At 12:45 p.m., I shut down my Outlook e-mail, turn off my desk lamp, grab my bike helmet and head out of the office. I’m taking the half-day of vacation for an important event- a professional photoshoot with our dog, Lily.
The bike home is quick, and I arrive at our apartment at 1 p.m. just in time to scarf down two tacos and tidy up our living room. Shortly after 1:30 p.m., our buzzer sounds, and Lily lets out two deep barks, as she always does for newcomers. At the door are five young employees of Dogvacay, a website that allows you to create a profile and get paid to take care of other people’s dogs. It’s basically Airbnb but for pets. We’ve been hosts for the past 8 months, keeping dogs of all shapes and sizes for $30/day and funneling that income into our Round the World Trip Savings. This is just one of the crazy ways we’ve made extra money for this trip.
The crew hauls in lights, cameras and a full bag of professional makeup and hair accessories. We’ve pulled some clothes that match the images the art director, Elaine, sent us for what she’d like the shoot to look like. They’re preparing for their fall ad campaign and want to photograph real hosts and their dogs because, as Elaine says, “Model dogs just don’t look at you with the same love and adoration.”
By 2 p.m., I’m sitting on a stool with a lovely girl named Lucy as she applies a massive amount of makeup to my face. She straightens my hair and sprays me all over with something fragrant. Then it’s Nate’s turn.
When we’re fully dressed and lacquered, we’re directed through the maze of lights and equipment onto our couch where Lily has already been posed sporting a light blue Dogvacay bandana, which one crew member adjusts between shots so the logo is always fully visible. Several members of the crew have treats in their hands to cajole Lily into her cutest dog poses.
We do a series of shots as Nate and I, in full “cozy sweaters,” look adoringly at each other and at Lily as she tries her hardest not to shoot off the couch to grab the treats out of the photographer’s hand. The art director looks over the shots, adjusts the lights and plants, and we do another round. I’m painfully aware of the fact that Nate does these sorts of things all the time, while I’m much more self-conscious in front of a camera. I have one look- full teeth smile plastered across my face- while his expressions and poses are constantly changing. Thankfully, the crew doesn’t seem to expect too much professional modeling. When we’re done, the crew packs up equipment to head across the street to the park. I change into a second outfit, complete with jacket and boots despite the 90 degree summer weather. We’re all sweating.
At the park we’re arranged on a park bench where Nate and I again smile doe-eyed at each other and at Lily as strains to lunge for the Labrador that’s sitting with his master on a blanket 15 feet away. We mimic the exchange of a dog owner handing their pup off to a host, and I play the host (as I guess almost all of Dogvacay’s hosts are women). They call directions to the crew holding big light reflectors and take a hundred photos of me walking Lily down a shady path, turning around and walking back. When Elaine is satisfied with these shots, we head back to the apartment and chug ice water while the crew packs up.
Next we load Lily into the car and drive to a nearby El stop where the crew poses us under the tracks and takes what feels like a thousand photos of us walking back and forth in this industrial area. I’m asked to add a wool scarf to the mix, and the sweating continues. In between takes, the makeup artist- complete with her fanny pack full of supplies- rushes up to me to adjust my hair and apply more lip gloss. Commuters and passersby stop to watch. When the crew is satisfied, they thank us for our time, and we head off on our separate ways.
All told, the photoshoot took about 3 hours, and we were paid $400. While a little uncomfortable, overall it was fun and hilarious to watch Lily look adorably at the camera in the hopes of being rewarded with more treats. Elaine told us that we can have copies of the images she buys from the photographer, and I’m sure I’ll be glad we have the high quality photos after Lily’s gone. She is almost 10 after all.
I’ve never been one to like taking or posing for photos. I mostly feel like it’s an interruption- to stop a perfectly lovely moment just to capture it for later. But on the other hand, I’m aware that this is a unique time in my life, and I know that I’ll need the photos to help me remember it years from now. In a few months, we’ll sell the couch we sat on in those photos and move out of the apartment we’ve lived in for 3 years. We’ll leave the city we’ve called home. Never again will I be a newlywed. Never again will I be childless and have almost no responsibilities. Never again will I be 29 with nothing but opportunities in front of me. It’s difficult- to both enjoy where you are right now and anticipate the future. It’s something I’ve always struggled with. Maybe my refusal to stop and capture moments has to do with that perpetual feeling of forward momentum I feel. But it’s good to stop and reflect. Even if it means sweating under big lights for a photoshoot with a dog.