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.
Our new venue for 2017 has 750 seats and lots of room for Art and Animal lovers! Join us Sunday, March 12, 2017 at the fabulous Dallas City Performance Hall for this multi-media event featuring cla…
Source: Tickets on sale for the 2017 Concert for Kindness
Our 2017 Tiny Dog calendars are available this week –and until they’re sold out — at our Etsy shop here. But even better than that, these beautiful dogs will become a traveling exhibit of framed art to inspire people to adopt! We’ve taken 14 of the rescue dogs from the calendar model group and added their “rescue stories” in text on the photograph and then framed them for display. Stay tuned for photos of the exhibit. Maybe something that will work in your area?
Ever get bored with your options? I am constantly looking for something interesting to do with adoptable dogs. And it’s great practice if you think you may someday want to photograph for clients. So today I was setting up a 5’X6′ printed canvas background from one of my favorite professional photo labs Simply Color Lab. If you haven’t discovered them, you can open up a free account and download their ordering software, by clicking the link.
We have an inexpensive backdrop stand which we spent about $90 for here . And a couple of clamps to hold the backdrop to the stand. It’s easy to transport if you’re working at a shelter. If you’re planning on using it all the time, invest in a better one — but for our occasional use, this one works fine.
As you can see by the set up shots, we used an area rug to cover the bottom edge of the backdrop. We often find good deals on rugs at Overstock.com, or even garage sales and thrift stores. The rugs are the heaviest and most inconvenient part of this set up to transport. If they’re big enough for the big dogs, they’re heavy! So I’d try and work with the smallest size that you can shoot on — maybe 4×6? This one is larger because we used to use it in our reception area here at the studio. Some photographers use a strip of baseboard or molding to make a nice edge where the backdrop meets the floor. We like to use area rugs because they keep the dogs from slipping around, and the photos look like you’re at home, not a photo studio. Beware of accidents, though — shelter dogs love to leave their scent (pee!) on our area rugs.
The background is narrow, but usually ample for one dog. Beware of the pattern though — if you’re using a leash to keep the dog in place (which we highly recommend) you will need to photoshop it out of the background and the pattern makes that a slower process. Like all of our adoption photos, we’re more interested in showing off the dog, not the props, so we kept the rest of the shot clean and simple. I’ve even seen a rug nailed up on the wall that makes a great backdrop, just avoid anything wrinkly. You can also use just the rug as your background by standing over your subject and shooting down at him. So stretch your wings and try something new!
We’re busy selling votes for the 2017 Tiny Dog Calendar. This is our annual fundraising project and the each vote costs $1. Only the top 13 vote-getters make it in to the 2017 calendar, but each and every little model has fun in the process.
This year we collaborated with a wonderful local florist, Sheila Johnson of FLORAL CONCEPTS to create something colorful and spectacular for each of our models. No tired silk flowers for these babies! We think the results are well worth it. Our goal is to have a traveling display that will go up in several area public spaces to show off just how beautiful our furry friends are. And maybe inspire people to adopt or donate.
Most of the models are local rescues, but ALL of the voting money goes to a local charity — Artists for Animals — to help them save more homeless pets. The calendars will go on sale in the fall — as well as some limited edition greeting cards. So keep an eye on our Etsy shop for greeting cards, but you can PRE-order your calendars now.
Over the next few weeks (and months) we’ll be doing a series of casual (free!)videos designed to support you and your pet photography. If you would take the time to comment and tell us what your biggest pet portrait challenges are and where you need the most help, we’ll try to address them in upcoming videos. So fire away!
In the mean time, here is a pullback shot of our new natural light shooting area in the studio. We covered the 10×10 opening from the garage door with floor to ceiling glass and created a giant window. This one is facing west (not ideal ) but creates beautiful light until late afternoon when it’s too bright — even with diffusion. We will use this set up next week for animal adoption photos for a local rescue group.
To the left you see a simple stand up reflector made of two 4×8 sheets of insulation board. Silver on one side and lightweight and cheap…. from our local home improvement store. White foam core would also have worked, but we wanted the reflected light to be a little sharper and more “specular” for this black dog’s fur. With black dogs I always use a silver reflector. Our client also brought her cat. Here’s a close up:
Want to learn “hands on” with Teresa? We have three seats left in our spring DOG SHOTS workshop. It’s a one day basic class held at her studio and the nearby park. Perfect for new photographers or anyone with a DSLR who wants to make better portraits of their pets or adoptable animals. Tuition is $295, which includes lunch. Call the studio to sign up: 972-250-2415
We all know that black dogs are hard to find homes for — mostly because it’s hard to get good photographs. We want to show their happy, playful sides but many times all we get are the dark blurry blobs with glowing red or green eyes. No wonder we can’t find them homes!
Here’s an example of a black lab mix that we photographed a couple of years ago. We know that black dogs need more light. If you’re using a reflector (and I strongly suggest that you do!) be sure you are using the SILVER side, not the white side. And try putting the reflector directly between you and the dog. So you’re bouncing light right in to the dogs face. Don’t blind them with reflected sun, do this in the shade on a bright day. Another trick is to put them on a reflective surface like a light gray concrete sidewalk, like Annie is on. Or if you’re indoors, a light colored floor.
Now TURN OFF the flash. If you’re using your manual settings (and you should!) raise the ISO until you can use a fast shutter speed. I often sit on the ground and sit behind the reflector. I use a flexible round silver reflector about 40″ wide, like this one. And I rest my hands with the camera on the top, (obviously) pointed at the dog.
If the dog is nervous because of the big silver disc in front of him, give him lots of treats and try not to move it around too much. I’ve even laid it on the ground and let them eat treats right off the reflector, so they know not to be afraid of it. Wait until your dog is in position, take a test shot so you know the light is just right, then make a crazy noise to get his attention and SNAP! you’ve got a winner. Remember, FRIENDLY is the key word. Incorporate a toy, a bright colored bandana, or pretty collar to make her look like a member of the family.
Need more help with your photography? We’ve got classes coming up! Saturday, March 12 at our studio in Dallas we have our DOG SHOTS class. One day only with live models and lots of hands on shooting. We’ll walk you through how and why to use the manual settings on your DSLR and even help you with dog body language and composition. We’ll be shooting outdoors and indoors using natural light. The class is $395 and includes your lunch. Call the studio if you’d like to sign up – 972-250-2415.