Social media is what moves public opinion and grabs attention these days. And it’s done a lot for Animal Rescue. Those of you who have been around for a while will remember the days of only getting dogs adopted by going to adoption events. WHAT?
Then we had Petfinder.com and everything started moving faster. Add Facebook and Instagram. Now many groups focus on social media and rarely do adoption events! I personally think it’s less wear and tear on the volunteers, but I guess we need every possible advantage in marketing these pets. Here’s a great article from BuzzFeed about how one shelter has set up a photography program to help adoptions.
And here’s a great story about a little boy who is making videos and getting dogs adopted using videos he makes himself and posts to http://www.YouTube.
Isn’t it great when technology really works?
Most of you already know that pets need good photos all year long to help with adoptions. And the good clear colorful photos we get when the weather is nice are extra effective in grabbing attention. So use COLOR whenever you can!
Even a few random tulips in the background will make a big difference when a prospective adopter is scrolling through photo after photo online looking for the perfect pup. It’s also been shown that outdoor photos are more effective than indoor photos — so practice with your favorite lens (these were done with the 85 1.2L from Canon) to blur out undesirable elements in the background (use your widest aperture for this — like 2.0 or 2.8) which will make cars and street signs almost disappear…. and colorful blossoms turn painterly.
The hard part, is that at these wide open settings, it’s a little trickier to get the pet in sharp focus. I select the center focus point and place it on the dog’s eyes. You really need a helper for this so that you have someone holding the dog in place for you (these dogs were on leashes which we removed with Photoshop). Don’t give up! It’s worth the extra effort and the adoption applications will pour in when they see these sweet faces playing in the outdoors.
This is not the easiest way to raise money for a cause, but it’s easy to promote. Every pet lover (even if it’s just as a joke) thinks about their pet on Santa’s lap. We’re doing mini sessions and donating the fee to Artists for Animals which has earmarked the funds for a local rescue group that transports adoptable pets to other locations where they have homes waiting for them. I thought you might like to see what we do …
Cali models for the 2018 Tiny Dog Calendar for Teresa Berg Photography
One of the most common requests we get is for more information about producing a calendar to raise money for charity. While this sounds like a lot of fun, (and it is!) it’s also a lot of work that requires some advance planning. Here are some things to consider:
- Your photos? Or use photos submitted by the pet’s owners? I prefer to only publish calendars that have a common theme. To me, they are a personal project that shows off my work –while helping a local charity. From my perspective the quality and consistency goes way down when you allow many photographers in to the mix. I start with a lighting theme (like all studio light with a common background or all natural light) and work out the details from there. I want calendars that look “artsy” and creative, not that just show a cute pet. Your call.
- What paperwork is necessary? We ALWAYS get a signed model release from the pet’s owners. You can find generic model releases online and customize them with your contact information. You never know when one of these images might be used not only for the calendar, but for greeting cards, posters, or other publications. Protect yourself. You don’t want someone coming after you in a few years demanding a cut of the proceeds.
- Where to print! First determine how many calendars you can sell. And remember that calendars really mainly sell in the fall — and you need to start way in advance to have them ready. That’s why we always do our calendar sessions in the summer for the coming year. The more you print, the cheaper your cost for each calendar. Some calendars we print 300, some 500. And remember the more of the work you do yourself, the less you have to pay someone else to do. Our Tiny Dog Calendar is prepared completely in photoshop and then sent to a local printing company as a pdf. This saves hundreds of dollars. If your photoshop skills aren’t up to the task, hire a graphic artist.
- Choose a size or format that works for your photography. Most people don’t want huge wall calendars any more — they’d prefer something that is sized for their work cubicle or desktop –however, we do the Dallas Fort Worth Dachshund Calendar every year and it’s a big 12×18″ format with no fold — and their members love them. So know what your group will prefer. Breed specific rescue groups have an advantage as popular breeds are supported by fans of the breed from all over.
- Be realistic. How many are you likely to sell? Each pet’s owner is going to want multiple copies for keepsakes and gifts. The other members of your group will want a few, but probably not more than 2 or 3 per person. You will need to set up online sales through Etsy or the group’s website and then get people to the website (with social media or online ads) to really sell a reasonable amount of calendars. Just offering them to your group at events will not be enough to break even. Another idea is to solicit sponsors and add corporate logos to your calendar, or let people “buy” a page for their pet. Our Tiny Dog Calendar raises money with voting. Each vote costs $1 and the dogs with the most votes are featured in the calendar.
So if all of these points are covered, jump in and have some fun. Calendars are creative and can not only make money for your group, but will be the “face” of your group to lots of new people via the internet. Make sure yours represents you well.
You don’t see as many photographers posting cat images. There’s a reason for that — cats are TRICKY to photograph. Especially in a shelter setting. They are by their very nature more elusive and wary of new sights and sounds, so getting them to sit for the camera is a challenge. But so worth it!
This list of tips may seem rather obvious, but let’s all start here:
- Bring a helper (unless you have four arms and enjoy trying to be everywhere at once). And it needs to be someone who understands cats.
