equipment

SHELTER CATS: Saving lives with your camera


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!

shelter cats teresa berg

This list of tips may seem rather obvious, but let’s all start here: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.focus on rescue blog_0606
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
make cats comfortable teresa berg photography

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!

Using a printed background…


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.

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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.

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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!

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Please comment. We’re listening.


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.

pull back - natural light indoors

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:

colleen coyle teresa berg photography

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

Need help with black dogs?


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.

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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.

black lab photograph

Tiny portable studio…


dog adoption photo teresa bergI know a lot of shelters are short on space…. in fact, they often say they have “no room for photography.”  We all know that sometimes getting your foot in the door is the biggest obstacle — so having a small portable studio that travels is something to think about.  In the photo below, we took half a v-flat and simply clamped our background paper to it. The great thing about v-flats is that they stand up on their own.  A v-flat is simply two very thick foam core poster boards hinged together with gaffer’s tape.  You can google “gaffer’s tape” — it’s a photographer’s best friend — and pick it up at a photo supply store or order it online from Adorama or B and H Photo.  You’ll find a million uses for it.  Our v-flat is black on one side and white on the other, so we used white tape on the white side and black tape on the black side as our hinge. As you can see, the side that doesn’t hold the background paper becomes your white reflector. If you set this up next to a big window or patio door, you don’t need a light. We used a Westcott TD6 in a huge softbox, but you could use a smaller softbox or umbrella (much cheaper) to diffuse the light and take up less space.  Each side measures 4’x4′ – so if you don’t have an SUV or a truck, this idea may not work for you as you won’t be able to get it into an average passenger car.

Once you’ve hinged your two pieces of foam core together (we sandwiched two 3/8″ pieces back to back because we couldn’t find 1/2″ think foam core) you’re ready to shoot.  You can even shoot on the white or black WITHOUT attaching a roll of seamless background paper, but we wanted colorful shots that jumped off the screen, so we bought a few fun colors (53″ wide –from the same place you get your gaffer’s tape!). A few colorful bandanas or flowers and you’re all set.  This setup really only needs about a five foot square area — but then you need a place for the photographer and the helper holding the dog’s leash, so a quiet 10’x 10′ corner would work nicely. We can even use a small chair (for little dogs to sit on) and not run off the background. Once they see how fast the dogs get adopted with nice photos online they will be falling all over themselves to give you the space that you need!

teresa berg focus on rescue

Getting dogs adopted with….. bow ties?


I’ve had lots of requests to show how I make the bow ties that I use on rescue dogs — but this is so much better!  I’m planning to stop at my local thrift store and stock up on some wild ties and get busy!!  Have fun and glam up those handsome four-legged boys…

A new campaign? adoption photos with Teresa Berg


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My wonderful assistant, Jessiree and I just finished photographing adoptable dogs at the Rockwall Adoption Center in Rockwall, Texas. They have a great staff and a wonderful facility — and thanks to the generosity of Dallas businessman, Jack Knox, they have photography equipment on site. So all we had to do is grab our cameras and some props and show up for a day of photography. The shot you see posted here was done at the shelter. We used (obviously) the yellow background paper and the Westcott TD6 continuous light system with a 24×36″ softbox and a 42X72″ reflector. Our pull back (set up shot) is included here so you can see the placement and the equipment. They have a conference room and keep the equipment set up in the corner just as you see it. This way it is also available for “intake” photos if they have someone there who can use their camera. We used an ISO of 640, a shutter speed of 400 and an fstop of 2.2 for most of the images we shot. We’ll post more examples soon. Publish your questions as comments and we’ll do our best to answer them promptly! Yes, this does involve sitting on the floor quite a bit, as most of the dogs were medium to large sized. You can do this!
teresa berg adoption photo set up

If you are close to the Rockwall, Texas area and you would like to volunteer as one of their photographers and use this equipment for your adoption photos, the nice people there will gladly sign you up as a volunteer! They have a helpful group of people and really need some help with their photography. Visit their website and give them a call.

Another crazy idea…


I’m constantly teased because I like creating portraits in unexpected places. And for weeks I’ve been looking at the bright blue dumpster behind my studio letting ideas bounce around in my head — until today’s rescue dog showed up. He was a pretty blonde golden color and I decided to shoot his adoption portrait in front of my big glowing blue dumpster. I’m posting it here for all of you that constantly tell me they don’t have anything to use as a backdrop on site at the animal shelter.

teresa berg: do not copy

Even a big blue dumpster will work as a backdrop!


Why get excited about a dumpster? Imagine you’re shopping online for a dog and you scroll through hundreds of little tiny blurry thumbnails on Petfinder or some other site. What jumps out at you? A pop of color! And if you read this dog’s listing and want to go back to it at some point, how easy is it going to be to find? VERY. That’s it in a nutshell. Call me crazy, but I will shamelessly use color, props or any other device to save a dog’s life.

I’ve included the exposure info on the pullback below. I shot these photos at 4pm on a very bright day and sat ON THE GROUND where the red X is drawn. The foster mom tried her best to keep the dog sitting in that little strip of shade cast by the dumpster. These images (and everything I shoot) was shot in RAW and during post-processing I upped the clarity and the whites in ACR to intensify the blue. I photoshopped out the leash and that’s it! An easy shot on a very bright day that took about 10 minutes. Go forth and conquer!
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On site shooting at Camp Diggy Bones


A group of photographers and dog trainers set out to do a big job. The task? Photograph 249 large breed dogs that had been living in a boarding facility outside of Dallas. Abandoned there by the rescue group that had been paying their room and board, these dogs had been living in the kennel for (some of them) 2-3 years. Some had even been born there.

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Zola rocked the pink bandana


Needless to say, this is a very different challenge from following the family poodle around the house. Very different.
So we broke in to teams and set up at different spots around the grounds with the facility employees shuttling dogs to different photo teams all day. On the plus side, over 100 of the original group had been pulled by various local rescue organizations so our task was smaller than we originally thought — only about 120 big, strong, energetic dogs needed photos. The now-defunct rescue group had specialized in Pit bulls and Rottweilers so we knew going in that we would need some muscle and caution in handling these dogs. There were several dog trainers on the premises including Robin Terrell of Good Dog Fetch — so we felt pretty good about our chances but we triple cautioned everyone to be careful.
teresa berg portraits

Violet poses at Camp Diggy Bones


Because I can never do anything the easy way, I had already decided to put together some sort of simple outdoor set to use as a backdrop. I frequently get questions about what to do with a less-than-perfect shooting location so I felt that this would be a great opportunity to try something new. The flowers and roll up screen from the garden center (see previous post) were assembled in to a little shooting corner, complete with some nice clean mulch to stand on. We know everyone is on a tight budget so we kept the total cost to $100 — and everything (except for the mulch) went back in to the car to be used again. For shade from the midday sun, we pulled out a canvas dropcloth that we just happened to have with us. Other than that, everything came out of our $100 budget. For those of you that can find a nice solid privacy fence to shoot against, you can save the $25 we spent on the roll up reed screen… but for us, it was a life saver. I just happened to have a stand to hold my reflector in the car — and it was windy — so we used it to help anchor the canvas drop cloth we used as a shade screen.
The camera settings on this very bright cloudless day were iso 100, f2.0 with shutter speeds varying between 1500 and 5000. I used a white reflector between me and the dog and sat on a low stool with the reflector leaning against my knees for most of the shots. I used a 50mm lens on my Canon 5d MkIII.
setting up

use wire or twist ties to hold the screen to the fence


adoption photos

building the outdoor set


on site adoption photos

Our PHOTO SWAT TEAM at Camp Diggy Bones


Many thanks to Mark of Shagly Photography, Robin Terrell of Good Dog Fetch, Mica of The Dog Photographer, Lesa Truax, my assistant Jessiree Kubica, Daniel Thompson, Sheila Weaver and all the rest of the crew — you were amazing! The final step is spreading the love on facebook, google +, and on all of our different websites. Please share the story of the dogs and help them (and others) get adopted.

Everybody needs a little reflection | Teresa Berg Pet Photography


I bought this awesome reflector a couple of weeks ago and used it during last week’s DOG SHOTS workshop. It’s so cheap I thought maybe it wouldn’t be worth using but it turns out to be a great reflector and the perfect size for stuffing into a tote bag or keeping in the car. I promised the workshop students I would post this so they could grab one for themselves. Don’t leave home without one!

http://www.amazon.com/Neewer-110CM-Collapsible-Multi-Disc-Reflector/dp/B002ZIMEMW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394034940&sr=8-1&keywords=reflector+photography