PRESCOTT - With the tweet of a whistle or the tickle of a feather, animal photographer Paul Montz coaxes rambunctious pets into posing for picture-perfect portraits.
"The most critical element to being a good animal photographer is to be an animal lover," Montz, owner of Noah's Ark Animal Photography in Chino Valley said.
Montz's motto could be "Have studio, will travel." He travels around the county with a self-contained portrait studio complete with lights, props, backdrops and tricks of the trade.
"Actually, there is no trick or secret weapon to getting dogs or cats to pose," he said. "It's just patience and luck."
To improve his luck with dogs, Montz straps on two waist pouches filled with doggie treats. For added insurance, he carries a small arsenal of wild kingdom sounds including birds, rabbits and deer.
"My best friend is a silent dog whistle," he said. To prove his point during a recent photo session at Chino Valley Animal Hospital, he blew a silent note and momentarily froze a nearby dog.
"I only need them to look at me for 1/250th of a second," he says with a smile.
Montz referred to his digital camera's shutter speed. For portrait sessions he uses one camera and one strobe light reflected off a studio umbrella.
"I always greet a dog with a calm, soothing voice to put them at ease," he said. "Animals have an uncanny ability to sense your mood."
Montz allows a pet's owner to help him settle the pet, but once he starts photographing he wants the pet to focus only on him. Out come the attention-grabbing props - whistles, squeaky toys, feathered sticks, rubber ducks and more.
"I try for a very relaxed, natural pose," Montz said. "For dogs, I look for a twinkle in the eye, ears natural and a nice shiny nose."
Montz, retired from the Department of Defense, launched his new career four years when he answered an advertisement for a pet photographer.
"After I started doing it, I thought, 'This is the truest form of portrait work,'" he remembers.
Montz uses different backdrops and seasonal props - beach umbrellas for summer, leaves for fall, a fireplace backdrop for winter and flowers for spring. He switched to canvas backdrops after a dog snuggled up to a "wall" and fell through the paper prop.
Montz' portfolio includes dogs, cats, guinea pigs, horses and iguanas. So far, no one has hired him to take a snake or fish portrait.
During a photo shoot, Montz connects his camera to a television monitor so that customers can see the images Montz is capturing. After Montz finishes photographing, customers review and choose the portraits they want to buy.
Montz is currently taking portraits of rescue dogs housed at Chino Valley Animal Shelter. The shelter is using the portraits to advertise for adoptions.
Two of the rescued dogs, Wishbone and Lulu, were so excited they could not sit still for a portrait.
"They are so starved for attention," he noted.
"I was raised around animals all my life," Montz said. "It's fortunate when you can do what you love to do in life."
Persons interested in talking to Montz may telephone him at 554-6838, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.