Barkjour part III  |  Out of this world – every single day

Barkjour part III | Out of this world – every single day

Out of this world – every single day

The best thing about embarking on an adventure billed as an “out of this world” pet photography retreat, is when it truly is an experience that you absolutely cannot get just anywhere. Apart from the excellent presentations, enlightening group conversations, and hands on learning, we had the opportunity to create imagery in locations that wouldn’t have been possible on our own.

For an italophile, this was extra special!

The Pont du Gard receives over a million visitors a year. It was built during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius, and completed around 60AD. This aqueduct ran water for 50 winding kilometres to the population of Nîmes and was built without a drop of mortar. It is an absolute masterpiece of Roman engineering. It’s also one of the most extraordinary backdrops for a pet photography session I could ever have imagined.

When I picked my jaw up from the ground, I looked around for a model. Of all the dogs I saw when we arrived, I only had eyes for handsome Giglo , a scruffy mix of lovin’ who made my heart sing. While trying to converse with his mom in French (not my forté) I didn’t realize I had slipped into Italian. When she answered in Italian I did a double take! That tickled my little “wannabe Italian” fancy, as I was able to chat more with her than with any of the other dog model parents. I discovered Giglo’s name was a variation on gigolo. It makes perfect sense! After all, he did seduce me at a glance! Purtroppo, his senora’s stylish footwear made it impossible to get down the water and Giglo was going nowhere without her. So we made do with where we were, which I have to say, was still pretty doggone amazing!

Seriously, this location put the “out of this world” into Barkjour’s out-of-this-world pet photography retreat. We had permission to remain long after the area was closed to the public and they even ran the light show for us. We probably would have stayed longer but it was dark and there was a sumptuous feast awaiting us back at the Chateau. What an experience.

“Let them eat cake,” she said, “just like Marie Antoinette”

Day 6: up at the crack of dawn (again) and so excited! We were preparing to welcome Saturday’s models to our very own 12th century chateau, St. Maximin for the last shoot of the retreat. I was so happy that we were shooting here because it was such an exceptionally stunning location – and who else do you know that has photographed dogs in an ancient French chateau?! What I wouldn’t give to go back and have a dog for a day, shooting in all the nooks and crannies that I missed!

I photographed my first Wire-Haired Fox Terrier, Monty, (love!) and Milord the dashing young Tervuren in the courtyard. Moovie the Sheltie reclined on centuries old stones with her perfectly dainty little mouth. I only got one frame of Nala the cocker spaniel before she was whisked off to another group of waiting pet photographers, boo. But, if that hadn’t happened… I would not have had the opportunity to create one of my personal favourite images of the entire trip… I’m talking about Poppy.

Poppy the chihuahua, or as I prefer to call her, Poppy Antoinette. Mascot of the lovely Cat Race and Michael Higginson from CatsDog Photography in Manchester, England. Her Mona Lisa smile, her pink tinted pearls, the grand hallway and chaise longue – gaaaa I can’t stop singing “Killer Queen” when I look at her image! I adore this little pooch who happily modelled each and every day. She is the consummate professional…as long as the “chicken train” is headed her way!

An “out of this world” experience, yes. Once in a lifetime? not if I can help it!

Nicole Begley, Charlotte Reeves and Kaylee Greer along with Kaylee’s equally talented photographer fiancé, Sam Haddix, provided the most spectacular experience imaginable through Barkjour. I can’t thank them enough. I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to meet and learn from them, as well as from the many other passionate and talented pet photographers who were there. I’m thrilled that I threw caution to the wind and invested in myself because this investment is already paying off. Education, contacts, experiences and new friendships – all things I am truly grateful for.

In my very first post about this adventure, I called Barkjour a once in a lifetime experience. Having now had the experience, from here on out I’ll refer to it as “out-of-this-world” – because, I can tell you, it won’t be my last.

Thanks for the memories Barka-family, I’m wishing we we all back there right now!

Until we meet again!

If you missed any of the blogs in this series, here are links!: The decision to goPart I – when I go to “les chiens”  | Part II – How pet photographers roll

Click here if you’d like to find out more about more about Indigo Pet Photography Sessions, or here If you’re ready to book!

