Possibly one of the toughest assignment for any pet photographer is photographing pets on site at an animal shelter. If you’re just starting out, I strongly encourage you to work with a rescue group and photograph pets that have had some time in a foster home –they’ll be more socialized and calm and your job will be much easier. We all know that pets in a shelter are not relaxed and a quiet corner for photography may be hard to find. So do yourself a favor if you’re new to this and start with pets that live in foster homes. It’s not cheating! Every pet that gets adopted makes room for a pet that might be euthanized because rescue groups pull many of their pets from the shelters.
If you’re not already connected with a rescue group they’re easy to find. Google is your friend. Take the time to research the group you’re interested in –make sure they’re organized with a good track record, professionally managed with a good web presence. Social media is huge for getting pets adopted.
Do you need something in writing? Yes. But it does NOT necessarily have to be a five page contract with witnesses and notary signatures. A simple one page (even one paragraph) letter signed by both parties is usually sufficient. You can spell out what you’re willing to do for them and what they are allowed to do with your images.
I personally do not give shelters or rescue groups printable images. The images I give are sized for the web only. Usually 4×5″ at 150ppi. You could even send smaller images (72ppi is common for online use). All of the images I send are watermarked because I own a business and images are how I make my living. You do not necessarily need to put your name on your images but if you don’t, other people will use them as their own. If that doesn’t matter to you, save yourself the time and send them without your name. When one of the groups I work with needs an image for their website or advertising or promotional purposes they simply call or email me and ask permission. If the image is to be printed in their brochure, or other collateral materials, they give me photo credit and I send them files that are larger and without a watermark.
If you have questions about re-sizing your images there are literally thousands of good tutorials on youtube.com here but you will need software like Photoshop, Photoshop Elements (the lite version of Photoshop), Picasa, or even in a pinch, Microsoft Picture Editor. Here’s a typical adoption photo with my standard watermark.
Pet Portraits 101 — Use a living room chair and a window. Everyone has those, right? Even your local shelter might be able to provide enough space to do something like this!
We’re looking forward to new projects and new ideas to share for 2015 –but until then, don’t hesitate to join us on facebook and share some of your successful adoption stories and photos. Enjoy your holidays knowing there are a lot of happy dogs sleeping in their new homes because of your hard work.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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!
Your local shelter or rescue group will tell you — spring brings litter after litter of unwanted puppies and kittens to their doorstep. So now is the perfect time to plan an all day adoption photo event. Plan a few weeks ahead and notify several of your favorite animal rescue groups that you will be at a certain location all day to photograph their adoptable puppies and kittens. NOTHING is cuter than a puppy or kitten but after a certain age they enter their awkward in-between stage and they’re much harder to adopt. So plan to photograph puppies around 7 weeks and kittens at 5-6 weeks — and take advantage of the great spring weather (at least here in Dallas it’s spring!) and set up a great outdoor set with some flowers and some shade. Make sure puppies have had their shots as there are certain soil borne pests you don’t want to expose them to. Can’t visualize an outdoor studio? Scroll down and read one of our previous posts about shooting outdoors at the shelter.
Or if you prefer to shoot indoors, use some light spring like colors for your backgrounds. Your photos will JUMP off the screen compared to all the other bland out-of-focus shots on Petfinder or facebook. Getting these pets adopted is all about how to make them stand out in the crowd, so don’t copy what someone else is doing, come up with something different. And make it memorable! How cute would it be to photograph puppies in a little red wagon on the sidewalk (maybe even in front of a picket fence)? Or at the playground on the merry-go-round, or in a dolly buggy. The great thing about puppies and kittens is that they like to huddle together — so find something fun to put them in and start making some great photos.
learning to photograph pets in the studio is not as hard as you think.
Remember to stay in the shade, get down on the pet’s eye level (very important) and keep the background simple and clutter free. You can do this!
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!
For those of you just learning about your cameras who can’t attend an in person workshop, I highly recommend the video tutorials at One Picture Saves a Life. Seth Casteel does a great job of showing the basics of photographing shelter pets with a minimal amount of equipment — and the videos are clear, concise, and FREE. Great job, Seth! Check them out and start saving lives at your local shelter….
We’re running a 50% off sale JUST for those of you who read this blog… so if you’re interested in the DESIGN & PUBLISH YOUR PET CALENDAR or our 90 minute FOCUS ON RESCUE webinar recording buy them online before noon Central time tomorrow and pay half price.
Use coupon code: RESCUE
This special is not posted anywhere else…. just for you, and may never be repeated, so grab it quick!
Some love just for our blog readers
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!