Martin Schoeller knows how to create a stunning portrait. By mastering both the technical and relational aspects of portrait photography, Schoeller has become an expert at connecting with his subjects and capturing genuine facial expressions and emotions. But Schoeller met his match with Layka, a highly decorated military dog who lost her leg in Afghanistan during a heroic raid. You see, despite all of her training, Layka is a Belgian Malinois—the most active of all dog breeds—so getting her to sit still for a portrait session proved incredibly difficult.
Still, with some strategy and the help of Layka’s owner, Staff Sgt. Julian McDonald, Schoeller got the job done, and here’s his proof:
How did Schoeller do it? He had to figure out how to connect with Layka just like he learned to connect with human portrait subjects. Through trial and error, Schoeller discovered that Layka worked best at 62 degrees Fahrenheit (because that’s when she stopped panting), and that tennis balls and jangled keys made her giddy with excitement instead of motivating her to sit still and look at the camera.
Layka’s leg was amputated after she took four bullets to protect her handler, Sgt. McDonald, and his team as they cleared a building of enemy fighters in Afghanistan. In gratitude, McDonald adopted her after she recovered. Watch more of Layka’s story here:
“The close-up was harder than I thought it was going to be, the dog was so full of energy,” Schoeller told National Geographic. “[She was] like the energy bunny and never slowed down.”
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