Happiness is Colorific – Behind the Scenes of a Dog Photography Challenge

When I set out to create an image for Unleashed Education’s first Embark Challenge Colorific, I knew I wanted something happy. With a brief like Colorific, I was envisioning something bright & joyful. Let’s go behind the scenes and see how I arrived at the final happy photograph of Rabun the Dalmatian for the Colorific dog photography challenge.

What is the Embark Dog Photography Challenge?

The Embark Challenges are the brainchild of Unleashed Education. Founded by 2 of the world’s most talented pet photographers & educators, Charlotte Reeves & Craig Turner-Bullock, Embark asks professional pet photographers to compete in completing 12 challenges to create gorgeous photographs of dogs. These challenges are designed to push the creative, editing, and artistic skill of pet photographers around the globe.

At the end of each challenge photo entries are judged, receive feedback, and a top 20 and top 10 winners are announced. In my ongoing quest for continuing education, I want to push myself as an artist to make images more creatively, which is why I joined Unleashed Education at the end of 2021. And it’s why I am participating in the Embark Challenges.

Meet Rabun – The Rescued Dalmatian

I knew Rabun even before his mom met him. Back in 2017 when I was working for the Humane Society of Morgan County in Madison, Georgia we were contacted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture asking for our help in a puppy mill that was being shut down.

On site there were dozens of purebred dogs – more than 30 dogs in concrete runs with no access to grass and cleaned only by housing the waste out the back and down the hill (which was how authorities were notified about what was going on). Rescues came together to rescue the dogs and begin the rehab process. Dalmatian puppy Rabun was one of those dogs! He was taken in by another rescue to be vetted & eventually be adopted by Jennifer!

Rabun has thrived in his forever home. He’s an excellent frisbee dog, great with kids, loves to paddle board, and is an obedience superstar!

Puppy dog eyes photos are best saved for the end of your dog's Atlanta' photo shoot.

Planning the Shot

Fast forward to my announcing the Embark Sessions at the beginning of 2022. I started taking applications to find just the right dog for each challenge. The moment I saw Rabun sign up – I knew I wanted him for Coloriffic! I was so inspired by the idea of a black & white dog in a color world. The mix of spots & stripes in the final image was just an extra little happy accident.

Our first attempt at Colorific had Jennifer and I meeting at sunrise at a new mural installation in downtown Monroe, Georgia. We got some really fun images and I was pretty happy with the results. But, then I realized I had completed our session a day too early! The images wouldn’t qualify for Embark as all images must be taken during the challenge timeline.

Sheepishly, I reached out to Jennifer to ask if she would get up before the sun again to meet me with Rabun for a redo. Not only was she willing to meet me again for another chance – Jennifer emailed me a few local colorful murals that had been created in her town of Suwanee! As soon as I clicked the link to see the rainbow mural – I knew we had our location.

Your dog photography session isn't finished until you're seeing your dogs framed on the walls of your home.

Getting the Final Image

My initial idea was to have Rabun right in the middle of the rainbow, so we started there. But I wasn’t feeling it once we started photographing him. It was missing something.

One of the best parts of a challenge like this is that with the goal being a single image, it pushes you to really take your time, think about angles, and get creative! I noticed the bright yellow parking poles and realized I could use one to block half the mural creating a clean wash of yellow that led you into Rabun smiling in the scene with an entire rainbow of cheerful color bringing you right to his happy face.
So, I sat down right in a little pile of trash and debris, relied on Rabun’s mom to help get his attention – and that million dollar smile is thanks to his favorite toy!

I’m thrilled this image placed in the Top 20 among more than 100 other insanely talented professional pet photographers. But, mostly I’m thrilled to have had that creative spark reignited.

I hope Rabun’s happy face puts a smile on your face today.

Let’s go behind the scenes and see how I arrived at the final happy photograph of Rabun the Dalmatian for the Coloriffic dog photography challenge.

Does your dog have what it takes to be an Embark model?

This blog is a part of a blog circle with pet photographers from across the globe! This week we’re talking about Happiness!

Next up Angela Schneider of Big White Dog Photography in Spokane, WA, taking Bella for a day to themselves at Farragut State Park.

Be sure to keep clicking the link at the bottom to complete the circle until you wind up back here!

What to read next?


  1. Linda Perdue

    SO great to hear about how you did the embark photo, finding the perfect dog, location and then capturing the win in that category!

  2. Terri

    I love all of those colorful images. Well done!

  3. Jan

    I love how you INCORPORATEd color! What a great challenge (and gorgeous model).

  4. Sarah Jane Ohl

    Congratulations Courtney!

  5. Angela Schneider

    I remember that image! Those murals are fantastic and rayburn’s white coat pops right off!

  6. Tracy Allard

    Terrific image, I love the idea of a black and white dog in a colorful world! The challenge sounds great to push your creativity and get out of the “I’ll fix it in post” habit.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have More Questions?

Get in touch. I’d love to talk with you.