Dallas isn’t exactly known for it’s lush gardens — but we do have BLUEBONNETS. It’s our state flower and Texans are just crazy about them. We decided this year, since we were setting up for client sessions in the bluebonnets that we would invite a few of our rescue groups to bring their puppies to our location for some bright spring photos. They are popular on facebook (any photo that travels helps get dogs adopted!) and look great on websites. Try it in your area. Use a landmark, some local color or famous spot to show off adoptable dogs –and see what happens!
If it’s one thing we always find at animal shelters and around our neighborhoods, it’s concrete. Instead of passing it over for the grass or dirt — make it work to your advantage. Concrete makes a great natural reflector! Putting a black dog on a sidewalk or driveway can make a huge difference in your final shot. And it’s one reflector they are sure not to be afraid of! If you can find a spot of color in the background (like the row of pine trees in the photo below) you’ve got a little bit of magic. What you don’t see is that there was a parking lot behind the pine trees –which we neutralized by throwing the background out of focus (this was shot at f2.0 with an 85mm lens) and laying flat on the ground to shoot slightly “up” at the puppy. So take your fastest lens with you and use the concrete to have some fun!
We still have three spots left for our Portfolio Shooting Day in Minneapolis in August. Leave a comment on this blog if you’d like more information.
I did a short spot on Fox News Good Day Dallas this week with some tips for photographing pets –and to promote our Tiny Dog Calendar. Maybe these tips will be interesting for some of you!
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.
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!
Wish me luck. Tomorrow a group of photographers is leaving Dallas and heading to a boarding facility called Camp Diggy Bones in Lavon, Texas. They’ve been in the animal rescue news lately because a now-defunct animal rescue organization called Happy Endings out of Waco, Texas abandoned 249 dog there. Yes. 249. They were being boarded there at a reduced fee when the rescue group went belly up and now they’re in limbo.
Please re-read some of my many posts about working with a responsible rescue organization! Lots of crazy things happen when well-intentioned people get in over their heads. Don’t get pulled down with them.
Because Camp Diggy Bones is out in the country and is NOT an adoption center, these dogs have little or no chance to get adopted without good adoption photos. They are the toughest group to find homes for — big dogs (many of them black) that look like pit bulls.
So we got some local pet photographers together and some Unleashed workshop graduates and we’re spending the day photographing these dogs. Our goal is to create portraits showing happy playful loving dogs who don’t look like every other dog on Petfinder.com or Adoptapet.com. The nice people at Paws in the City will list them and process the landslide of applications our photos will help create.
I am working on a portable outdoor set that I plan to take out there with me. Check back in a few days and we’ll post some of the results.
Normally we don’t add people to adoption photos, but sometimes it’s helpful when you’ve got a dog that just doesn’t settle down, or you get a request for a “happy ending” portrait that you can use to advertise your success! When it does come up, here are some helpful tips:
1. Location RULES! Don’t pick the location for any other reason than the light – and the comfort of your subjects. If the dog’s not comfortable on a slatted bench, then don’t frustrate yourself by trying to make him sit there. For a basic warm and casual portrait, It’s always a good idea to get the people and the dogs faces on the same plane. Preferably close together.
2. Fresh people + Tired Dogs = Great portraits. Somehow, you want the dogs to burn off their excess energy before you sit them in front of the camera. Conversely, you want your two-legged subjects fresh and ready to go.
3. Minimize distractions. This is true for kids but doubly important for dogs. You’ll have a very difficult time creating the perfect dog portrait if Max is tracking squirrels and ducks with his eyes. Choose the time of day and the location to minimize these kinds of challenges. Noisy playgrounds, for example, are problematic for both types of subjects.
4. Casual beats Formal. The days of formal posed pet portraits are over! It’s far more important to get them laughing and playing together than to exhaust yourself (and them) for the perfect pose. Let them interact and prompt them occasionally to look at the camera while they are roughly in position. Shoot wider than necessary to allow them room to move. They will both love you for it.
5. What to wear? Since Max can’t really change his outfit, you better make sure your two-legged subjects pay attention to theirs. You want them to contrast with their pet but not compete. But watch out – too much contrast can make all that loose dog hair a photoshop nightmare for you later. A good medium range color that doesn’t distract the eye will usually save the day.
We’re trying something new! If you’re interested in improving your photography skills, but you’re NOT planning to be a professional pet photographer, we have a new workshop. Just “all about shooting” for those of you who want to learn hands on! We’ll have live dogs modeling for us and we’ll set up a variety of different shots for you. Indoors, outdoors, with flash, using reflectors, etc.
This workshop is for people with DSLRs — so no point & shoot cameras this time. We’ll talk about lenses, creating some special effects, getting the dog’s attention and keeping him in one spot, exposure, metering, what equipment to use, etc. But it’s all shooting, no business, marketing and very little talk about working with animal rescue. Just learning to use your camera. One day only, shooting with Teresa in a small group setting. The fee is $295 which includes a catered lunch. I have been getting tons of requests for a workshop like this, so now’s your chance. Come shoot with me! If you want more details, check out my other blog: www.teresaberg.com/blog.
Several people have written me with concerns about how to get an animal shelter interested in using volunteer photographers. Many think that improving the online photos will make little or no difference to their adoption efforts. Of course, we know differently! It’s not always easy to convince someone to try something new –especially when they’re over-worked and under-staffed. Be patient with your local shelter!
Some of our recent webinar students have waited for several months to get their “foot in the door” with the local animal shelter, but have found great success in working with independent rescue groups. We talk about how this works, how to make the approach, and how to actually set up the shots during the webinar. The webinar download is available for $40 (just click the webinar tab at the top of this page to purchase and instantly watch it!).
And for those of you who haven’t seen the CBS Sunday Morning News story, this is a really great way to convince someone at your local shelter to give it a try!
Do you know any Pit Bulls? The shelters around the country are overflowing with them — and you could probably make a case for Pit Bulls being the most misunderstood and the most often euthanized of any shelter animal. For this reason alone, the breed captured my interest. Did you know Pit Bulls are BANNED in 14 states? If you own one, you may even have trouble getting homeowner’s insurance –and forget about finding a place that will rent to you. All because of a few ugly news stories about dog fighting and a certain pro football player.
So I’m launching my own personal campaign to give the breed a better ‘face.’ I’m not alone in this. Many Pit Bull (you can call them pibbles) owners have started working on the public to give these dogs a fair shake. Remember Cesar Milan’s ‘Daddy’? What a sweet loving (and yes, scary looking) pibble! He is gone now but there is a foundation set up to help abused animals in his name.
Basically, I would ask each of you to go to your facebook page and remove any images of mean or threatening pibbles. Just hide them! Starting today, let’s only show them with humor and grace. They are beautiful, loving dogs and if we can just show them that way, the tide of public opinion will start to turn. Every generation seems to have it’s breed prejudices. When I was a kid, everyone was afraid of Dobermans. Everyone, that is, except me –because I grew up listening to my father’s stories about Rex, the wonderful doberman that he grew up with.
So until we can get everyone in America to personally meet a Pit Bull and change their pre-conceived ideas about them, let’s take beautiful photographs that show how loving and smart they are! Deal?