technique

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.

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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:

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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

Up Periscope! Join us for a free live photo shoot with Periscope


Have you tried it?  Periscope is a new social media platform (owned by Twitter) that allows you to watch a live, streaming video on your smart phone or tablet — and interact with the person broadcasting the video by typing questions that he or she can answer.

When I saw my first Periscope video I thought — what a great way to show people how we photograph adoptable dogs!  So here’s fair warning:  If you want to be part of our FIRST Periscope broadcast and watch me photographing rescue dogs in my studio, all you have to do is download the Periscope app and get familiar with it!  It’s all F R E E.  And with a little practice, you can ask me a question during the broadcast.

Everything you need to know is in this Wiki:   http://www.wikihow.com/Use-Periscope

We’ll be broadcasting live on October 20th (start time to be announced, but it will be in the afternoon, Central Daylight Time) here at Teresa Berg Photography with some dogs, some treats, some crazy squeeky toys and, hopefully, YOU!

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OOPS, I almost forgot — our ‘name’ on Periscope is TBERGPHOTO   See you there soon!

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!

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Grab a quilt and a fast lens…


We often photograph adoptable dogs outdoors — but we don’t always have time to scout interesting locations. Most of the time we’re restricting ourselves to what we find just outside our door. At my studio we are located in a business park with a lot of asphalt — but across the street we have an office building with a strip of green grass between their parking lot and the (very busy) street.  Our challenge is always how to create an engaging photo that will stand out in a crowd of other photos and help get that dog a new family.

So, lately we have been using quilts as backgrounds.  They are easy to wash and carry around, and they even cover up the not-so-pretty spots where the grass isn’t filled in. The only trick is that you have to be able to use a fast lens (in other words a lens that will open up to an f-stop with a very low number) to throw the backgrounds out of focus. Too much sharp detail in the background distracts from the dog. In my opinion, the soft blurry colors of the quilt make a sweet summery backdrop for a dog portrait!  These shots were done at ISO 200, using an 85mm lens and an f-stop of 1.6  and 1.8.  Not every lens will get you there, but there are some pretty good lenses for under $500 that will do the job.

This month we added the dogs names to their photos — we’re hoping that see the name with the face helps people remember that dog and come back to their photo when they’re ready to make their decision! A little pop of color around the dog’s neck helps complete the look. Start visiting garage sales and even places like Overstock.com and add some quilts to your collection.

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