Anatomy of a Shelter Shoot: Meet Breezy!
Meet Breezy! And let me say he was a breeze to photograph (sorry, couldn't resist that one!). Several of my Facebook friends who see all my shelter photos ask me how I do it...I know they are more asking about how I do it without falling in love with each and every one, and that is definitely the hardest part. I struggle with it often! Oh how I wish I could bring them all home!
So I thought I'd share with you the more technical side of things, like how I actually take the photographs. Dogs like Breezy here are truly easy to photograph. He was truly a poser! Some are definitely not this easy. The process starts with me walking through the runs and making a mental note of who I've already photographed. And, of course, visiting with them all! Once I've done that, I take my gear out to one of the outdoor enclosures and grab a leash. I've gotten pretty good at getting them out of their kennels, but that wasn't always the case! I've lost more than one to a free run around the building! Using a loop leash, I open the loop fairly wide, say hello, open the kennel door about eight inches, and, if all goes to plan, place the loop over the dog's head and out we go. Now, yes, some are more difficult than others, but it's not the size that makes the difference...it's the energy level!
Once I get a dog outside, I let him run around a bit and do his business. Then I go to work playing ball for a bit if I see the dog likes to fetch. That's when I can start shooting. I keep a couple squeaky balls in my bag that I use to get the dog to look at me, like Breezy here. I'll take at least 10 to 20 shots of each dog. Some dogs, typically those who have suffered some abuse, are scared of the squeak. For those dogs, I keep my pockets full of doggie biscuits. I give them a little extra love to make them more comfortable, and then pull a biscuit out of my pocket. I break it in half and give the dog half. Then once he's enjoyed that, I use the other half to get him to look at me for the picture. This process can take several go 'rounds! Once I get some good shots, I give him the other half of the biscuit.
Once I feel like I have enough workable shots, I let the dog enjoy the outside a bit more while I clean up his droppings. Yep, after I photograph him, I have to scoop his poop! Just part of the process! Of course I wait until I'm done photographing him before I scoop. Then, I'll dump the poop pouch in the garbage can, get the dog back on his leash, take him back into his kennel and head over to the hand sanitizer to clean my hands before I start the whole process back up with the next dog. On a good day, I'm able to photograph 15-20 dogs in one two-three hour shoot. Other days, not so much. And then there are those days when unfortunately we haven't had a lot of adoptions since my last visit, so I don't have a lot of new faces to photograph. On those days, I photograph the new faces, and then walk the old faces for as much time as I have. Then it's home to edit my shots, select the best one of each dog, and send them over to the shelter staff to post on the website.
So, live in the Jacksonville area and think you'd like to help out photographing the dogs? I'd be happy to train you! We need more photographers!