These are my experiences in photography at my local shelter. I share them as yours might be similar and if we can help each other get better photos, then the animals go home faster and that is what it is all about.
As wonderful as the shelter I volunteer at is for sheltering and getting animals adopted, it isn’t a great facility for taking photos. This is probably typical for most shelters circa 2010 and prior. There are three areas that have enough space to take pictures. Only one of them is outdoor, the other two are indoor with typical fluorescent lights.
In order to overcome the lighting issues at the shelter, we have devised a few strategies. Some are works in progress others are already yielding great results. My best advice is use these or parts of these ideas but above all remain flexible. Change things up and strive to take the best pictures ever.
The best place at the shelter to take photos is the covered outdoor play area. This area is almost ideal. It is covered with a high ceiling, block walls on three sides and chain link fence at one end. The block walls go up about 6 feet with a nice 6 foot opening before the roof begins. The break lets natural light filter into the space. The roof shades the entire area. We can shoot in rain, snow or shine. The dogs love it because they can run a little. The light is just about perfect, it is diffused and even. This is my preference for all pictures but puppies and cats can’t go out there.
The “Kitty Studio” developed by Vickie Holt has helped us improve the pictures for small puppies, kitten, cats, guinea pigs and rabbits. It is one of those why didn’t we think of that moments, a simple mobile studio. We have taken her very good advice and modified it a bit to suit our needs. It is basically this, a large container – we use a big clear plastic storage type box. (It also doubles as storage for our photography supplies). Either place it on a sturdy table to bring it closer to eye level or plan to be on the floor. Getting closer to eye level really improves the shots.
Get a backdrop. We pick from a collection of clean donated sheets or blankets at the shelter. I will share more on this in a later post but go for solid colors, no prints. We set up in front of a series of cabinets and open those doors to use them to extend our sheet (backdrop) up higher. A set of monster sized binder clips work just great for securing them to the wide open cabinet doors.
Use a set of two clip on utility type shop lights. I picked up a natural light 100W CLFs. Clip these onto the corners of the box and angle them down.
Pictured is one very under-impressed cat, but it shows the setup. You will definitely want a helper/handler with this. Most of the cats are content and just hang out but some want to flee and jump. Body blocking is essential. The camera angle will remove the background clutter as in the referenced photo. You want to get as low as you can and even rest your camera on the lip of the container but not to see the lights. Sometimes I shoot from the side like this and other times from directly front on. Just depends on where the animals is and how they are dealing with the confined space. Some love it, wriggle in and give out the glam looks freely, others need a little coaxing and calming strokes while some are so intrigued with the new space it is hard to get their heads out of the lights. Whatever the attitude cats may throw at you, patience and kindness are the best things to throw back at them.
The last photo is the best from this session.