Kittens everywhere! Creating more adoptions with better adoption photos

This time of year our local shelters are overrun with beautiful kittens! The challenge becomes how to photograph them quickly and easily to get them noticed. I recently spent the day at a local shelter photographing kittens on site. We brought one studio light with us ( a Westcott TD5 with a shoot-through umbrella softbox) and a reflector. This type of lighting is one of my favorites to use with shelter animals because it doesn’t flash. It’s a constant, bright daylight-balanced light source that is very soft and easy to use. It also doesn’t get hot, which is a plus. For the background I used a wide roll of paper that I bought at a teacher’s supply web site. It’s thin like wrapping paper, but designed for teachers to use as a background for their bulletin boards in the classroom. So it’s wider than wrapping paper — in this case, 42″ wide — which is the same width as the folding table I used.

teresa berg adoption photos

pet photography in the shelter can be challenging

With my wonderful assistant and a volunteer from the shelter that would pull kittens from their cages and walk them to our photo “corner” we were able to photograph over 40 cats in one day. We were set up in separate room that was usually used for adopters to fill out their paperwork, but the shelter was closed that day.


It’s always a plus to find a quiet space to work, as cats are wary and easily spooked. Kittens are easily distracted with a string or a toy, so my assistant used toys, feathers and treats to keep them happy while we quickly photographed them. I would advise shooting at 2.8 to make it a little easier to get the eyes in focus, and use paper without a strong horizontal pattern, as that always distracts the eye when it’s not “level”. Other than that, I was happy with our project. Kittens are a lot of fun and using a table enabled us to work standing (I sat in a rolling chair when I was shooting) instead of sitting on the floor which is a big plus. A ribbon or some jewelry gives them that little pop of color and they don’t seem to mind. Good luck with kittens!


  1. I absolutely love these shots of kittens! I do a lot of cats and kittens at the shelter, and they are challenging. I have searched online for the background paper you used, but I couldn’t find it on the teacher sites I looked at. Do you mind revealing your source?? Thanks always for your inspiration!

  2. Love that you shared this on cats. I have a local shelter that has nothing but cats and was wondering how i could help there with photos. The photos they take are nice but the cats are usually in the cage. I would like to try to helo them get them out with backdrop. Would you happen to have any pull back shots of your set up for this type of shoot? Thank you for sharing with others.

    1. Hi Kym, I had some pull back but honestly they aren’t too helpful because we were in such a small room I couldn’t really show the complete set up. I’m going back next week and I’ll see if I can get a pull back. It’s only a one light set up in a big umbrella, so I put the light directly in front of my subject, slightly above their eye level. I sat on a stool and shot at eye level right beneath the umbrella. very simple.

  3. Thank you Teresa! I would love to see a pull back. Thank you so much for sharing! I hope to come back to take more workshops with you. You are so wonderful to share your knowledge with others.

    1. Teresa: What size was the big umbrella that you used to photograph the kittens with the continuous light? Was it the parabolic umbrella that you used in workshop? How did you have backdrop with table? Was backdrop on portable stand? I wish i could go with you and be your assistant when you actually go to the shelters. That would be so awesome to see how you make it all work in a small space and with the animals at the shelter.

  4. No, not a parabolic. Not enough room for that. It was just Apollo Halo (about 50″ I think) I brought a big foam core board which rested on the table (and leaned against the cabinets behind) and I taped the top of the roll of paper to the foam core. But it could easily have been taped to the wall, the paper is so light. I just used the foam core because the cabinet handles were in the way and I could tape it flat to the face of the cabinets . I’m going again next week and I’ll take some pull backs… but be creative…. there’s many ways to do it.

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