiff into her Portland studio, got him wet, and started shooting. She liked what she saw in the test shots, lined up other dog models and ultimately put together a book called Shake, published by HarperCollins. The book features crystal clear photos of wet dogs captured in mid-shake, and the expressions on their contorted faces are hilarious.
As silly as they look, what the dogs are doing is actually remarkable. A study conducted last year at the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed the science behind the shake. Among the fascinating facts revealed: that furry mammals, including dogs, can shake themselves 70% dry in just a fraction of a second, that mammals can generate centrifugal forces 10 to 70 times gravity during a shake and that the shaking is "tuned" according to the animal's size (small animals shake faster).
Initially, Davidson, who specializes in photographing animals and is a contracted photographer with the Oregon Zoo, assumed that the best pictures would be the ones taken of dogs with big jowls like Norbert, but she soon realized she was wrong. “There’s a Collie in there that just has the most beautiful shake, and its hair looks like a mane, like a lion’s mane,” Davidson says. “Every dog brought something really unique and different.”
There are all kinds of pups in the book, including French Bulldogs, Yorkshire Terriers, Afghan Hounds, and an adorable Teapcup Poodle who doesn’t have front legs. There are lots of mutts, too. “I have a lot of purebred dogs in this book, but 70% or more of the dogs are rescues,” Davidson says. “That’s something I believe in.”
Norbert is in the book, by the way. It took some work, but Davidson was able to allay his fear of the limelight.
Photographing every dog took a lot of time and patience. “I spent a good 30 to 45 minutes with each dog just hanging out and getting them comfortable before I even put them in front of the lights, and then I would have to wait to see if they’d shake. So it wasn’t like, ‘Okay, bring him in, do this, get the shot, next dog,’” says Davidson, who has experience as an animal trainer.
She estimates that about 65% to 70% of the dogs shook after they got wet. “The rest of them didn’t, and that’s fine,” she says. Davidson didn't want to push any dogs that weren't up to the task.
Every dog, even the ones who didn't shake, got treats. "I told the owners to bring their favorite food. I probably went through five jars of peanut butter, and I had hypoallergenic treats because my sensitive dog has allergies," Davidson says. "I wanted to make the whole experience as upbeat for the dogs as possible, and, like me, dogs tend to be quite food motivated."
The images featured in Shake were taken with a Nikon D4, which shot 10 frames per second. “When I started this project, I wasn’t using a camera with that rapid of a frame rate, and so if a dog shook once or twice, I wouldn’t have that many photos to choose from. So using a sport-shooter style camera really helped in giving me more options to edit through and more frames,” Davidson says, noting, “Sometimes I only got one shake, so that was important.”
As for lighting, Davidson went with high-speed monolight heads that flashed at 1/13,000 of a second. “So the light was going on and off so quickly that it was freezing motion,” she says, pointing out, “I’m a very technical photo person. I love the creative side of it, but I also like the technical side. I like pushing my gear to its limits or seeing what I can get with what I have.”
See the results in the gallery above.