Dog Photography | It’s how we roll | Barkjour part II

Dog Photography | It’s how we roll | Barkjour part II

It’s how dog photographers roll

Picture this, you live in small hilltop town in the south of France. Nothing overly exciting has probably happened there since WWII. You’re firing up your BBQ on a perfectly lovely September evening, when suddenly something catches your ear. You cock your head in an effort to make out what exactly you are hearing, a cacophony of sounds, strange barking and yipping, whinnying, meowing and – ducks? “What the…”  you wonder. You go to the window and look out, scanning the cobblestone street for a clue.

Oh there’s a clue all right, the street is overrun with men and women in dusty jeans and t-shirts, many with brightly coloured hair! All are lugging what appears to be masses of camera gear – and dogs – a dozen, maybe more – dogs that you’ve never seen before. There are dogs up on ledges, people crawling around on the ground, dogs running and jumping, people laughing and making the oddest collection of noises.

Bonsoir! That would be us! The Barka-family. Dog photographers one and all.

Day two of shooting

The Barkjour group was in Castillon du Gard, a hill top town with cobblestone streets, weathered doors and stone walls. It was one of my favourite locations and took me back to the times I lived in Italy and Germany.

First up was the schmooshy-faced, fabulous, Boxer-Cane Corso cross named Zoumba. He suited his kooky name and was serious and goofy all at the same time. The colours and textures in the streets were glorious and perfect for framing our subjects.

After Zoumba, we tracked down Marley the Aussie Shepherd (favourite breed of Charlotte Reeves who was shooting with us on this occassion) and headed to a narrow alley for some action. He had a blast roaring up and down the alley and, in typical fashion, we were all rolling around on the dusty stones, jockeying for the best vantage point to capture this gorgeous athlete. I loved his little face, but he was very nervous of the camera up close. But after a little conditioning I did manage to capture one close up of his sweet face.

The Jack Attack

Finally, I had to work with the pack of Jack Russell Terriers in my sights. I think I got an endorphin rush when I saw them LOL and it did make me miss my little guys (although I don’t think they missed me at all!). They were a gorgeous Jack Pack, adults and pups as well. I didn’t manage to sort out their names, but I think the pup on the manhole cover is definitely a Jacques (hee hee). Thanks to Wendy Fox Hudnall of Doggie Tales Photography for taking the sweet photo of me with the Jack Daddy!

This location was the perfect end to day two – a mind-numbingly full day of learning. We were able to put concepts discussed to good use and get our “yaya”s out in the process. Cue my invisible wagging tail.

It’s like falling off a horse

Which fortunately I did NOT do. I haven’t ridden in several years, but threw caution to the wind. Thursday we had the afternoon off, so what do a bunch of dog photographers do? Spend time with different four-leggeds of course! We set a course for The Camargue region on the coast and spent a couple of fabulous hours horseback riding. We rode on one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world Camargue horses. Through salt flats, water and on the beach… all the while the pink flamingos were just wading out of reach of my iPhone. It was so beautiful and a great way to chill out.

After the ride, we peeled ourselves out of our saddles and piled back into the cars. We set a course for Nîmes where we hobbled about looking for a bite to eat. (okay, it’s quite possible that I was the only one hobbling.) The town centre was ancient and I would love to go back and explore Nîmes more, so much Roman influence.

After pizza we stalked the streets looking to satisfy those with a sweet-tooth (Note: while I’m not a sweets person, I do tend to enjoy the hunt and, alas, easily am tempted by the lure of pistachio gelato!).

As you can see, when you hook up a bunch of like-minded, passionate, kooky pet photographers you are likely going to release more than a few inner beasts… because that’s how we roll! 

Stay tuned for the next instalment of where we head to the ancient aqueduct Pont du Gard for Day 3 of shooting and Day 4 in the Chateau!

If you missed the first installment of my “out of this world” pet photography retreat, please click here!

p.s. thanks to Charlotte Reeves and Cat Race for a couple of the fun Nîmes iPhone images! And MANY thanks to Charlotte Reeves for the behind the scenes image of me and Zoumba!


