Greg Koch Photography

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The Canine Client: Photographing Rescue Dogs

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of great commercial clients, but few of them are willing to roll onto their backs after the shoot so I can rub their bellies. When your client is covered in fur, however, anything goes.

The ASPCA states that approximately 3.3 millions dogs a year enter shelters in need of new homes, but only about 1.6 million ever find a family willing to adopt them. That means 1.7 million dogs a year never find the happiness they seek nor the love they deserve.


I hope we could all change that statistic. One of the many factors affecting adoption rates is the quality of the photos. And while studies have shown that good images can increase adoption rates, most shelters lack the knowledge and the experience necessary for such photos. Thus, I wanted to do my small part to help these dogs find their forever homes.


Rescue dogs, as you might guess, are not the most natural of portrait subjects. They are often stressed, frightened, in pain, or some combination of all three when I point the camera at them. Making successful images is an exercise in patience. And while the dog’s comfort always comes first, it’s important that they get photographed even if they don’t like it—a few minutes of discomfort is worth a lifetime of happiness with a successful adoption.


The rescue organization with which I volunteer is dedicated primarily (if not exclusively) to saving at-risk Doberman Pinschers. Any Doberman owner will tell you that despite their fearsome reputation, they are the sweetest, most loyal of dogs, equally as ready to protect you as to crawl into your lap and lick your face. And having grown up with Dobies, I’ve always felt a connection with these big lovable goofballs.


When the dogs are first brought in, many of them are shaking uncontrollably. To be fair, it’s not always the camera that frightens them—it’s often just meeting new people, as many of the dogs suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their owners and have thus come in with neurological disorders, hair loss due to stress, heart worms, mange and worse (I even saw a dog who had been shot in the shoulder before her owner was arrested). The rescue staff takes great pains to give the animals the TLC they deserve, to medicate them, and to offer them a safe place to recover.


But triage only fixes the body. These animals often have broken hearts—some were thrown out the windows of moving cars. Others were chained up and abandoned. As a result, when we bring them into the studio, the dogs will often shake in fear, sometimes even urinating or defecating on themselves. These are generally extreme cases, but I’ve seen it happen more than once. And most often the dogs are afraid of men because it was a man who beat them. It’s difficult to understand why a human being would treat an animal this way.

Sounder, seen below, is a typical example. He was almost completely shut down when he entered the shelter and has healed very slowly from both the visible and invisible scars.


This next big boy, Tango, was found by the police chained to a tree in the backyard of a drug house. He had been so neglected that the chain had grown tight around his neck and had threatened to suffocate him.


I can’t claim that every session with each dog is amazing. But overall, we capture representative images and try to document the animals in as much detail as possible. And, sometimes when we’re lucky, the dog will show us a bit of its natural resilience as the fear is replaced with trust and, in a few cases, true happiness. I’ve made a lot of canine friends along the way, and yes—some of them even let me rub their bellies. That makes the whole endeavor worthwhile.


To date, I’ve photographed more than two hundred rescue dogs, almost all of whom have since found new families that have promised to love them. That feels good. Not as good as doggy kisses, mind you, but it’s a close second.


Not every dog can express the love it feels, but every dog deserves love. Please consider supporting a rescue organization near you.

FarmMa: Portraits of Women and Mothers in Agriculture

[NOTE: In between jobs, I’m always looking to fill my calendar with personal work.  This blog has generally become an ode to that approach.]

Here in the hills of northern California, I’m surrounded by farms and ranches.  Many of them are small businesses, raising poultry and livestock or growing grapes for local markets.  Many of these properties have a unique beauty seldom seen in wide-ranging publications.  And, perhaps surprisingly, access to these venues is generally as easy as a phone call and a handshake.

So, when I was looking for my latest personal project, it was a no-brainer.  I already had the doodles, and had been playing around with creative titles and bad sketches.  (I often work on projects backward—coming up with a title, then fitting the images to its theme.)  Thus, “FarmMa” was born.

One of my regular casting agents and a good friend, Toni Staniewicz, suggested several people she knows who own land.  Our first stop brought us to Phoenix Ranch, a veterinary outreach facility in Vacaville, CA.  Our talent for this location, Dr. Susan Chen, owns and operates the place, rehabilitating animals and teaching humans to bond with them.  A more empathetic soul you’d be hard-pressed to find.

Our first setup was in the barn with one of Dr. Chen’s Icelandic Ponies.  The animal was content to stand on its mark, allowing us ample time to play with the lightning and the set.


