Photographer Jessica McGovern has won the title of Overall International Photographer of the Year 2024 at the Societies of Photographers 20×16 Print Competition as well as winning the Open Category for her photograph of an ‘abandoned’ dog in the rain that moved judges to tears during the competition‘s judging process.

McGovern said that this image has been about four years in the making, with the original concept coming from her experience with her rescue dog Finn. Remembering how terrified he was of everything when she took him in after he was rescued from a kill shelter, she explained that she wanted to try to ‘capture some of the fear and loneliness he might have felt back then’.

Then in March 2023, McGovern was in central London for a photoshoot with another dog, Nova. So that Nova was not left alone, the client also brought another dog, Atlas. McGovern said: ‘Atlas is a very well-loved rescue dog too, and he was ok with traffic, so as the weather turned to rain and we headed back at the end of Nova’s photoshoot past the perfect alleyway, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shoot the shot I’d had in my head.’

How Jessica got her award-winning photo

Abandoned dog photo, Jessica McGovern
‘Abandoned’. Photo credit: Jessica McGovern.

What camera, lens and settings did you use for this photo?

This photograph was shot with a Sony A1 which is my main working camera body, and a 70-200 f2.8 GM II lens. It was raining on the day so to get the correct exposure the settings were 1/400s, f2.8 at ISO 1600.

How did you shoot this photo?

It was quite a quick and simple shoot to be honest! I often shoot with this technique if the opportunity presents itself, so it’s good to go through it. Firstly, the dog is not abandoned, scared or cold. The welfare of the subject is absolutely paramount, and this is a constructed image not documentary, and therefore the whole experience is fun and rewarding despite how it may appear.

Whilst with his human, also called Jess, Atlas was asked to sit. He chose this position with his legs apart and slightly open to the camera in his body. Then, a snack that he liked was placed on the floor in front of him, which he looked at. The shot was taken, and the subject moves out of the frame to get a big reward.

With me in exactly the same position and using back button focus, I disengaged the autofocus after the shot with the subject was captured. I then take the same frame again but with nobody in it. Because this image needed both compression and scale, I chose to capture empty frames on each side and above, about 10 in total, to do a simple panoramic stitch and end up with the final frame seen here.

The blue toning, dodge and burn, plus soft vignetting to finish leaves us here, with “Abandoned.”

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