Our second profile features Alex Cearns, Creative Director of Houndstooth Studio by Alex Cearns who specialises in capturing portraits that convey the intrinsic character of her animal subjects. When it comes to her photography, she is passionate, compassionate, fun, caring and committed and it would be apt to describe her as a “crazy dog lady”.
Alex is the recipient of over 250 awards for photography, business and philanthropy and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Australia Day Honours List 2019 from the Council for the Order of Australia for her service to the community through charitable organisations. Inspiring others with her joy of working with animals, Alex’s philanthropy and passionate advocacy for animal rescue has earned her high regard among Australia’s animal lovers and a strong following on social media.
Dogs Today Magazine in the United Kingdom calls Perth based photographer Alex Cearns “One of our greatest dog photographers in the world.”
Alex photographs for engaged pet lovers, corporate brands in Australia, the USA and the UK, and for around 40 Australian and International animal charities and conservation organisations. Her images have been published extensively across Australian and International media, in books, magazines and ad campaigns.
She is an ambassador for Profoto, BenQ, Tamron USA and Australia, and Spider Holster.
She is also World Expedition’s first female wildlife photography tour leader, taking likeminded animal to some of the world’s most exciting, ‘off the beaten track’ animal destinations. She has travelled to all 7 continents.
Alex is a regular contributor of articles and images to many blogs and magazines. She regularly appears on television and speaks on radio. A published author of 6 books, her latest publication ‘For the love of Greyhounds’ was released in November 2018 with ABC Books/Harper Collins. https://www.houndstoothstudio.com.au/books/for-the-love-of-greyhounds/
Alex lives with her partner, two rescue dogs, and rescue cat in Perth, Western Australia.
Q1. How did you start out as a photographer/artist?
A. My lifelong love of animals began during my formative years in outback Australia where my father was a sheep shearer and wool valuer. As an only child, my constant companions were my dogs, guinea pigs, horses, rabbits and bottle-fed lambs. My family had a great regard for Australian wildlife and I often helped my mother rescue and care for a wide array of injured kangaroo joeys, birds and other creatures until they could be released back into their natural habitat. At age 11, I moved with my family to the Pilbara, an area in northern Western Australia, and a place that was the ideal environment to grow up in. I spent much of my spare time there exploring the surrounding desert with my dog, Ally.
Driven by a desire to contribute to society, I joined the Western Australian Police Service at age 19 and served for 14 years as a police officer and crime analyst. I transferred to the Australian Federal Government in 2005, where I worked for five years as a Senior Transport Auditor in airport counter-terrorism security for city and regional airports.
Photography became a serious passion in 2006. On occasion I’d used a point-and-shoot camera and film camera until then, but when a friend showed me the scope of digital photography I was hooked. Never one to do things by halves, I spent every spare moment studying photographic literature, and practicing the craft on my own pets, those of friends and family, as well as farm animals and wildlife. I tried a few other genres such as landscapes and people, but animals enthralled me more than any other subject.
On a work trip to the stunning Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean Territories I photographed a group of giant blue clams at a rustic breeding facility. Mesmerised by the vivid colours of the clams I waited patiently to get the right shot.
One of the images received positive feedback from family and friends and I felt encouraged to enter it into several major photographic competitions. I was thrilled (and a bit surprised!) when it won several major awards. This led to gallery representation and print sales of the image – and was the first time I felt like my photographs had a value.
Meanwhile, I converted a small office at the back of our property into a photographic studio and spent every weekend filling requests for pet portraits. What started as a weekend hobby was growing so much, I found myself working up to 100 hours per week in both jobs. It was crazy busy but thrilling to gradually see the emergence of a viable business in which I could merge my two passions - animals and photography.
I left my full-time government role in 2010 and rebranded my business name to ‘Houndstooth Studio’. Since then so many incredible experiences and opportunities have opened up.
Philanthropy is a huge part of my business philosophy and one of my driving passions. I work pro bono with dozens of animal rescue charities, sanctuaries or shelters, across the globe, by providing images, sponsorship and conducting major fundraising projects every year.
My two aims through photography are:
to show, through images, how beautiful animals are, and 2) to support, promote, and endorse animal rescue organisations.
Every charity project I undertake is about improving the lives of animals. Knowing I can help make a difference to the lives of rescue-animals is a huge motivation for me. The right image viewed by the right person can mean a dog is re-homed, a donation is made, or that media will run a story that increases awareness or raises public concern for a cause which directly affects the welfare of the animal.
A very important goal of mine is to continue to do whatever I can to promote and support effective animal rescue and conservation organisations, be it dog rescue, bear rescue, or tiger rescue, through my images. There are so many species that need help right now and so many great animal organisations that need help.
