Capturing the superstars | June 20, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Cover Story - June 20, 2008

Capturing the superstars

Danville woman brings pet photography to the next level

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Perhaps you've seen Candice Rana Gondeck walking around Danville or on the Iron Horse Trail. She's the one who stops to admire every dog.

Since she moved downtown recently she has been working to establish her pet photography business.

"The business is enormously competitive," she said. "But pets are superstars."

Gondeck sees animal photography opportunities everywhere she looks, for instance while perusing advertisements in newspapers or on Web sites. She is trying to hook up with business owners to help them sell their products using animals in their ads.

"Product shots look pretty lifeless - if they added an animal it would be interesting," she said.

She even coined a term for it: animal advertography.

Photography and animals have been Gondeck's passions since she was a child, and she'd always planned to pursue them someday.

"From the age of 12 it was always in the back of my head," said Gondeck, 37, while at the Canine Corral in Danville last week. She admired each pooch, identifying their breeds as they wagged their tails happily, recognizing an innate dog lover.

Growing up in Michigan, Gondeck headed off to Black River Farm and Ranch each summer, armed with her camera.

"My dad was a photographer so I always had gear," she recalled. "I always had pets, too."

While at Michigan State majoring in physiology, she worked at its Arabian Boarding and Teaching Center.

"I was a farm hand," she recalled. "I took care of the horses, I took care of the foals. Arabians can be temperamental but they are amazing."

She went on to Michigan State's veterinary school for awhile. But she ended up working in other professions, including as a health inspector of restaurants and tattoo parlors outside Detroit; for the Department of Energy at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; and doing research for the East Bay Business Times.

A spider a few years ago lured her back to her interest in science, especially her fascination with light and its variations.

"I had this huge orb weaver spider on the outside of my house," she recalled. "It was enormous."

Then a year-and-a-half ago, a serious accident made her decide that life is too short and she'd better do what she loves - now.

So she began to research the pet industry and found that, as of a few years ago, it was a $41 billion business in the United States.

"And that's not including horses or exotics," she said.

She also found that people in this area love their pets and the income level is high enough to have money to spend for professional photographers.

"I'm targeting horses and dog owners," she said. "I'm going to focus on Danville first and then spread out."

She currently is fascinated by the idea of photographing reptiles.

"I'm looking for iguanas, snakes, poison dart frogs," she said.

A pet store in Berkeley has a 6-foot Asian monitor lizard, which she asked to photograph. But apparently the reptile is a popular model and the owner charges $150 for a photo shoot so she decided against it.

Largely by word of mouth, Gondeck is building up a business photographing people's pets with an artistic eye. She might enhance a photo digitally for the best artistic effect.

When she discovered digital photography, it was a joy to combine its scientific aspects with her other loves.

"It created that passion for me," Gondeck recalled. "I experiment a lot in photography and with the light in the room, what I think looks cool."

Her living room, where she works, is bare except for her studio equipment. She will place a dog, for instance, on a large sheet of seamless paper for a plain background. Sometimes she tweaks the colors, fading coats to black and white, but leaving the tongue and eyes in color to capture the personality.

Occasionally she will shoot the owners along with their pets although most of them just want a memorable photo of their dog.

"Sometimes they will say, 'What the heck,' and get into the picture," Gondeck said. "I've taken photos of guys in their socks or sweats. But portraits are not what I focus on."

One of her favorite models has been a golden retriever named Finn.

"He had so many different looks, based on the camera angle," she said. He is featured on her Web site ( and in her advertising material.

"Some dogs are way too excitable. Some are just hyper at first," she said.

She finds willing horse models at La Jolla Equestrian Center off Tassajara Road where she was hired to photograph a woman doing dressage. She was able to photograph the other horses while she was there, catching different angles of their expressive faces and bodies.

Some places are relaxed about her wandering around taking pictures but it can be touchy out in public when she wants to shoot a dog out for a romp with its owners, she said. She noted that she never, ever gets a child in a photo because she doesn't want to worry parents.

Gondeck enjoys entering contests of various photography clubs. And she continues to experiment with photography, the light in her studio, Photoshop on the computer, and what "looks cool."

"It's so technical but there's a huge creative side," Gondeck said. "It's a great balance for me."

"I'd love to try study shots with cats," she said. "I want to try hamsters, too."

Before she came to California, she lived in Tampa Bay and at that time had a Doberman, a Siberian and a German shepherd.

"My German shepherd had a huge ball drive," she said. "I used to throw it for an hour everyday."

She said Florida has wonderful dog parks, many with pools for the dogs to frolic in the water to cool off, but the other dogs could be dangerous. For one thing, she said, in Florida people don't neuter their dogs.

Gondeck exercises every day on the Iron Horse Trail but says she leaves her business - that is, her camera - behind. Nonetheless she takes note of pooches on the path and reports that the most popular breed is labradoodles (a Labrador retriever-poodle mix), then golden retrievers. Vizslas are also popular.

"I've seen people walk their birds on the trail," she said. "I've seen birds on shoulders, with a little leash on the legs."

"I'm a 'big dog' kind of person," she notes recalling a beloved golden retriever she once had that "would just want to be next to me."

"When I was in vet school I bought a cat to be company for my dog, a Doberman," she said. "It was a young cat, with attitude. They were resting together after the second night."

At one time she had three cats and two dogs. She's also had salt water aquariums.

She is currently petless for only the second time in her life but says she is weighing the options.

If you see a woman walking an iguana down the Iron Horse Trail someday, it just might be Candice Rana Gondeck.


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