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!
There are any number of places you could choose to create portraits of cats and dogs for their adoption ads. There is usually more light outdoors if you can find a quiet spot without a distracting background — and if you’re photographing dark colored dogs you need all the light you can get! You should look for a bright shady spot away from other dogs, bicycles and noisey traffic–all things that are way more interesting to your subject that you are. If you want him to look at the camera (and you do) then isolate him from distractions.
Choose the background carefully (how about a hedge or a brick wall ?) and then face your subject towards the light. In other words, shoot IN TO the shade, don’t stand in the shade and have the bright sun behind your subject. Get down on his eye level (yes, this involves bending at the knees and getting on the ground. It’s worth it) and surprise him with one sharp crazy noise — he’ll look right at you — and you’ll create a photograph that will reach out and grab someone’s attention.
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!
Sometimes, we’re so glad just to get a sharp clear photo that we forget to look at a dog’s body language. Hurray! He’s looking at the camera and he’s in focus –CLICK! But just because we can look at his photo and tell what breed he is doesn’t mean that photo will help him get adopted. You have to take it one step further. My previous blog post talked about recognizing animal behavior — so now let’s build upon the idea. Most dogs look friendlier with an open mouth, but you MUST pay attention to the ears. Forget the wagging tail, it may not even show in your portrait of this pet –but the eyes and the ears are key. The little guy pictured here was sleepy. You can see by the first image posted that we weren’t getting that happy alert face. We photographed the whole litter and shot him last, hoping he would perk up, but all he wanted to do was slump down and take a nap. Plus, because he was almost all black, I really needed him to look friendly. No amount of coaxing made him a happy camper –so we placed him in a shallow basket with a couple of his litter mates (who were wide awake) and he started having fun. Then, we were able to photograph him alone for an individual portrait for his online listing. What makes puppies happy? Other puppies! What makes a fat older dog happy? A treat! What makes a hunting dog happy? A ball or something he can chase –he doesn’t know you’re not going to throw it for him.
The bottom line: friendly dogs get invited to stay. Sad, frightened or mean-looking dogs get left behind. So do your best to learn what makes your subject tick, and then make him happy. Just a couple of days until our next webinar!
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?
Animal Sheltering Magazine interviewed me recently and they wrote a great article, complete with before and after photos and all sorts of tips. If you haven’t seen their publication, you can subscribe online – it’s a great magazine. It’s published by The Humane Society of the United States and the people that read it are serious in the world of animal rescue. They run shelters and rescue organizations all over the country!
The real reason I’m mentioning the article is that I constantly hear from people who have taken the webinar and are trying to get started with their at shelters and they meet with resistance from the shelter employees. So NOW you have some printed information to walk in the door with — ask them if they receive the magazine (they probably do) and suggest that they to read the 4 page article that starts on page 44. Hopefully, they’ll at least listen. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t appear on their website, just in their magazine — so I can’t link to it for online readers. But it’s well worth the price of a subscription 🙂
If you’re interested in the April webinar, we still have some room — see more info by clicking the “webinar sign up” tab above.
Announcing our next webinar! Monday, February 20th at 11am Central time. This is the President’s Day holiday for many people, so hopefully it will be a great time to relax in front of your computer with a cup of tea and take a class.
Read more about the class by clicking “sign up: webinars” (above). Sign up here: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=49FXPURZUEW72
I’m really excited to share the date and details for our big concert for Paws In the City. I am working with Erin Hannigan, Principal Oboist for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and a couple of her musician friends to produce this wonderful event to raise money for pitbull rescue in Texas. If you don’t know about Paws In the City, they rescue lots of pit bulls and most of the animals they save come from Dallas Animal Services. They are the last chance most of these dogs have. So join us for this fun “date night for dog lovers” and meet Jesse Pibble, the handsome star and spokesdog for the event.
Your $50 ticket includes the concert, wine and dessert — and there will be dinner available ‘on the curb’ from the fabulous City Street Grille catering truck. And also a great silent auction! The venue is the posh urban event space EVENT1013 in old downtown Plano. AND it’s the day before Valentine’s Day so you can surprise your sweetheart and save doggies at the same time! Buy tickets online here: www.dogartdallas.eventbrite.com
If you saw us recently on CBS The Early Show, you know what we’re all about. Saving dogs and other shelter animals! We found that these animals just weren’t getting the best marketing –and you can’t fault the employees of the animal shelters. They are overworked and underpaid, and have little or no time to perfect their photography skills. But that’s what it takes. Good photography and good marketing to raise the public’s awareness for the quality and beauty of these animals.
Over and over, we see TV commercials depicting shelter animals as pathetic, injured, battered and miserable. No wonder the average family goes to a puppy mill or a pet store — they sell cute little fluffy babies. What we never see is the living conditions of the animals that are left behind to breed litter after litter with little or no affection or basic health care.
We photograph animals for their online adoption listings, for rescue blogs, and for facebook. We make sure each animal has a clear photograph showing them at their best. No “jail shots” through the cage door with glowing green eyes. And no “cowering in the corner” shots. We pay attention to lighting and their body language and try to represent them as the beautiful little spirits that they are. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? We find that just a decent photograph can increase adoption rates up to 100%.
So join us in a national effort to give shelter pets better marketing! Reach out to a rescue group or animal shelter in YOUR community and volunteer. If you don’t have the photography skills, take one of our webinars (see the sign up page on this blog)– or even a class at your local community college. You don’t have to be a professional and you don’t even have to own an expensive camera. You DO need a few basic lighting skills, patience, and a deep love for your subjects. You can do this!