Setting up a photo studio inside a shelter

Whether you are using a camera-mounted flash, a studio flash (or monolight) or a continuous light system (which we recommend) setting up an on site studio inside a shelter can make a big difference in the quality of the photos you produce.  Don’t misunderstand — any type of on site photography is tricky, because you’re dealing with frantic, sometimes traumatized dogs in a noisy scary environment.  Our first choice is always to photograph the dogs and cats AWAY from the noise and smells of the shelter environment….but sometimes that’s just not an option.

So for those of you trying to make better photos ON SITE , I have this list of tips:

1. Use a seamless paper background.  It’s cheap, comes in every color and adds a bit of professionalism to your photos.  A wrinkly blanket or sheet is a lousy substitute for the clean crisp look of a paper background.  You can buy a roll of background paper from a camera supply like Adorama or B and H Photo  for around $30 and it can last a very long time.

2. Get as far away from the noise of the kennel as possible.  If they have an outbuilding you can use or at the very least some quiet conference room, try that first.  Your subjects will be much calmer.

3. Try to time your photo shoot for AFTER the pet has had some exercise.  A tired dog is much easier to photograph.

4. Use a helper. You absolutely, positively will frustrate yourself if you try to do this alone. Plus, with someone holding the dog’s leash and shuttling pets in and out of the shooting area you can work much faster and photograph many more pets in the same amount of time.  Trust me. Get a volunteer or another photographer to help you.

5. Use natural light if you’re lucky enough to find space next to a big window.  If not, use some sort of BIG light source (tiny camera mounted flashes should be diffused or bounced off the ceiling) and do not use flash pointed directly at the pet.  Continuous Lights like the Westcott TD6 make your job much easier because they don’t “flash” at the pet –and for beginners, offer a what-you-see-is-what-you-get light source that will work with any camera without fancy flash triggering devices.

Those are my top five tips!  We have covered how important it is to read dog’s body language in previous posts and videos. So practice with your own pets until you feel comfortable enough to work at the shelter — but don’t give up. All those homeless cats and dogs need you!

To keep the background simple, seamless paper is the best

To keep the background simple, seamless paper is the best

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