3 compelling photo books for gifting this winter

These photo books capture the world in images that are by turns amusing and heartbreaking.

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2. 'Underwater Dogs,' by Seth Casteel

Underwater dogs? Really?

Two things are surprising about Seth Casteel’s new book, "Underwater Dogs." One is that pictures of – well, dogs underwater – drew 150 million viewers on social media sites this February. The other surprise is that Casteel thought of doing this series of photos in the first place.

It all started with a client named Buster, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, who kept dropping his ball in the pool and disappearing underwater to retrieve it during a photo shoot. Instead of shooting the playful pup on land as planned, Casteel realized that better shots could be captured underwater. Buster’s hilarious faces were just the beginning of his project.

When someone posted a few of Casteel’s soggy-pup photos online, the shots went viral. Casteel’s website, littlefriendsphoto.com, crashed because of the increase in traffic, and offers for shoots poured in – including a publishing deal from Little, Brown. In the resulting book, more than 80 portraits capture canines of all shapes and sizes as they doggedly (sorry, I couldn’t resist...) retrieve balls and toys in their own chaotic underwater ballet.

Personalities emerge from the dogs’ different techniques: some leap and dive, others paddle on the surface. Bared teeth look ferocious, reminding us of primal origins. Many expressions and body positions are comical.

One of my favorite shots is of Lulu, a Jack Russell terrier, gracefully paddling underwater, a bright orange ring in her mouth. Rocco, a Boston terrier, legs splayed, has a wonderful surprised expression on his face.

In the back of the book, Casteel, who is a prize-winning animal photographer and animal rights activist, has small posed portraits of all his subjects, so we get to see them on land as well. Looking at adorable Olde English Bulldogge Coraline, you’d never expect her underwater alter ego: her wide-open jaws and bared teeth look like a shark’s.

Casteel’s photos made a big splash. If you’re as much of a sucker for great animal photos as I am, you’ll love this different take on man’s best friend.

Melanie Stetson Freeman is a Monitor staff photographer.

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