Some of you may have seen a fellow photographer, Teresa Berg, featured on CBS a few weeks ago: Teresa is a Dallas, TX photographer on a mission to bring to light an important need of homeless animals hoping for a second chance in life: a beautiful headshot. I recently spoke to Teresa to get her perspective on the topic of pet headshots.
Teresa began offering her services in 2007 after adopting her own rescue from the Dallas Ft. Worth Dachshund Rescue Organization. When searching for her new family member, she was horrified by the quality of the photos posted on online pet listings. Teresa offers her services to both that organization as well as the Collin County Humane Society. She specializes in “tough cases”, including the senior, deaf, and black dogs (who are difficult to photograph well). Pet adoption photography is not a new concept. Several pet photographers around the country have long known the secret weapon of humane societies and rescue groups, however there are so many that either don’t have access to an experienced photographer or don’t have the time or money to invest in getting good images. But if they did… imagine what a difference we could all make in the lives and fates of these animals if we could each donate our time and turn something like this:
I’m sure you’ve seen the typical adoption images: a sad-faced hound behind a chain link gate. What kind of feelings do such images evoke? Sorrow, anger, fear, tears; none of which inspires us to further investigate adopting that animal.
But with the right photographer we can get this image of the same dog:
What does it bring to mind? This image portrays tenderness, loyalty, warmth. It might even inspire you to share it with a friend or post it on Facebook.
Which image would inspire you to bring that pet into your home? For me THAT is the goal: to get that fur-baby out of the pound (or foster home) and into a new family’s living room watching Animal Planet.
How to Start Volunteering Your Services
Teresa recommends being very careful to volunteer with a reputable animal rescue group. She has a website for aspiring rescue photographers, Focus on Rescue, that has a list of criteria that helps identify a good group with which to volunteer. Teresa also gives classes and has started a webinar to give tips to those wanting to learn more about the specialty of pet adoption photography.
Being a veterinarian myself, I started taking images for the local rescue group, PAWS Rescue, for which we provide medical care. I really had no intention of doing pet photography, but after a few sessions, I was hooked! Not only are the sessions themselves fun (and challenging!), but watching the aftermath is the BEST part! Several pets that I have photographed were adopted within days (sometimes hours) of their new pictures being posted. I think Teresa said it best when she said, “I don’t really have time to volunteer at a local shelter, and I don’t have a lot of money to donate, but I can use my everyday skills to make a difference, and it feels terrific!”
Teresa and I are both members of HeARTs Speak, a wonderful organization of pet photographers and other professionals who donate their time and art to aid in increasing adoption rates and decreasing the numbers of pets who are euthanized each year. If you are interested in volunteering, they can be a great resource!
Tricks for the Rescue Pet Photographer
Here are some tricks that you as the photographer need to learn. I use these for my outdoor shoots. First, I try whenever possible to have an enclosed area where I can let the animal run around. If this is not feasible, then it helps to have an assistant and a very thin leash that is easy to clone out in post-processing.
Sit and Stay
The worst thing you can do is back a poor unsocialized pup in a corner and shove a lens in its face. Instead, sit quietly and let the pet come to you. Not only does this allow the animal to get comfortable with its environment, but it will also make for a much less intimidated expression. Curious, perky ears make for great shots!
Get down. And I mean WAY down. It’s not uncommon for me to lay flat on the ground for most of my best shots. You want to be eye level or lower. But be CAREFUL!!! Watch for land mines!
For tall dogs, lay flat with your head up (think sit-up or crunch position) to enable you to catch the sky as your only backdrop and expose for the pet. With a little post-production magic, you can get something that looks like this:
And finally, make sure to keep that shutter speed high. Think rambunctious toddlers! For indoor studio work, Teresa recommends an assistant to help with positioning otherwise you will become frustrated quickly. Since I work mainly outdoors in enclosed area, I personally like to be alone with the pet so that we can develop a connection that will come through in my images. It’s all about style and you will develop your own. Just remember, a little trust goes a long way and comes through the lens so if you’re not an animal lover then rescue photography may not be your thing – and that’s okay! But if you are interested and if you have any questions feel free to look me up on ClickinMoms or check out my blogsite or Facebook page. Imagine how many lives we can save just doing what we love! Purrrfect!
Just a few more before and afters to demonstrate how a skilled photographer can make all the difference to these animals:
And a very happy ending for Maggie: