You don’t see as many photographers posting cat images. There’s a reason for that — cats are TRICKY to photograph. Especially in a shelter setting. They are by their very nature more elusive and wary of new sights and sounds, so getting them to sit for the camera is a challenge. But so worth it!
This list of tips may seem rather obvious, but let’s all start here:
- Bring a helper (unless you have four arms and enjoy trying to be everywhere at once). And it needs to be someone who understands cats.
- Use as much natural light as possible, but bring supplemental flash for those that just refuse to come out of their cages. We like to use a 36″ umbrella on a small light stand and get our flash OFF THE CAMERA. You need a little extra practice and some extra equipment to do it this way, but it will definitely give you a nice natural soft light. An umbrella spreads out the light and eliminates most of the harsh shadows.
- Give them something comfortable to lay on. Dogs will sit almost anywhere. Cats? not so much. We used a bean bag with fabric stretched over it (similar to what we use for newborn babies) and the cats loved it!
- Use a fast lens so you can shoot at a shallow depth of field to throw the background out of focus. The images here were shot at 1.8 or 2.0, because cages, litter boxes, signs and food bowls are DISTRACTING. Again – a little training is necessary – but it is time well spent.
- Practice being quiet and moving slowly. If you burst in to the cat room with the same sound effects and squeekers that you use for dogs, you will fail.
- Learn about cat body language. For example: the faster the tail whips back and forth, the more trouble you’re in. Or when the ears go back, you’re going to need to take a breath and restore the calm in the room. It’s not hard to read a cat — unless you’re a dog person. Petfinder has a good article here.
- Cats don’t enjoy performing, but they do like to play. Once they have determined you’re not a risk to them, they will get interested in toys. So practice with a feather on a string, a string of pearls, a lightweight ribbon, or some crinkly foil puff-ball-thingys.
I want the cat to be the focus of attention, so I try to use simple backgrounds (this was a $10 canvas drop cloth from the home improvement store after I washed it about 20 times) stretched on a pvc frame with a bean bag underneath. You can see similar set ups here but there are lots of other variations. Just a bean bag by itself would work, but you’d have lots of wrinkles to deal with. I don’t like wrinkles.
Here are some of the shots we had to do for the shy ones that didn’t want to come out of their cages. Notice how the blurry backgrounds sometimes hide a lot of the clutter you inevitably find in a crowded shelter. There were over 50 adult cats living here at Operation Kindness, which is this area’s largest no-kill shelter. It’s comforting to know they will be here until they are adopted and are not at risk of euthanasia. Thanks, Operation Kindness for letting us play with the kitties!
Not every shelter has a light open room (this one is referred to as the CATio) like Operation Kindness where these photos were taken, but most cats prefer an area where they can roam. After only a few minutes we were able to sit quietly on the floor in the middle of the room and make these natural light portraits.
A fast lens (one that opens up to a low number like 2.8 or 1.8 or even 1.2) is very helpful when photographing cats in natural light. Select an iso (light sensitivity rating) of about 640 and have fun! Have someone stand behind you with a feather on a stick or a string of beads and the cats will look your way…
A beautiful inspiring video for those of us who need to occasionally remember that human beings are often kind.
See more here: http://www.pawbonito.com/
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.
I have a very talented friend named Erin. She is a world class musician by day, and by night and weekends she is an animal lover and rescue volunteer extraordinaire. I’m writing about her because even though she is not a professional photographer, she has found a way to use her photos to save dogs. She does cell phone photos and videos of the dogs she rescues –and they’re adorable– but recently she has been using her cell phone to tell a story.
A story of two abandoned pit bull puppies. So young that they had to be bottle fed around the clock by Erin and one of her students until they could eat on their own. When she first started posting their photos on facebook I thought “How clever! Let’s show everyone how cute pibble puppies are!” Now, as the puppies turn 6 weeks old, I’m just shaking my head in amazement. It seems like the whole facebook world has fallen in love with “the girls” and not because of any fancy photography or media exposure –just one very clever, passionate animal lover and her cell phone. Everyone has seen these two adorable sisters grow from wiggly little spotted THINGS, to lovable, adoptable dogs. And no one who looks at these photos is going to think of them as mean, dangerous, damaged or undesirable. All because my friend introduced them to the world and let us all watch them grow.
So here’s the beautiful, simple lesson: one person and one cell phone camera can make a huge difference. Not just for two dogs, but for all animal shelters overrun with puppies, and for all families fostering pit bulls and for animal rescue in general. So don’t get discouraged if your photos don’t look like museum quality art — just tell a story and show the world how much joy there is in saving a dog’s life. Erin has been nominated as a PET HERO. If she wins, she will donate the money one of her favorite animal rescue charities. Read her story here: https://apps.facebook.com/offerpop/Contest.psp?c=136923&u=29960&a=254553244581393&p=187932427898496&v=Entry&id=409048&rest=1
Erin with puppies then and now
- Pibble sisters at 6 weeks
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?
I am copying this article from www.philanthropy.com because it’s just so important. Share this with all of your friends who are posting and sharing photos of half-dead animals with open wounds. Why should we reinforce the idea that shelter pets are damaged goods? Read this short article and see how focusing on the positive side of pet adoption really gave the Austin Humane Society a boost…
Shift Away From Negative Ads Increases Giving to Animal Shelter
May 26, 2011, 9:30 am
By Holly Hall
Whimsical ads are behind increased giving to the Austin Humane Society.
Many organizations worry about making a bold change to their advertising, notes M.P. Mueller, an advertising-agency owner in Austin, Tex., who writes for a New York Times blog. But doing so has increased donations and recruited scores of new volunteers for the Austin Humane Society, in Texas, she notes.
Aided by Ms. Mueller’s advertising agency, Door Number 3, also in Austin, the humane society dropped its grim spots about animal abuse and neglect starting early last year. Such heart-wrenching advertising works with animal lovers, but the results tend to be short-lived, the charity found.
Instead the charity has opted for a series of happier messages, like the ad shown here that focuses on the lifelong bonds and emotional connections between owners and their pets. “I’m not on Twitter,” the exuberant dog in the ad promises readers, “but I’ll still follow you.”
The campaign also added to the humane society’s Web site several humorous videos featuring talking animals, as well as “Trap Cat,” an online game that educates players about the charity’s efforts to spay and neuter feral cats.
Results have been impressive. By the end of last year, the Austin Humane Society reported a 13-percent rise in contributions, not including bequests and other planned gifts, and it has maintained the gains this year, says Amanda Ryan-Smith, director of development. The charity’s most recent year-end appeal based on the ad campaign’s approach generated $100,000, double the amount it raised in 2009.
Animal adoptions also increased last year and have continued to grow. From January through April of this year, for example, the humane society has placed 838 pets with new owners, up from 770 during the same months in 2010.
What’s more, the charity gained many more volunteers after it started the ad campaign: Last year volunteers logged 95,000 hours, up from just 40,000 hours in 2009, before the campaign started.