Dogs Down Under
by Scott Broecker
Photo by Seth Casteel: LittleFriendsPhoto.com
A wildlife photographer falls back into the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, looking to capture a leopard seal pursuing its prey. A thousand miles away in the confines of a heated swimming pool, photographer Seth Casteel takes his last deep breath before diving down to capture the aquatic expressions of his subjects. Remaining under for close to two minutes at a time, he produces surprising results that rival anything seen in the wild.
Getting his start in pet photography, Seth became a weekend volunteer at the local shelter after realizing how good photos could translate into a much-needed increase in adoptions. This led to his leaving a successful job as an advertising designer to pursue his passion for animals and photography. Since founding Little Friends Lifestyle Pet Photography, Seth has photographed dogs and cats for about four and a half years.
But in a classic example of thinking out of the box, he decided to try something new. Seth was prepared to photograph a King Charles Spaniel “on-land” in his client’s Orange County backyard. However, the dog, whose name is Buster, seemed to have his own plan. Remaining in the cool water of the family’s built-in pool the entire time, Buster climbed out only to jump right back in. After watching for some time, Seth imagined how Buster might look from under the water. Struck with that moment of inspiration but not yet an owner of a water-proof camera, he took off to the store and purchased a cheap underwater point and shoot, and dove right in with his new friend Buster when he returned.
Since making the large investment of a waterproof case and light setup for his SLR camera, Seth has now photographed more than 200 dogs from this upside-down aquatic viewpoint, and the results have been otherworldly: dogs as seen never before with eyes peeled wide open, contorted jaws and jowls, and teeth fully exposed. When asked about seeing dogs through this unique perspective Seth explains, “For me, it’s all about seeing those wild instincts come through under water.” In this case the prey is a weighted tennis ball or other rapidly sinking sphere.
Seth's pool subjects are comprised of dogs who are already fond of the water. But among these dogs, not all volunteer to go under water. Seth explains,
“I’ve seen champion dock-diving dogs who can jump 25 feet off a dock choose not to submerge, and I’ve seen a Chihuahua with limited swimming experience dive right in. If underwater is not for them, then we do an “on-land shoot instead.”
Having no previous diving experience and two dogs of his own that are happier to remain on dry ground, Seth’s career has taken an ironic twist, but one that he thoroughly enjoys. His photos have become a worldwide web sensation, and his ingenuity and investment are starting to pay off. Set for an October release, Seth’s first book, Underwater Dogs, will go on sale and feature photos never-before-seen. Starring in the photos are dozens of new underwater models that include a wide range of breeds and mixed breeds, among them a Pug, a puppy, and even a wolf!
Sporting a tattoo of his adopted dog, Nala, the 31-year-old photographer from Temecula, California is also the founder of Second Chance Photos, a nonprofit organization that teaches volunteers how to take better photographs of adoptable animals.