I know that many people feel as passionately as I do about animals and conservation. If ever there was a time to step up for those who don’t have a voice, it is now. The more we share information and discuss issues, the sooner we can all act to help create change.
Q2. What is your favourite subject to photograph & why?
A. I love all animals, but dogs would have to be my favourite. I particularly love Greyhounds and am owned by a rescue Greyhound called Pixel (and a Kelpie Greyhound Mix called Pip). Greyhounds are lovely dogs and make fantastic pets. They are couch potatoes who love nothing more than lying around and they generally don't require a lot of space or a huge amount of exercise. Greyhounds can be addictive – it’s hard to stop at adopting just one.
I also have an affinity for dogs with disabilities. The tenacity of dogs to overcome adversity never ceases to amaze and inspire me. They make the most out of life and from them I have learnt so much about always seeing the positive in every situation and never giving up.
Q3. What is your biggest challenge as a photographer?
A. I think the biggest challenge is ensuring that as my business grew, I didn’t drop the ball on the standard of service I was providing my clients. Since then, I’ve had to adapt to changing markets and the inception of social media. Successful businesses are able to move with the times and keep up with what clients want most. I recently began coaching photographers and artists in business and its been exciting helping others put their businesses in order and I love the challenge of helping them achieve their goals.
Q4. What’s your next or dream destination to photograph?
A. I was just invited to pitch an idea for my next book deal. If it’s accepted for publication, it will involve photographing over several months to capture the images I need. The subject matter is top secret, but I have my fingers crossed. I’ve been blessed to have 6 books published over the years, in several countries, and this one would be the icing on the cake.
Q5. Social media - love it or hate it? What platforms do you use?
A. I love social media. I was a very early adaptor of Facebook and it’s my go-to platform. I’ve built up a following on Facebook of over 128,000+ engaged animal lovers over the past decade. Facebook allows you to cultivate an online community of people who support what you do and it’s easy to them market to them directly, no matter where they live. They are the ones most likely to buy your prints, attend your events and support your charity projects. I post images and written content on my Facebook page - all animal related. I also use Instagram as well, but I only post images. Most of my followers on Instagram don’t want to read any text, they just want to see cute animal pics. I think you either use social media fully, or you don’t. You can’t do it half-heartedly or you lose traction and your presence loses impact.
Q6. What equipment do you use, favourite lens?
A. I use Tamron Super Performance Lenses in the studio, combined with Profoto lighting equipment. My favourite studio lens is the Tamron 24-70mm f 28 VC lens which I use for 95% of my studio images.
Q7. How do you know when your photo editing is finished?
A. With animals you can’t go too far with your editing. I usually check that my studio backgrounds are black or white and do minor edits for drool and stray hairs. I always ensue my images reflect how my subjects looked to me when I photographed them. The general rule for editing animal images is if you can see it’s been done (say adding contrast or saturation), then dial it back a bit. The most natural look for my subjects is what I like best, whether I’m photographing indoors or in my studio.
Q8. What’s the most difficult/challenging place you’ve photographed?
A. The most challenging place I’ve photographed was the Ecuadorian Amazon basin, mostly because my expectations vs the actual realities weren’t in alignment. I went there assuming there’d be a lot of animals to photograph at close range, and an abundance of birds flying by. When we arrived, I soon realised that insects were the most prevalent creatures and that the animals and birds were mostly far off in the distance – which was probably best as for some, it prevented human interference like hunting. Plus, there were a lot of natural dangers – from electric eels in the water, to poison spitting frogs, even trees which could hurt you if you got spiked. There were also more big hairy tarantulas there than I cared for (none would have been a good number) and at night we would open out suitcases and giant cockroaches would fly out everywhere. It was an experience, but I came home with more images of ants carrying leaves, than I did of anything else.
Q9. What is one question you’d like to be asked and have never been?
A. “Would you like to be on the Ellen De Generes show to speak about adopting rescue animals and the value of animals with disabilities?” This is one of my greatest business goals, as I see Ellen’s show as an incredible platform to reach millions with these important messages.
Q10. What do you think about having jigsaws made from your images/artworks?
A. I’m very proud to work with Jigsaw Gallery and to be a contributor. I love the idea of families sitting around their dining room table, working on one of my images. Not only do I see that as bringing joy, but it’s a wonderful way for me to share my images with a wider audience. I also really appreciate that Jigsaw gallery uniquely supports Australian themed images and art. This makes the brand unique and the standard of images available on the jigsaws is second to none.
To view Alex's collection of images available as jigsaws visit jigsawgallery.com.au/collections/alex-cearns