better animal rescue photos

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.

pull back - natural light indoors

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:

colleen coyle teresa berg photography

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

Dog Shots Workshop with Teresa- May 19th


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.

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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.

Texas Unites for Animals


If you’re anywhere near Austin, Texas in March 16-18th you may want to check out this great conference! The cost of enrollment is really reasonable and they’re doing lots of great training and workshops –including one that I will be doing on (you guessed it) Photographing dogs.  Visit their website for a full list of workshops and details.

You can read more about it here  Come join us!

Saving dogs with your camera…


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!

Focus on Rescue

Helpful tools for photographing pets indoors

Another great idea… build a big reflector


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!

Indoors or out? | Adoption portraits that save animals


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.

unleashed pet photography workshops

Dog Portraits | Better Marketing for Shelter Pets!


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!

animal rescue photography teresa berg