If anyone has a photographer’s eye — the ability to visualize the pleasing proportions of composition, lighting and mood — then Jerry Dillon of Belly of the Whale Photography does. He seamlessly pairs that with an incredible imagination, creating vignettes in his mind’s eye that breathe life into his subjects before he’s even taken the first shot.
His rural Port Angeles studio is sparse, and a powerful laptop, a 24-inch MacBook Pro and a Canon EOS 80D digital camera are the tools of his trade with which he makes magic.
Dillon has loved art since childhood and began drawing at the age of 6. Growing up he’d taken candids of friends and family, but never considered photography could be his livelihood.
“I just took my camera out and fell in love with photography,” Dillon said. “I had very minimal experience and I never meant photography to be a business. I thought, ‘Since I have the equipment, maybe I should do something with it,’ so I watched and I learned.
“I didn’t take a photo of a person (a portrait) until June 2018.”
He and his wife, Shawanda or Sunny, founded Belly of the Whale Photography and decided they wanted more than standard portraits, coming up with the concept of “themed” photos for clients. Some upcoming shoots are “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Beauty and the Beast” and a wasteland-themed package.
See his work at www.belly ofthewhalephotography.com, including a group of “Cinderella” portraits, reminiscent of Renaissance paintings.
“What sets me apart from other photographers is I see every photo as its own illustration. I don’t edit two photos alike,” Dillon said.
“Other photographers do batch processing of hundreds of photos and one set of settings. I give the client entirely unique photos.”
Dillon explained that his inspiration comes in the form of a question: “What are my limitations?”
“I look at what most would think is impossible and I see an opportunity. I see each photo shoot as a puzzle — at the beginning, I’m trying to make the border — I think of what the most difficult parts of the photo are and I knock those out.”
Just recently, as part of setting up “Little Red Riding Hood,” Dillon was introduced to a purebred wolf as a key character, saying he always wants to make a story that’s convincing to the public.
Themed portraits are the Dillons “bread and butter,” but he also does portraits of children, seniors, couples, families, pets, equestrians and re-enactment photos.
“I can see the photos already which I think might be difficult for other people to understand. I scout locations after I’ve met the model and walk around as if I have my camera with me,” Dillon explained.
“I ask for photos of my subjects beforehand because I really build a whole photo shoot in my head before one photo is taken.”
Often Dillon has his own themes in mind and puts out a call for models, often receiving hundreds of responses, he said.
“I’m very fortunate that the community supplies us with just an unimaginable number of opportunities when it comes to models. I already know in my mind what I’m looking for — I just want for the person to get as close to what’s in my mind’s eye,” Dillon said, explaining that he studies the model’s facial features from many angles. “The models are providing me their time and their performance and I’m providing them my time and my artistic abilities.”
He added that the portfolios of would-be professional models have a “wow” factor that gets them noticed with modeling agencies.
Belly of the Whale Photography also offers cinemagraphs, a combination of videos and photographs, which is another way to breathe even more life into the clients’ photos. They have sound effects and carefully chosen music, Dillon said.
“I want people to think of my photos as in investment. In the world of smartphones and candids, we want to offer something that no one else offers and that is possibilities. We don’t like to use the word ‘impossible,’” Dillon said.
“I want my photos to tell a story, to make sense, and in the concept of ‘a picture is a thousand words,’ at Belly of the Whale Photography, we want ours to be worth 10,000 words.”