Some were shy. Unsure where to look, they needed a little coaxing. Others stood frozen, as if stoic statues carved in marble. A few knew they were stars, strutting and posing like fashion models on four legs.
One ate the backdrop. Another pooped on it.
That’s the way it went for Maine animal photographer Aliza Eliazarov as she collected more than 100 telling canine portraits for her new photo book, “The Best Dog,” co-written with her husband Edward Doty and published this month by Penguin Random House.
“You just have to lean into the chaos,” Eliazarov said.
Most of the dogs featured in the book are from Maine, though the Kittery-based shooter traveled as far away as Indiana and Washington, D.C., to meet some of her subjects.
Animals have been the focus of Eliazarov’s photography for more than 15 years. In the genre, she’s shot covers for Modern Farmer magazine and also done work for doggie retailer BarkBox.
Eliazarov’s previous book, “On the Farm: Heritage & Heralded Animal Breeds in Portraits & Stories,” featured farm animals, including ducks, cows and sheep, against plain backdrops. Several of those images appeared on a series of popular U.S. Postal Service stamps in 2021.
“The idea for this new book really crystallized during the pandemic, when record numbers of people were adopting dogs for comfort during a really difficult time,” Eliazarov said. “Dogs have always been at the heart of a farm and the heart of a home.”
Doty and Eliazarov began by photographing their dog Ducky’s playmates. But as word got around Maine’s dog community, they soon had humans volunteering their dogs.
“People would say, ‘What about my dog? I have the best dog,'” Eliazarov said. “Which is actually how we got the name for the book.”
Eliazarov said making pooch pix can be challenging. Patience and alacrity are both required. Some photoshoots last 20 minutes while other dogs only tolerate 20 seconds. In all cases, the key to good pictures is making sure the dog feels as relaxed and confident as possible.
“The photoshoot lasts as long as the dog wants it to last. It’s really the dog that is in charge,” Eliazarov said. “The whole shoot is a very collaborative effort between myself, the dog and their people. We really give every dog the chance to kind of explore the studio, get comfortable.”
While dogs get comfy, Eliazarov tries to get a feel for each individual canine personality.
“I want to capture something about that animal. So when the viewer is looking at that photo, they feel a connection and kind of see what that animal is about,” she said. “It’s a combination of playing and being patient.”
As with her previous book, Eliazarov photographed the bulk of her subjects against plain backgrounds as a way to both simplify the design and also direct viewers’ attention to each dog as an individual. Each dog portrait is accompanied by a short, breezy bit of text, telling readers more about the pups.
In one image, a cream-colored dog named Buddy stares straight at the camera with thoughtful eyes and a maroon nose. Accompanying text reveals that Buddy lives in Portland but is originally from Mumbai, India.
“He’s an intuitive empath who can sense if you’re hungry, tired or sick before you do,” it reads. “He feels it all.”
An Australian shepherd from Ellsworth named Delta stands like a hero in another photo, her ears swept back in a dashing profile fit for a coin. The caption tells us she’s specially trained to sniff out endangered wood turtles in Maine’s forest.
“Paid in games of fetch,” it reads, “she’s always willing to work overtime.”
A French bulldog from Liberty named Yuri graces the book cover. The model sits with his hind end off to one side, looking as dignified and debonair as possible while blowing a nonchalant saliva bubble out of his right jowl.
With “The Best Dog” now hitting bookstores across the country, Eliazarov and Doty are already thinking about what their next project might be.
“A friend of mine suggested we do a book called ‘The Worst Cat,'” Eliazarov said. “So that’s on the table.”
Correction: A previous version of this story included misspellings of Aliza Eliazarov’s last name.