- Use as much natural light as possible, but bring supplemental flash for those that just refuse to come out of their cages. We like to use a 36″ umbrella on a small light stand and get our flash OFF THE CAMERA. You need a little extra practice and some extra equipment to do it this way, but it will definitely give you a nice natural soft light. An umbrella spreads out the light and eliminates most of the harsh shadows.
- Give them something comfortable to lay on. Dogs will sit almost anywhere. Cats? not so much. We used a bean bag with fabric stretched over it (similar to what we use for newborn babies) and the cats loved it!
- Use a fast lens so you can shoot at a shallow depth of field to throw the background out of focus. The images here were shot at 1.8 or 2.0, because cages, litter boxes, signs and food bowls are DISTRACTING. Again – a little training is necessary – but it is time well spent.
- Practice being quiet and moving slowly. If you burst in to the cat room with the same sound effects and squeekers that you use for dogs, you will fail.
- Learn about cat body language. For example: the faster the tail whips back and forth, the more trouble you’re in. Or when the ears go back, you’re going to need to take a breath and restore the calm in the room. It’s not hard to read a cat — unless you’re a dog person. Petfinder has a good article here.
- Cats don’t enjoy performing, but they do like to play. Once they have determined you’re not a risk to them, they will get interested in toys. So practice with a feather on a string, a string of pearls, a lightweight ribbon, or some crinkly foil puff-ball-thingys.
I want the cat to be the focus of attention, so I try to use simple backgrounds (this was a $10 canvas drop cloth from the home improvement store after I washed it about 20 times) stretched on a pvc frame with a bean bag underneath. You can see similar set ups here but there are lots of other variations. Just a bean bag by itself would work, but you’d have lots of wrinkles to deal with. I don’t like wrinkles.
Here are some of the shots we had to do for the shy ones that didn’t want to come out of their cages. Notice how the blurry backgrounds sometimes hide a lot of the clutter you inevitably find in a crowded shelter. There were over 50 adult cats living here at Operation Kindness, which is this area’s largest no-kill shelter. It’s comforting to know they will be here until they are adopted and are not at risk of euthanasia. Thanks, Operation Kindness for letting us play with the kitties!
It starts because we love pets. Cell phone photos, social media, animal rescue work, dog parks — pretty soon your only friends are pet lovers and neighbors with pets. You buy a camera. People see your camera and think “hey, fancy camera! she really knows something about photography” –but do you really?
DSLRs are great tools, but they don’t do all the thinking for you. And they don’t have your vision. If only they could read our minds! For the last 8 years I’ve been teaching people how to use their cameras. Really use them. In manual, in different shooting modes, in studio settings, in animal shelters and outdoors. I don’t have a day job. I am a full time professional photographer with a real studio. And I’m a passionate animal advocate.
There are very few short cuts (if you’re still reading you’ve probably found that out) to learning it right. And to be honest, I’m a little tired of people calling themselves photographers when they really only know one or two tricks! Yes, we all have to start somewhere, but please be honest with yourself. If you love it enough to buy an expensive camera — don’t you want to do more than just get one good shot out of every 25? Maybe you’d like to do it full time some day?
Our workshops are designed to not only help you get lots of good photographs, but to have fun doing it. You spend a few days with people who love pets like you do and you have great fun learning hands-on with live models in the studio playing with light. If that sounds like something you would like to do, sign up for our next workshop!
2017 Studio Shooters Unleashed: July 14-16, in Dallas at Teresa Berg Photography. Tuition is $995 (lunch and snacks included). Special rates at the local Marriott (around $75 per night!) and no rental car needed. Once you get to the hotel we all carpool back and forth — it’s just a mile). Call us for more info: 972-250-2415 and visit our blog: www.unleashedworkshops.com
Not every shelter has a light open room (this one is referred to as the CATio) like Operation Kindness where these photos were taken, but most cats prefer an area where they can roam. After only a few minutes we were able to sit quietly on the floor in the middle of the room and make these natural light portraits.
A fast lens (one that opens up to a low number like 2.8 or 1.8 or even 1.2) is very helpful when photographing cats in natural light. Select an iso (light sensitivity rating) of about 640 and have fun! Have someone stand behind you with a feather on a stick or a string of beads and the cats will look your way…
Our DOG SHOTS workshop, scheduled for Saturday February 25th is now open for registration. This is our most basic workshop with emphasis on using the manual settings on your camera for great pet portraits.
Most of the attendees at DOG SHOTS are animal rescue volunteers and pet lovers who really want to move in to professional quality portraits. The only requirement is that you use a camera that has manual settings, like DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. It’s a great way to learn to use light and all the tricks for getting the dog to pose and look at the camera.
We meet at the Teresa Berg Photography studio in Dallas and then go to the nearby park. This workshop uses only natural light and reflectors (so NOT a lot of expensive equipment) and live dog models. We discuss different backgrounds, light, composition and how to set up your shots. It’s a great way to figure out if you want to be a professional pet photographer!
Interested? The one day workshop is $295 and includes lunch. We even have a nearby hotel with great rates for those of you who might come in from out of town. Call the studio at 972-250-2415 with your questions or to sign up. We only take 10 attendees so everyone gets plenty of time to work hands on with Teresa and her assistant.