Barkjour | Indigo Pet Photography goes to les chiens | Part 1

Barkjour | Indigo Pet Photography goes to les chiens | Part 1

Indigo Pet Photography goes to “les chiens” at Barkjour

Last weekend was Thanksgiving and I spent a fair amount of time reflecting on how fortunate I am. So grateful to not have to contend with floods, fires, food and water shortages and evacuation. Blessed to have my family and friends around me for love and encouragement. Over the moon to have the support of the local wineries with the Winery Dogs of Ontario Calendar. And frankly, insanely fortunate to have the opportunity to attend Barkjour last month in France.

Back in August, I made a split second decision to invest heavily in myself and my future. I applied for and was accepted to join Barkjour, a pet photography retreat taking place the first week of September in France – billed as an out-of-this-world experience. Goosebumps!

Wheels up

After a flurry of activity to prepare, on September 3rd I left Toronto and my comfort zone. I boarded my flight to Marseilles and was off to my adventure in the south of France. Destination… Chateau St. Maximin, a 12th century chateau on the outskirts of Uzès in The Languedoc region. Our very own chateau. Yeah, I did just say that 🙂

Planes, trains and automobiles

Long delays and many hours later, I landed in Marseilles. I’d made arrangements to connect with Mareike, from Germany, at the airport and catch the train with her to Nîmes. I was SO relieved that she waited for my flight because my brain was numb and the whole train situation was more than a little confusing. Conquering it together made it at least enjoyable. Eventually we got to the train station and finally we were on our way. Most importantly though, we managed to find ourselves in a compartment with our first “chien” of the adventure. Paco was clearly a seasoned train traveller and was eager to show us the ropes. Mareike wasted no time in chatting him up. Things were quickly going to les chiens.

When we arrived in Nîmes, we connected via a flurry of facebook messages with Bridget and Luke from the UK. Luke had rented a car and we all chipped in for the trip to the chateau. We made a quick stop for wine on the way (as one does) and in short order were pulling in through the massive iron gates to our paradise, Chateau St. Maximin.

There was such an exciting wealth of talent and personalities on this adventure that it was a little overwhelming at the start! The first night was spent getting to know each other, exploring the the chateau, and sipping wine. Of course, the evening would not have been complete without an impromptu sunset session on the rooftop with Poppy, more on Princess Poppy in a coming blog. 

Let the games begin: Day one

Up early and downstairs by 7:30 for what can only be described as a breakFEAST. I can’t go into it because just the thought of the French yogurt make me deliriously hungry. After breakfast we hunkered down to an intense day of learning – Nicole Begley, Charlotte Reeves and Kaylee Greer put us through the paces for hours (although we did break for a spectacular lunch!). At 5:30 pm we packed up and piled into cars to head to Domaine Malaïgue for our first photo session. Living here in Niagara I offer exclusive vineyard sessions to my clients, but oh la la, to shoot in a French vineyard? C’est fantastique.

We had a wonderful range of dogs to photograph, from Bell the stately Dogue de Bordeaux to little Ricky and his lanky and scruffy buddy, John Boy. Ricky had clearly had a rough go of it in his short life, but his adoptive family shower with love to make up for lost time and John Boy watches over him.

Looping the Shetland Sheepdog performed brilliantly through the vines, occasionally leaping over of the wall of bodies lying in his way – cameras firing like machine gun bursts. And handsome Erik, at first I thought Erik was a husky corgi mix, but no, he’s actually a Swedish Vallhund! Erik just looked plain adorable everywhere he went and was as easy going as you please.

After a dirty and dusty evening of shooting we raced back to the chateau, cleaned ourselves up and were treated to a truly mouthwatering dinner – the star being salt crusted leg of lamb, prepared by Chef Theo (yes, we had our own awesome chef too, drool!). After that and a “wee” glass of wine, I pretty much fell into bed and a deep and satisfied coma. 

Stay tuned for Part 2: Where we invade the hilltop town of Castillon du Gard, plus our afternoon off – horseback riding in the Carmargue!