Eventually, we moved into the stalls to shoot a family of cows, including large bull, its young calf, and the calf’s mother.


Later, we moved to the duck pond, where we broke out the bread crumbs and the bubble machine.  Because nothing says “Save the animals!” like ten thousand bubbles blowing across the backs of wild turkeys.



Our final setup at Phoenix was in an irrigation ditch Dr. Chen was digging.  She was game enough to get right back into the mud and manure for our photos.  This is what we call suffering for our art!




Did you know that wild turkey heads have the same texture as a bowl of blackberries?  Here I am, flanked by my bodyguards.  In truth, they wouldn’t leave me alone.  I believe that makes me an honorary turkey.  (My wife would probably agree.)


And here I am vetoing Thanksgiving on behalf of my new brethren.  Note the bubble juice in the background.


After saying our goodbyes to Dr. Chen, we moved to a secondary location, a private property just down the road.  Our talent this time was barrel racer and animal aficionada, Andrea Garcia.  Ms. Garcia has lots of animals, including horses, cattle, dogs, and birds.  I was intrigued by Ms. Garcia’s laidback approach to her otherwise unusual lifestyle and wanted to photograph her in her element.  We decided to use the property itself as a backdrop rather than the animals, and so we shot first in the barn, atop some old hay bales that were waiting to be mulched.



Afterward, we headed out into the field with our rubber boots and climbed atop the old tractor that keeps watch over the horses in the field.



It was a breath of fresh air, getting out of the city, out of the office environment, and into nature.  I could see the relaxation in the faces of Ms. Chen and Ms. Garcia, and while we easily could have continued shooting, our day was quickly over.

I know this project will grow over time, and that these are only the first couple of tests.  And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that there are many voices in this industry that often go unheard.  My hope is that with the FarmMa project, many of those voices will speak to those who might not otherwise have been able to hear them.

P.S. My thanks to cast and crew for all the hard work and crude animal jokes!


Photography by: Greg Koch Photography

Casting/Production/BTS: Toni Staniewicz

Talent: Sue Chan & Andrea Garcia

MUA: Holly Ruth

Assistants: Tessa Zehnder & John Nickerson










Star Wars Food Puns

As with most of my ideas (and blog posts), this one began with a sketch:


I was doodling on my son’s sandwich bag one morning when it struck me as humorous that “commando” sounds a bit like “burrito.”  I was familiar with the Republic Commando characters from an old Star Wars videogame, and it suddenly seemed fitting that I find every other food of which I could possibly think that sounded similar to a Star Wars character.  Thus, another project was born.

I went through a series of about forty sketches on different lunch bags for my son.  He quickly approved the project and, in fact, gave me many of the ideas, himself.  He even got some camera time.  Here, he’s working on “Queen Almondala”, a riff on Queen Amidala.


And here’s the final shot from that character:


I wanted to keep the project as consistent as possible, so that meant no significant lighting or set changes, beyond the use of gels and food props.  I didn’t even change lenses, shooting everything with a Schneider-Kreuznach 100mm LS, except where absolutely necessary.  I also tried to keep the retouching at a bare minimum.  I briefly considered cutting out the backgrounds and placing the characters in a larger version of their world, but I felt that would detract from the humor, which is really what this project was supposed to be about, anyway.

One of the first images I shot for the project was Darth Baker.  Here he is being outfitted properly by his minions:


And here’s the final photo:


Several people have asked why Darth Baker has a sprig of rosemary if he’s baking.  I can only attribute this to the nature of the Dark Side.

In the following image we see Java the Hutt being prepped for his shoot.  I had a lot of fun going down to my local Starbucks and asking for the nastiest leftover beans they had.  They were kind enough to give me four pounds, which I dumped across the table in much the way I might imagine the real Jabba would fill his palace with clutter.

The entire series, comprising sixty images, was shot over the course of a couple months.  I had to put the brakes on the project not because I ran out of ideas for puns but because my son ran out of shelf space in his room for all the toys.


Here are a few of my favorite images from the series:







Would You Buy Lemonade From a Viking?

I don’t really know why, but I find the modern concept of Vikings quite funny.  I think it’s because they have such a strong identity in our culture, having been used in countless photos and movies through the years.

And really, what’s not to love about a bunch of hairy, carnivorous dudes…especially when they’re running around on a hot day trying to quench their (and your) thirst?

Thus was born my idea:



To me, Vikings are not necessarily bloodthirsty savages.   Well, at least they’re not savages.  The two dudes pictured above, Sven and Rathgar, are actually considered quite friendly in their own village.  Sven loves to write epic poems about eviscerations, and Rathgar can turn any enemy’s bone into a piece of fine jewelry.

