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.
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.
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!
We’re busy selling votes for the 2017 Tiny Dog Calendar. This is our annual fundraising project and the each vote costs $1. Only the top 13 vote-getters make it in to the 2017 calendar, but each and every little model has fun in the process.
This year we collaborated with a wonderful local florist, Sheila Johnson of FLORAL CONCEPTS to create something colorful and spectacular for each of our models. No tired silk flowers for these babies! We think the results are well worth it. Our goal is to have a traveling display that will go up in several area public spaces to show off just how beautiful our furry friends are. And maybe inspire people to adopt or donate.
Most of the models are local rescues, but ALL of the voting money goes to a local charity — Artists for Animals — to help them save more homeless pets. The calendars will go on sale in the fall — as well as some limited edition greeting cards. So keep an eye on our Etsy shop for greeting cards, but you can PRE-order your calendars now.
Run out today and pick up the January issue with our article on page 98. The story of how Teresa started out and how Focus On Rescue was created.
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
I just finished shooting our 2014 Tiny Dog Calendar. This is our 5th tiny calendar and every year, I enjoy it more. For those of you who haven’t seen them, it’s the format that is tiny, not the dogs. We have it printed at a local printing company with an Indigo digital press and it’s sized to fit in a CD case. The case flips open and creates a stand for the calendar pages which you select each month.
Each year I self-publish this calendar and give the proceeds to a local charity (usually an animal rescue organization) This year we put a new twist on it by allowing people to vote online for their favorite dog photo at a cost of $1 per vote –with all the voting dollars going to the local Humane Society. We sold 2749 votes and created a lot interest for the calendar — which we have now sent to the printer. For those of you planning a similar project, here are a few key points to remember:
1) The time to sell calendars is in the fall. Shoot when you want to, but if you can’t have them ready by October 1st, you will miss the majority of your sales. They are big for the holidays but after January 15th, retailers practically give them away.
2) Pet owners LOVE having a calendar model in the family — they will buy lots of copies to give as gifts and even pay for the privilege of being published in your calendar.
3) They are a great way to publicize your cause, your group and your photographic skill. And they are a TON of work.
4) There is risk. The best profits come from the larger orders — so shop around. Most printing companies will work with you but the cost for a small order is very high. Once you get over a 250, the price drops significantly and you can start to make a profit, but someone has to pay the upfront costs and most charities don’t want to risk their hard-earned funds. So you may be pulling the money out of your pocket to get the job done!
As soon as the calendars arrive, we’ll have them available on this blog, my website and at the studio — I hope you’ll purchase one and use the inspiration to publish a calendar for your favorite animal rescue charity!
I recently ran across this short video showing photographer Portia Shao shooting at her local animal shelter. It includes a great testimonial from the assistant manager of the shelter describing the effect that good photography has made on their adoptions. Please share the video! And be sure and look at the lighting setup. For those of you using studio lights, she gives a good look at light placement and backgrounds. Enjoy!
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!
Every group these days needs an online presence. If you are running a rescue group or even if you’re just an active volunteer with a group, sooner or later you will need to pay serious attention to the group “image.” I’m not just referring to pretty photos (although photography is very close to the top of the list). I’m talking about website, blogs, adoption listings, logos, signs, and finally your ambassadors.
I know — you’re saving dogs– not working on an English degree, but you must communicate clearly and effectively with the world around you if you want donations, helpers, and credibility. Rescue groups are constantly interacting with city government, animal rights organizations, and community business leaders in order to save dogs. If you’re asking for donations for an event, or money to buy dog food, you need to make a good impression.
Many people don’t know how many shelters have a constant supply of puppies. Don’t shop, adopt!
So if you’re not comfortable speaking to strangers, making eye contact and writing an informative email message, find someone who is and designate them an ambassador for your group.
Your group’s website needs to be up-to-date and error free. Keep the photographs fresh and interesting. Update the calendar of events. Nothing spells neglect faster than a website where nothing has changed in two years…
And finally, make sure your message is a positive one. No matter how angry you are at the local shelter for doing something wrong, don’t make people feel bad just because they stopped by your website. Very few people want to support someone who is constantly ranting and complaining. They want to help the one with a better idea!
When you start photographing adoptable pets for a local rescue group or shelter it will take a little time to “get in the groove.” You need to find a helper, or train someone with the rescue group to be your assistant. Finding just the right location and experimenting with different lighting conditions can also take some time. But once you figure out the variables and feel more confident, you’re going to help save a lot of dogs. It’s a fact.
THEN, the rave reviews start coming in and people approach you and tell you they adopted their new dog because of YOUR photograph. The rescue group will start getting comments on their website or blog, the local newspaper might catch wind of the story and want to write about you. All of a sudden YOU are making a real difference.
Now what? I decided a long time ago that one camera can only save so many dogs — but every dog lover with a camera knows another dog lover with a camera. You can see where I’m going with this. Yep. It’s multi-level marketing. If you’re handling the dogs and your camera with some success — you’re ready to get someone else started! The world can only get better.
Share this blog with them, tell them about Hearts Speak (www.heartsspeak.org ) and Petfinder.com — have them work side-by-side with you a couple of times — then you can relax and share the happy endings.
Using a slogan or tagline with your rescue portraits can be very effective for raising awareness
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.