I 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!
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.