photographer’s ambitious adoption 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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Dog Shots Workshop September 13th!


Sunday, September 13th we’re planning our popular beginner workshop: DOG SHOTS at the Teresa Berg Photography studio in Dallas. If you’ve got a DSLR and you need some help with composition, lighting and managing those four-legged models, this is a great place to start.  Many of our attendees are doing photography for shelters and rescue groups but not getting the results they want.  Some are thinking of opening their own business some day and are just “testing the waters” and some are just pet lovers who are tired of struggling with their cameras. If any of these describes YOU, then join us in Dallas, September 13th. It’s very “hands on” –you will use YOUR equipment and work through beautiful shots with live models, step by step. And meet other people who love it as much as you do! The class is $295, and we only take 10 people, so when it’s full, it’s full. Call the studio to sign up:  972-250-2415. Credit cards or paypal cheerfully accepted.

pet photography workshop

On site shooting at Camp Diggy Bones


A group of photographers and dog trainers set out to do a big job. The task? Photograph 249 large breed dogs that had been living in a boarding facility outside of Dallas. Abandoned there by the rescue group that had been paying their room and board, these dogs had been living in the kennel for (some of them) 2-3 years. Some had even been born there.

focus on rescue

Zola rocked the pink bandana


Needless to say, this is a very different challenge from following the family poodle around the house. Very different.
So we broke in to teams and set up at different spots around the grounds with the facility employees shuttling dogs to different photo teams all day. On the plus side, over 100 of the original group had been pulled by various local rescue organizations so our task was smaller than we originally thought — only about 120 big, strong, energetic dogs needed photos. The now-defunct rescue group had specialized in Pit bulls and Rottweilers so we knew going in that we would need some muscle and caution in handling these dogs. There were several dog trainers on the premises including Robin Terrell of Good Dog Fetch — so we felt pretty good about our chances but we triple cautioned everyone to be careful.
teresa berg portraits

Violet poses at Camp Diggy Bones


Because I can never do anything the easy way, I had already decided to put together some sort of simple outdoor set to use as a backdrop. I frequently get questions about what to do with a less-than-perfect shooting location so I felt that this would be a great opportunity to try something new. The flowers and roll up screen from the garden center (see previous post) were assembled in to a little shooting corner, complete with some nice clean mulch to stand on. We know everyone is on a tight budget so we kept the total cost to $100 — and everything (except for the mulch) went back in to the car to be used again. For shade from the midday sun, we pulled out a canvas dropcloth that we just happened to have with us. Other than that, everything came out of our $100 budget. For those of you that can find a nice solid privacy fence to shoot against, you can save the $25 we spent on the roll up reed screen… but for us, it was a life saver. I just happened to have a stand to hold my reflector in the car — and it was windy — so we used it to help anchor the canvas drop cloth we used as a shade screen.
The camera settings on this very bright cloudless day were iso 100, f2.0 with shutter speeds varying between 1500 and 5000. I used a white reflector between me and the dog and sat on a low stool with the reflector leaning against my knees for most of the shots. I used a 50mm lens on my Canon 5d MkIII.
setting up

use wire or twist ties to hold the screen to the fence


adoption photos

building the outdoor set


on site adoption photos

Our PHOTO SWAT TEAM at Camp Diggy Bones


Many thanks to Mark of Shagly Photography, Robin Terrell of Good Dog Fetch, Mica of The Dog Photographer, Lesa Truax, my assistant Jessiree Kubica, Daniel Thompson, Sheila Weaver and all the rest of the crew — you were amazing! The final step is spreading the love on facebook, google +, and on all of our different websites. Please share the story of the dogs and help them (and others) get adopted.

Setting up a photo studio inside a shelter


Whether you are using a camera-mounted flash, a studio flash (or monolight) or a continuous light system (which we recommend) setting up an on site studio inside a shelter can make a big difference in the quality of the photos you produce.  Don’t misunderstand — any type of on site photography is tricky, because you’re dealing with frantic, sometimes traumatized dogs in a noisy scary environment.  Our first choice is always to photograph the dogs and cats AWAY from the noise and smells of the shelter environment….but sometimes that’s just not an option.

So for those of you trying to make better photos ON SITE , I have this list of tips:

1. Use a seamless paper background.  It’s cheap, comes in every color and adds a bit of professionalism to your photos.  A wrinkly blanket or sheet is a lousy substitute for the clean crisp look of a paper background.  You can buy a roll of background paper from a camera supply like Adorama or B and H Photo  for around $30 and it can last a very long time.

2. Get as far away from the noise of the kennel as possible.  If they have an outbuilding you can use or at the very least some quiet conference room, try that first.  Your subjects will be much calmer.

3. Try to time your photo shoot for AFTER the pet has had some exercise.  A tired dog is much easier to photograph.

4. Use a helper. You absolutely, positively will frustrate yourself if you try to do this alone. Plus, with someone holding the dog’s leash and shuttling pets in and out of the shooting area you can work much faster and photograph many more pets in the same amount of time.  Trust me. Get a volunteer or another photographer to help you.

5. Use natural light if you’re lucky enough to find space next to a big window.  If not, use some sort of BIG light source (tiny camera mounted flashes should be diffused or bounced off the ceiling) and do not use flash pointed directly at the pet.  Continuous Lights like the Westcott TD6 make your job much easier because they don’t “flash” at the pet –and for beginners, offer a what-you-see-is-what-you-get light source that will work with any camera without fancy flash triggering devices.

Those are my top five tips!  We have covered how important it is to read dog’s body language in previous posts and videos. So practice with your own pets until you feel comfortable enough to work at the shelter — but don’t give up. All those homeless cats and dogs need you!

To keep the background simple, seamless paper is the best

To keep the background simple, seamless paper is the best