Read the lead-up to the Barkjour blog here ›

Barkjour: An out of this world pet photography adventure

Barkjour: An out of this world pet photography adventure

This is me, on fire

Ever since I was 6 years old I knew I wanted to work with animals in some way, shape or form. And yes, it would appear that I am a little slow, as it has taken me a lifetime to finally find a way to make that happen. This pet photography adventure was originally greeted by many as a lark and a hobby. Pfft I say, I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I’m going to live my wildest dreams.

My passion for pet photography gets stronger with each dog or cat I photograph… so too does my desire to hone my craft.

The most important investment you can make is in yourself.” – Warren Buffet

A few months ago, I had desperately wanted to apply for a pet photography retreat I learned of through a group on Facebook. It wasn’t cheap though and I couldn’t see myself raising the money. One day I noticed a post in a facebook group I belong to: Only one space left. The retreat was only 5 weeks away. Shortly after, I saw a quote by Warren Buffet, “the most important investment you can make is in yourself”. It was an “aha” moment. I decided it was time to invest in myself, big time.

Barkjour: An out of this world pet photography adventure

I applied for and was accepted to join a group of phenomenal international pet photographers in the south of France. Yes the location is exciting, but the small number of participants – just 14 – from Australia, New Zealand, England, Germany and the US appealed. The caliber of the Instructors leading the retreat was the deciding factor for me. Kaylee Greer of Dog Breath Photography. Charlotte Reeves of Charlotte Reeves Photography. Nicole Begley (I had already done one workshop with Nicole last fall) from Nicole Begley Photography. A fire ignited inside! I didn’t have a lot of time to drum up the money, but it was clearly meant to be… because I succeeded.

The first week of September, I will be soaking up 5 glorious days of learning, inspiration, hands on photography, and likely a glass of wine or two talking “shop” at night at our chateau.

Stay tuned, as I run like I’m on fire towards my wildest dreams! Au revoir!

Dogs and Cats of Istanbul – A Canadian pet photographer’s experience

Dogs and Cats of Istanbul – A Canadian pet photographer’s experience

A few weeks ago I came back from an amazing trip to Istanbul, Turkey. It was my second visit to what I can only refer to as the city of contrasts. I saw so much more this time around (chalk it up to being slightly more mature), including the astonishing number of dogs and cats that live in the streets of this vibrant city of 17 million people.

I expected to see homeless animals, but was taken aback by how many there were. There were homeless dogs and cats absolutely everywhere. As a Canadian pet photographer and rescue volunteer it was overwhelming. Before I got my North American indignation “on” though, I realized it would be smart to do a little research. Particularly as I saw bowls of food and water on practically every corner – the animals seemed to be well fed and in relatively good health. The more I looked, the more I saw signs of people and animals living in concert, just not under the same roof.

Homeless but not alone

In fact, the animals that I met for the most part were protected by the people in their neighbourhood as well as by animal welfare laws. Most street dogs are sporting tags on their ears. That means they been picked up, neutered or spayed, given shots and released back on the street. Cats tend to have a clipped ear if they have been through a similar process.

There were scores of cardboard cat houses that had been purchased and placed on street corners by kind people. There was even a shop in the underground between the Tünel and the Metro that sold prepackaged ziplock bags of cat and dog food. People would stop and pick some up on their way to and from work and leave it out on the street for the local strays.

These cats and dogs of Istanbul are loving and friendly – albeit dirty and a bit scabby – so naturally I spent time each day greeting oodles of them. They aren’t afraid of people, people are just part of the landscape to them. I had brought some dog and cat treats with me, I clearly failed on the dog front, most of the dogs just sniffed and turned up their noses at my offering, heavy sigh. But the cats, holy smokes! I opened a pack of treats and they came running in droves, it was borderline X-Files! I had brought a squeaky tennis ball toy with me. That too was nearly a bust, until a sweet young black and white pooch finally relented and played with it for about 5 minutes. Clearly they have more important things to do than horse around.

Cat House on Istanbul street

The cat house reads, “This is my house, please don’t harm it.”


Cat and Dog food available in the Istanbul Metro

An assortment of Cat Food available for purchase in the underground.

