Bites! Camera! Action! How local pet photographer Debbie Bryant catches dogs — in their natural environments

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MONGREL  |  Cordelia, Cleo and Peyton, went from neighborhood runts to pick of the litter after a posing session with photographer Debbie Bryant.
AMERICA’S NEXT TOP MONGREL | Cordelia, Cleo and Peyton, went from neighborhood runts to pick of the litter after a posing session with photographer Debbie Bryant.

There is no scientific proof that I’m aware of, but here’s one gay stereotype that is incontrovertibly true: Gays pamper their pets to a degree that’s disproportionate to most of the rest of the world. We buy them outfits, let them they sleep in our beds, let them ride around town in special designer car seats; when we vacation, we house them up in posh doggie hotels that often cost more per night than our own accommodations.

I say “we,” but this is definitely my reality. My partner and I have four dogs and love them like the children we’ll never have (more importantly: The children we’ll never have to pay to send off to college or bail out of jail). He says that he’ll divorce me if I ever bring home Dog No. 5, but I have no control over the power of a well-worked pair of big brown eyes and kisses through puppy breath, so I’m not making any promises.

Our oldest dog, Peyton, a Chow-retriever mix, is turning 12 soon, so we’ve been wanting to get some great photos of her with her stepsisters while they’re all still in good health. We’ve taken our own shots, but they’re far from art. Like shooting — er, photographing — children, taking pics of dogs requires skill, patience and an intuition necessary to capture the dogs being themselves.

So while picking up our dogs from Barking Hound Village where they stay when we’re out of town, I noticed a gallery display of some stunning, artistic photographs that were exactly what I’d been looking for. Some were close-ups of paws and tails. Others, artfully cropped dog faces, complete with wet noses, fluffy ears and emotive eyes. I grabbed a business card and immediately called the artist, photographer Debbie Bryant, owner of Thank Dog Photography.

Before getting into the low-pressure world of working with lovable pets for a living, Bryant got her bachelor’s degree from Duke University, received her MBA at Yale, finished her law degree at UT Austin and worked for the World Health Organization in Switzerland. Clearly, she has the attention span of a Chihuahua.

It was during her time in Geneva that she first developed a passion for photography, so in a strange, roundabout way, all paths eventually led her to what she loves.

“I get to play with dogs and I’m my own boss — tough to beat!” she laughs.

Bryant only works on location, utilizing natural light, which is part of the reason why the images come out so unposed and vibrant. The location of the shoot is up to the owner. For us, we had no choice but use our home and back yard because trying to keep four dogs off-leash without their collars in a park or by the lake was a recipe for disaster.

During the shoot, Bryant befriended the dogs with a variety of treats, which meant they followed her around everywhere. Eventually, they’d tire of begging and just chill out. This is when she’d go into stealth mode, lying on her stomach, or crawling through the grass to capture them at their level. It’s clear to anyone who witnesses her in action, this is a woman who has found her dream occupation.

“After I quit my job, I had a ton of time on my hands — something I hadn’t had for quite some time,” she says. ”As flaky as it may sound, I really was on a search for my passion in life. I was taking my dogs to the dog park and started taking my camera along. I photographed not just my dogs, but others as well, and I loved it.”


She knew pet photography was what she wanted to do, “but I had to build up my knowledge regarding the more technical aspects of photography,” she says. “I am completely self-taught. I’ve used a lot of trial and error, read a bunch of books and spent hours and hours on the Internet studying photography.”

Once she built up her confidence, she started Thank Dog in 2009. Most of her time is spent doing photo shoots like ours, but she is also called upon for more challenging roles, like photographing dogs for book covers, including Scent of the Missing, about a search and rescue dog named Puzzle.

“The art director was looking for a serious, somber shot, consistent with the content of the book. In theory that doesn’t sound too difficult or unusual, but trying to get a photo of a dog with its tongue in its mouth when it’s 110 degrees out is challenging. Trying to do so when the subject is a naturally happy golden retriever is almost impossible!” Bryant laughs. “We tried everything we could think of, including me hiding in the brush while Puzzle worked to find me. By the time we finally got the shot, I was covered in chigger bites and had taken hundreds, if not thousands, of shots.”

Yet she got the perfect shot, and it’s this same perseverance and attention to detail that allowed her to create memories for me and my partner that will last a lifetime. Photo sessions start at $450 for up to three hours, with $200 credited toward prints and other purchases.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010