You probably see where I’m going with this.  The point is that they’re not characters who are mean and nasty in their own right; they’re only considered that way when they’re removed from their natural element.  Thus, when Rathgar decides to help a young kid sell some lemonade, he’s not trying to trick people into violent clashes; he’s just interested in proffering a refreshing drink in exchange for a small payment.

Of course, the back-story is really all academic.  For the shoot, the first thing I needed was a lemonade stand.  I went down to my local lumber store and convinced them to let me root around in their debris pile.  I walked away with half a dozen pallets and didn’t pay a dime.  For this concept, I knew I wanted the stand to look pretty gnarled, so I wasn’t going to build a proper one or paint it or anything.


After construction of the stand was complete, I needed to get a good Viking.  I knew of, and had previously worked with, a local actor named Erik Braa.  He was the first person in my mind when it came to this character.  He’s large, funny, charismatic and, to top it off, a consummate professional.


Because of my background in writing, I tend to think of photos from a narrative point of view.  As such, I wanted to explore the idea of a kid selling lemonade when a Viking approaches.  At first the kid is scared, then the Viking helps him sell the product, but with his own unique twist.  In the end, the kid becomes something of a Viking, too.

The way I see it, a Viking wouldn’t just sell lemonade.  He would sell something much more hardcore.  In fact, he would sell you the blood of your enemies…and he’d do it for free!  Why?  Because he’s a Viking!  That’s the key to the piece, I think.  It’s not that the Viking is selling lemonade, it’s that he’s selling his version of lemonade.  Rathgar doesn’t think about whether or not you want a sugary drink on a hot day; he thinks only about how he can offer you something that makes you feel good, and in this case it’s the blood of your sworn enemy.  See, Rathgar isn’t bad, he’s just taken out of context.  For me, that’s the hook of the humor.


Soon, he gets the kid in on the action, too: “Rathgar teach you how to crush enemy skull like rotten fruit!”


“But first, you must take off your shirt to let the battle rage through you!”


In the end, Rathgar has converted the young boy and the lemonade stand is now complete.

But the question remains: Would you buy what these guys are selling?


Power Corn!

As usual, this idea began with a drawing:



I’ve always been drawn to fish-out-of-water scenarios. It’s deeply meaningful, and funny, to me to combine two elements that wouldn’t normally go together. Plus, eating corn with a 36-volt cordless drill seems somehow appropriate, given my latent redneck tendencies.

Because this is a simple concept, I wanted a simple execution. There are no fancy lighting setups, no stupendous costumes. Just the wife and a good old ear of (non-organic) corn.

The thing about any photo project is that almost universally your original vision does not convey the problem you will face when executing on that vision. In this case, I quickly learned that the placement of the corn on the face can greatly affect the overall efficacy of the final image, as can be evidenced from this test shot.


Beyond the usual considerations of wardrobe and lighting design, character expression became quite important. Though the storyboard above called for a happy-go-lucky face, the idea just seemed more…manic to me. So we played around a bit until we found the (ahem) sweet spot.


This whole shoot, in fact, was made on the details. Eyes open or closed?


Two hands on the drill or one? Tongue or no tongue?


Eventually, we arrived at the proper combination of lighting, wardrobe, facial expression, drill placement, and set dressing.


Ear’s to a good day at work!

Lumber Jill

Do you like axes?

Summer is often a down season for me, and I use that time to catch up on personal work. Case in point.

I like bringing together disparate ideas and looking for the humor in their co-mingling. We’ve all heard of lumberjacks. But I’d personally never heard of a Lumber Jill, a modern girl who is smart, beautiful, and charming…and who just happens to keep a 3.75 horsepower chainsaw in her purse. She can chop down a corporate ladder as easily as she can climb it, and she can break through glass ceilings with her double-bit axe. She’s the capable, confident Everywoman, with a bright smile and a penchant for sharp tools.


It all began with one (bad) illustration.  From concept…


…to reality!



At first I wanted to shoot this in a coniferous forest like those found in the eastern California mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. Eventually, though, the idea felt more at home in a redwood grove.

After much deliberation, we found a great little plot of private land in western Marin County, just north of San Francisco.


The idea grew into this whole thing where Lumber Jill does all the same stuff a normal woman does, except that she can’t stop thinking about cutting down trees, chopping kindling, and grabbing her axe. She paints her nails brown like the color of bark, she shaves her legs with a shearing knife, and she cuts her steak with a chainsaw.


