Photographing shelter pets can be challenging, especially in the shelter environment where the noise level makes your subject extra nervous. But one of the other big challenges you may face is the background. As animal rescue volunteers, we love the little furry faces and learn to look beyond the messy cages and unattractive clutter. But we’re not photographing these dogs for ourselves, we’re in marketing! We have a “product” to sell to the public. Our goal is to showcase these animals and make them look BETTER than the pet store variety. So how do we do that?
Lighting, expression and background. Today we’ll talk about background — because in a way, it’s the easiest to change. When I set up a photo studio in a shelter setting I frequently use seamless background paper. It’s available in hundreds of colors, on 12 yard rolls, from big photo supply places like Adorama and B and H Photo or possibly your local camera store. If you’re only photographing one pet at a time, you probably would prefer to use the 53″ width which is also easier if you’re putting it in your car or storing it in a closet after you shoot. I prefer a neutral color (like a super white, or focus gray) because it works well with light or dark fur — but have fun and change it up a bit. At about $25 per roll it will last a long time and do a good job for you. You can extend the life of your paper even more if you don’t roll it out to cover the floor, or if you cover it with clear plexiglass from Home Depot. Just make sure if you don’t cover the floor that you at least have something clean and attractive for them to stand on, like these cool mats.
I realize that not every shelter has a budget for floor mats and background paper but trust me, it’s an investment that really pays off. If you can’t afford faux flooring, at least invest in some paper. Or if you are using the same corner over and over, paint the wall!
A background needs to be clean, wrinkle free and non-reflective. Set this up next to a big window or glass door (see the lighting diagram furnished in this blog) and grab one of the great reflectors we have written about and you have a very portable studio that will work in a variety of situations!