A Day at the Circus

Posted on May 2, 2016
A Day at the Circus

During a recent commercial photoshoot for Earth Rated (our new client, yay!), we were faced with the need to photograph dogs in a more studio oriented setting; simple, but engaging portraits in front of a color background. This is something we have done many times before, but for this project, we wanted to try something a little different, and we were lucky to find the perfect partners in mischief in our friends Francis and Norma, the brilliant minds behind the Canine Circus School.


We have been attending Canine Circus School with Willow for over a year now. ©The Labs & Co.

They say challenges help you step outside your comfort zone; and if we pulled this off, it would not only be a great exercise in flow, but also in pairing minimal equipment with a fun and fast paced process. Not to mention, render some great images for our client, as well as some great portraits for our classmates.
We have been students at Canine Circus School for over a year and having worked with Francis and Norma before, photographing them and writing an article on Canine Circus School for Bark Magazine, we were thrilled when they were game to collaborate again.


Schwartz holds the upper hand 🙂 ©The Labs & Co.

We talked to Francis about what we needed for our project, and it was him who suggested working in a portrait as part of our regular Circus 2 class. The flow and fast pace of the exercise, worked in with our other circus drills during class, would allow the dogs to get comfortable with a new exercise and the idea of an outdoor photo studio.


Clyde Barker, personality present in every strand of wirehair. ©The Labs & Co.

We set up the studio just outside the circus ring, in full shade, setting two color backdrops, one blue and one green with a platform box for the dogs to hop on. One by one, each dog and person team would work through their exercises:
From their platform box, around a group of cones, on to a “wardrobe platform box” where Norma would deck them out first with an Earth Rated bandana and later with a colorful circus collar. They would then hop on to the photo platform box, where Bill would take their portrait as they sat holding a stay, or did a trick of their choice.


Colin, aka “The General” looking elegant and goofy simultaneously. ©The Labs & Co.

This first couple of rounds to get our Earth Rated images were a blast, and once that was in the bag, we dedicated the last round to getting a portrait of each of our classmates, wearing their circus collars and using our beloved monster, our old Hasselblad; a medium format film camera.


Roxi and her incomparable smile. ©The Labs & Co.

Here was the fun part of the challenge, our Hassi is not known for speed, especially when focusing it manually. Pair that with a faster paced flow between quick-moving models and you’ve got yourself a workout! The fast pace and continuous flow, credit to Francis, made for more engaging portraits, loosening up the models and helping them practice important skills built during the course of class, allowing for creativity to take charge, laughter to ensue and some great expressions to be captured.


Max, maximum ham! ©The Labs & Co.

I think we all had fun, and the resulting portraits have been some of my favorite “studio” shots we have ever done. It goes to show, you can sneak in passion projects anywhere, learning that often, the best part of collaborating with someone is that that special something they bring makes the results far beyond what you had hoped to achieve; and that you can do a lot with very little gear. Not one studio light was used for these portraits.


Lucy, aka the adorable “Mantis”, looking like a Vogue high fashion model. ©The Labs & Co.

Thank you to our dear friends Francis and Norma, for letting us sneak this photo booth into a class; thank you to all our wonderful classmates (human and canine) for giving it all your wonderful energy, and thank you to our client Earth Rated, the catalyst for this fun project in the first place 🙂


Chong, a little guy, with a lot of seriously cute. ©The Labs & Co.

To learn more about Canine Circus School, make sure and check out the article I wrote on Bark, visit the Canine Circus School  website and social channels and hope to see you around in class!

Norma got some great behind-the-scenes shots to share on their Instagram, check those out here.

To learn more about us or find out about working together, get in touch and let’s chat!


Isha waves bye for now! ©The Labs & Co.

We love it when you share our work, please be kind and give credit. 

1 Comment

  1. Peggy
    March 27, 2018

    Your portraits are wonderful. I love that the dogs are smiling and laughing and showing the pleasures of being busy at Canine Circus School. I live in Wyoming but visit my sister and her lab Ringo fairly often and she and Ringo have started classes at Circus School. My dog Rosie, a rescue border collie, would love to take a class at Canine Circus School and have a portrait taken in costume. Thanks for being such great parts of our common love of dogs.