For Vickie Lewis, photography has always been a “ticket to explore.”
Through the years, the North Bethesda resident has had the opportunity to photograph presidents, congressmen, Olympic athletes, celebrities and everyday heroes.
More recently, though, her ticket has taken her to photograph a new subject: dogs.
In the six months she has spent photographing dogs, Lewis has done about a dozen, including some mutts, some rescue dogs, a Yorkshire terrier and a Cavalier King Charles spaniel.
The dog model gets to sniff and look at everything, while Lewis tests the flash so the dog gets used to it. Once the dog adjusts, the owner gets to be the choreographer.
“It’s just so fun, so lighthearted,” said Lewis, who said she loves capturing the personality of the dog and seeing the owner’s face at the sight of the final product.
For a fee of $295, Lewis takes her time to take both the “safe pictures” — ones of the dog sitting in place — followed by photos of the dog playing and doing tricks. Lewis said the photo shoots are all about playing and waiting for the right moments.
Lewis said she is patient and uses squeaky toys or other props to get the dog’s ears to perk up. Of the 200 or 300 pictures Lewis takes in a two-hour session, she said there usually are about 30 that are hard to pick from.
“So far, all the dog owners have thought it’s a great way to spend an afternoon or morning with their dog,” Lewis said. “Dogs are unconditional love and owners unconditionally love their dogs.”
Lewis said every dog is different, noting that some love being photographed and others require more work because they don’t care much for the camera. She has worked with both trained and untrained dogs.
In high school, Lewis took photos of dogs all the time and initially learned how to focus her camera with them. Now, out of Essential Eye Photographics studio in Silver Spring, the career photographer has found dog portraits have become her new passion.
Lewis said that as a photographer and business owner, she always tries to reinvent herself and look for new challenges. Two friends suggested she take dog portraits because they knew how much she loved dogs.
After researching pet photographers online and asking professionals how to approach it, Lewis was sold.
“The way the pet market is these days, dogs are like kids for some people,” Lewis said. “I thought about doing something like horses, but when someone suggested dogs, it felt perfect.”
Lewis said that as a professional photographer, she is able to use a photo to tell a story. Her 30 years of experience and technical skill helps her capture a moment.
“I capture more than what a place looks like. It’s what a place feels like. That’s the difference of what a professional is,” Lewis said.
Susan Levine of Rockville said she has known Lewis professionally for at least 20 years. Levine said Lewis shot a portrait of her dog, Rosie, about four weeks ago that soon will be framed and hung in her home.
“I’ve worked with a lot of photographers over the years, and some of them have the technical skills, but don’t have the people skills,” said Levine, saying that people skills are half the battle to getting a good image. “Vickie has both.”
Lewis said she never would have imagined that she would be back photographing dogs after leaving it behind so many years ago. Lewis, who grew up in Oregon, fell in love with photography when she was about 12. She chased her dream to the Albuquerque Tribune, where she photographed the recovery of a 5-year-old burn victim — one of the hardest and most memorable assignments she ever had to cover.
Lewis said the story went “viral” and was picked up by People magazine and publications in Germany, Japan and South America. Soon thereafter, Lewis found herself shooting for People. Her ticket to explore led her to at least 150 portrait assignments for the magazine over a 10-year period.
But when her contract was up, in 2000, she chose not to renew it.
“I was tired. I was burned out,” Lewis said.
After traveling and taking classes in her time off, Lewis found herself back in the world of photography in 2008.
“I just picked up my cameras and started taking pictures again,” Lewis said, saying that by that time she had a very different perspective and started shooting pictures in a lighter, more fun and beautiful fashion.
She began taking photos of landscapes, florals and monuments, a change of pace from the world of news.
“My first round of my career was about news and wanting to change the world,” Lewis said. “I was deeply, emotionally involved with the people I could save.”
Earl Zubkoff, who owns the Silver Spring studio with several other photographers, said he met Lewis about 20 years ago through a local chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers. They fell out of touch for years but reunited about three years ago, when she began fine-art photography.
He said he was happy to have her use the office and studio to help her fine-art business grow.
“She’s very good. She’s very talented. She’s got a lot of ideas and a lot of drive to make things happen,” Zubkoff said. “Her work speaks for itself.”
Lewis said her diversity is what has led to her longevity in the field.
“As a photographer, or any creative person, it’s always a work in progress,” Lewis said. “Life just evolves. It’s always kind of a surprise where we are.”
For more information, go to www.vickielewis.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Vickie Lewis photographed the recovery of a burn victim while Lewis was working at the Des Moines Register. She did this work for the Albuquerque Tribune.