Cats of Istanbul or Cat-stanbul

Turks are cat crazy in a way. There is a Cats of Istanbul website, and there are facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts as well. There are t-shirts, wallets and bags all done up with adorable graphics of cats alongside iconic Istanbul sights. In fact cats have achieved epic status in Turkey and there are several stories as to how they became so revered.

Most people I spoke with said that centuries ago the ships arriving from the 4 corners of the earth brought disease carrying rats with them. The cats of Istanbul kept the rat population (and the plague) in check and thus earned their lofty status. A tale from Muslim lore tells how a cat once saved the Prophet Muhammad from a venomous snake. There is even a saying that “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”
I spotted cats on tombs and monuments in every cemetery – real cats, not sculptures – and I watched a security guard having a full on love fest with a sweet tabby in the sacred gardens of the Galata Mevlevihanesi (where the Whirling Dervishes perform). There were cats lozzing about at the top of escalators in the Metro stations, cats on top of cars, cats on cushions at cafés and cats in shops.

Cats of Istanbul, Eşref the bar cat

Our charming bar companion Eşref

One night we stopped at a bar for a glass of wine and as we admired a handsome cat that was hanging out in the bar, the manager pulled up a stool, placed the bar cat on it and introduced us to Eşref. Eşref spent the evening entertaining us. There is an interesting symbiotic relationship that exists.

Ontario Pet Photographer Karen Black saying merhaba to a local street cat in Istanbul

Ontario Pet Photographer Karen Black saying “merhaba” to an Istanbul street cat

Dogs aren’t as lucky as cats

Dogs are considered more of a nuisance. They tend to be bigger breeds living in the streets. From what I saw, they weren’t roaming in threatening packs – they all seemed to get along, kept to themselves, napped and watched the world go by. It’s mind boggling how many of them are out there. I noticed that all the male dogs that clearly “belonged” to a person were intact which doesn’t help.

It wasn’t until we drove north of the city to an old friend’s home that I had my holy crap moment. The drive out of the city was shocking and heartbreaking. So many dogs dotted the countryside, living rough, not being cared for, lying around in fields with little or no hope of love, food or shelter. I literally felt sick to my stomach. How do you just dump a dog, especially one that lived under your roof and trusted you, out in the middle of nowhere? No words.

Unfortunately it’s no different in Istanbul than anywhere else. A person gets a dog with no understanding of the breed or what is involved. Once they realize they made a mistake, they bail and do the unthinkable – drive out to the country and dump them. Or they just abandon the dog on the streets to fend for itself.  (Note: it’s not different in North America, at JRTRO we work with high kill shelters in the US and their stories would leave you equally cold).

No answers but maybe a little more awareness

So, I resigned myself to the cultural differences. Animals aren’t members of the family. But the people have affection for them and give them basic care. (Although, there are plenty who could use a lot more than basic care.)

I even heard of a shelter where you can support a dog or cat financially and you are responsible to come and visit when you have time. Kind of a weird concept, but better than a lot of other options.

For some reason the concept of taking a pet on “for life” does not compute for many people around the world. But, there are the good people who work in rescue and help as many as they can get off the street. While there, I was repeatedly tagged on Facebook with people asking if I was involved in rescuing the Golden Retrievers that came to Canada from Istanbul. (The answer is no, but I’d be happy to get involved!)

I haven’t any answers, but I will find a way to help, I’ll donate and if I can figure out a way, I’ll join a group with the goal of rehoming as many sweet souls as possible.

Here’s a thought: SPAY AND NEUTER your pets! No matter where you live. It doesn’t harm the animal and it certainly is no reflection on your own fertility. It’s a long term solution but it’s applicable to Istanbul, Alabama and Ontario.
Links you might find interesting:
Recycling Machines in Turkey Provide Food for Stray Animals When a Bottle is Deposited
CBC story about the Golden Retrievers who came to Canada


When I shuffled off to Buffalo

When I shuffled off to Buffalo

I’m not much of a cross border shopper and I have to admit that I haven’t spent much time exploring Buffalo and the surrounding area. However, when I discovered that pet photographer extraordinaire Jamie Pflughoeft of Cowbell Photography in Seattle would be in Buffalo AND was offering mentoring sessions… I spazzed out slightly and booked myself in immediately.