Most of you already know that pets need good photos all year long to help with adoptions. And the good clear colorful photos we get when the weather is nice are extra effective in grabbing attention. So use COLOR whenever you can!
Even a few random tulips in the background will make a big difference when a prospective adopter is scrolling through photo after photo online looking for the perfect pup. It’s also been shown that outdoor photos are more effective than indoor photos — so practice with your favorite lens (these were done with the 85 1.2L from Canon) to blur out undesirable elements in the background (use your widest aperture for this — like 2.0 or 2.8) which will make cars and street signs almost disappear…. and colorful blossoms turn painterly.
The hard part, is that at these wide open settings, it’s a little trickier to get the pet in sharp focus. I select the center focus point and place it on the dog’s eyes. You really need a helper for this so that you have someone holding the dog in place for you (these dogs were on leashes which we removed with Photoshop). Don’t give up! It’s worth the extra effort and the adoption applications will pour in when they see these sweet faces playing in the outdoors.
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.
I’ve had lots of requests to show how I make the bow ties that I use on rescue dogs — but this is so much better! I’m planning to stop at my local thrift store and stock up on some wild ties and get busy!! Have fun and glam up those handsome four-legged boys…
We’ve all done it. We share a photo someone has sent us with the hopes that one of our friends will know someone, ANYONE, who can give that dog some help. But when you post a photo online, please stop and think of the subtle messages that you create. Does that dog look adoptable? Friendly and healthy? Playful? If not, I’m suggesting that you may be doing more harm than good.
Research shows that more money, more volunteerism and more adoptions occur when we use sharp, bright photographs of happy dogs –as opposed to the quick snapshots of sick dogs lying in the bottom of their crates, or worse yet –through a chain link fence. Don’t reinforce the public’s perception of shelter pets as pathetic and unwanted. If you’re having trouble getting a good photo, use some of the tips shared on this blog and give them a much better chance. Show them as potential members of the family and very soon they will be!
20% of all shelter pets are purebred
The power of social media is no secret and facebook is definitely the leader of the pack. What I often see on facebook is desperate pleas for funds (which I understand completely) and graphic images of wounded or miserable dogs on deathrow. I get it. We’re all trying to do our part. But what if, instead of sad bleeding dogs, we saw dogs that were smiling, ready for their new homes? If you’ve stopped by here before I’m sure you’re already tired of this rant.
Now let’s consider facebook. If you or your rescue group or shelter has a facebook page (and they absolutely need one) you can watch the analytics and see which images travel. Try this experiment. Post a photo of a sad pathetic dog and watch the stats. THEN, post a cute photo with an uplifting or humorous quote and watch what happens. According to facebook, Teresa Berg Photography has 1750 friends –this image was shared (as of 9:26am) 394 times and has a “reach” or was seen by 4301 people. In less than 24 hours. Where else can your group get that kind of exposure? Just be careful what and how you post, encourage everyone you know to “like” your page, and post something positive along with a photo of an adoptable dog — then stand back and watch the magic.
Just a few days left to sign up for the March webinar! We’ve scheduled it for March 13th at 6:30pm Central time. Use the pull down menu (above) to sign up.
We’ve added a couple of new ideas for outdoor shooting — and we’ve started our private facebook group for webinar attendees. So now you can watch, learn, practice and share with other people around the country who are doing animal adoption portraits. It’s been fun seeing photos posted by people who took the webinar a few months ago and hearing about their success!