Speaking of steak-cutting, my concept sketch isn’t nearly as graphic as the resulting photo. For any of you who has always wondered what dog food mixed with spaghetti sauce looks like when shot from the barrel of a leaf blower, your wait is over. But vegetarians, beware!


To me, there’s something very funny in taking an otherwise normal situation or idea and giving it a twist. And I like funny a lot. If I could spend all day being silly, I would.  This is just another example of that.

I mean, come on: What isn’t hysterical about a person who treats his or her work tools like babies?

20150726_141326_EJ031352_40783b1In the end, it’s pretty simple: Take two things that one wouldn’t expect to be found together, and mash them up.

20150726_135201_EJ031352_40740b1So, once we’d established the location, we found a great model, Jaime, who was eager to take on the role of L. Jill. As you can see, she is as comfortable in a dress as she is in work boots and gloves.


And speaking of boots, here she is trying on a few different ones:


And here we have the tools of the trade:


Plus some diffusion:


Now a quick fitting:


Oh, and here’s our offending steak before Lumber Jill gets a hold of it:


And the aftermath of “lunch.” I think we missed a spot.


But in the end, everyone was still smiling, and that’s a good sign. My heartfelt thanks to my cast and crew:


Lumber Jill…………………………….Jaime Cornell

Producer……………………………….Toni Staniewicz

MUA………………………………………Chanel Fu

1st Assistant…………………………..Michael Sorensen

2nd Assistant………………………….Jordan Givens

3rd Assistant………………………….Tessa Zehnder

Prop Master………………………….Paul Nickerson

Stay tuned for more craziness in the coming weeks!

Superman + Soup = Souperman!

I can’t claim that my ideas are high art. I can’t even claim that they’re funny. But that doesn’t stop me from chasing after my own weird sense of humor. Case in point, this personal photo shoot.

I had the idea of shooting an icon as he’s never been seen before. Superman usually conjures images of bending steel, fighting off space aliens, and flying through the clouds. But what does he do when he gets home from all those hunger-inducing activities? Presumably, he has a super-appetite. And…well, yeah. You can see how my brain works.

It all began with a bad storyboard.



There were several moving parts to this shoot I needed to tackle before pulling everything together. First, I needed a costume. A quick stop at my local Amazon store and I walked away with an Under Armour Alter Ego Compression shirt.

The next item on the shopping list was a location. I searched far and wide for an appropriate kitchen setting, but it wasn’t until visiting an online photo group that I learned of The Producer’s Loft ( in San Francisco.

Finally, I needed soup. Sure, I could have added everything in Post-, but it’s much easier for me to do it in camera. A quick trip back to Amazon and I loaded up with 390 cans of Campbell’s classic Chicken Noodle. In hindsight, I probably should’ve done some of it in Post-….



We arrived on set early because I knew it would take a while to set up all the cans. We all pulled double-duty, taking turns stacking everything neatly, messing it up, then restacking it all. In the end, the set looked pretty good. I wouldn’t have minded another 2000 cans of soup, mind you, but I think we rocked it with what we had.



I instructed our model, Enzo, that he was not so much portraying Superman as he was portraying Clark Kent. The idea was that Clark, back in his bachelor pad, was making dinner. Superman is who Clark is when he’s performing. Clark is who he naturally is, hence we only have a hint of his costume. Superman is perfect; Clark, on the other hand, can afford to be messy.

Personally, I’m far more interested in the human side of superheroes than in their super sides. I don’t much care that they can fly and shoot lasers out of their eyes; I want to know how they interact with people on the street, how they drive cars, work at desks, and make food for themselves.

Here’s our workstation for the day. Yes, that’s hospital-grade material. Safety first!



I can’t tell whether I’m having too much fun or not enough.



Interesting things going on behind the scenes or are they just ignoring the model?


Actually, we ended up balancing the strobes for the tungsten lamps built into the kitchen set, the reason being that the small tungstens had a lot more character than the big flat strobes. Could I have lit everything with strobes to match? Probably, but it would’ve taken a long time and quite a few more lights. Most of the time, the easy answer is the best one. So, in the photo above the crew busies themselves changing bulbs and applying gels.


Another walk around the set gives us Soup-ception!



First, the lighting test:



Next, the taste test:



Popping another can:



Winding down with a full belly. Fortunately, Souperman never gets bloated.



And the final image:


When we wrapped, I gave the soup to a local food bank.  Pay it forward, boys and girls. That’s what Souperman would do!


A big THANK YOU to several folks: