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!
A window and a wall and you’ve got a studio!
The author’s dog – Flash. Rescued in 2006
We all get caught in situations where we want to photograph a pet (either ours or a foster dog) on-the-fly. I recently did this portrait in my living room with only the dog, a window, a chair, a reflector and my camera. It struck me that this simple technique for a portrait might be just the ticket for a quick photo for an online adoption listing. The pullback showing the lighting set up is above, the finished dog portrait just below it. This was shot with a 135mm lens at f2.8, iso 400.
I hope this gives you some ideas for the next time you’re photographing a dog for his online adoption listing or for an animal shelter or animal rescue group’s website. We’ve just opened registration for a DOG SHOTS Class for June 22nd. The May class filled up so fast we are trying to get one more on the calendar before it gets too hot to shoot outdoors. If you’re interested in attending, call the studio (972-250-2415) to reserve your spot? The all day class (including lunch) with live dog models is $295. It’s held in Teresa’s studio and the nearby park. Hope you can join us!
There are as many different ways to photograph a dog as there are photographers out there trying to do it. A resource that many people over look when they’re trying to learn photography is YouTube. There are literally thousands of instructional videos to help you –and they’re all free. As a side note, did you know that YouTube is the third largest search engine in the world? Yup. So next time you have a photography question that’s just driving you crazy — trying searching it on YouTube! The maker of this video has a very patient older dog, which you rarely find at the animal shelter, but his lighting is simple and inexpensive using clamp on floodlights from the hardware or home improvement store. Try it!
and a reflector and maybe a floodlight! Don’t underestimate the power of simple tools to improve your pet portraits. The $20 floodlight/bulb you see pictured here can dramatically improve your results. Use this simple light to raise the ambient light in the room by shining it directly at a white wall or a freestanding reflector which is angled at your subject. Don’t shine it directly at the dog or you’ll get those ugly harsh shadows!
As a added benefit, it may help enough to allow you to abandon the on-camera flash –and because it’s a constant light, it won’t flash and scare the subject. Some nervous shelter dogs don’t like lights flashing in their faces. Be sure and buy a “daylight” bulb for the best color of light and have fun experimenting with light!
Helpful tools for photographing pets indoors
This quick helpful video will show just how easy it is to make your own light source. Many people don’t realize that a big reflector, placed directly opposite the main light source (a window, an open door, or a studio flash) takes the place of a second light. And they don’t scare the pet yet form a natural barrier to help keep the pet in front of the camera.
A large reflector like this will significantly fill in the shadow side of the face and keep you from losing all the detail. Angled carefully, they can also put a nice catchlight in your subjects eyes. And they’re SUPER CHEAP! So start building yours today!
Click here to see the video about making a free-standing reflector for portrait photography… Thanks, Tiffany Angeles for the great video!
Looks like a great new point & shoot camera is hitting the market, the Samsung EX2F. This compact camera looks like a great choice for animal rescue photography.
Why? Two different types of image stabilization (great for maintaining sharpness in low light conditions) –fast 1.4 lens and a great zoom range. AND lots of megapixels (12.4) and good video options, too. If you’re frustrated with the results you’ve been getting from your current compact digital camera, but you’re not willing to jump in to the world of expensive and sometimes complicated DSLRs, check this one out. At $499 it’s well-priced for all the power and features.
I can’t wait to test one out!
- 12.4Mp Resolution
- 3.0″ AMOLED Display
- 1/1.7″ BSI CMOS Sensor
- 3.3x Optical Zoom, 12x Digital
- 5.2-17.2mm Zoom Lens (24-80mm)
- Full HD 1920 x 1080 Video Recording
- Dual Optical/Digital Image Stabilization
- Dual Capture: Simultaneous Photo/Video
- Smart Camera: Wi-Fi Sharing, Backup, etc
- Creative Movie Maker Software Included