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I was reading the KEH blog last week and they had a posting that was about charitable and non-profit organizations that photographers can get involved with and donate their time and professional services to. One that caught my eye works with matching photographers with animal rescue organizations. This would allow the rescue groups to have high quality photographs to help enhance an animals chances of finding a forever home. The organization had different levels that a photographer could sign up for, and pay a fee to join their service. Each level had different requirements and there was an application process to go through. After twenty-three years in the military, I’m kinda tired of jumping through hoops to get to do what I want to do. So, I did a google search of animal rescue organizations in my neck of the woods and started looking for one that looked like it could use the services of a professional photographer. It didn’t take long until I came across the website for The Dog Shack. The image below is the one that really spoke to me and had me contact The Dog Shack.

Curran (Image courtesy of The Dog Shack)

I sent them an email and introduced myself and told them that I was offering my services, free of charge. Almost immediately I received a reply and last weekend I met with Saskia, who founded The Dog Shack after becoming involved with animal rescues in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck. It was then that I learned that the above image of Curran was actually provided to her by the shelter that he was rescued from. She told me that The Dog Shack places about 100 dogs a year into forever homes and runs on a shoe-string budget. They just received their 501(c)3 tax-exempt status and are now trying to find ways to increase donations to the organization. Almost all of the dogs that they rescue are saved from being euthanized at kill shelters in Northern California just before they are to be put down.

If you are a photographer looking for a way to give back to your community and are interested in helping animals up for adoption find a forever home, please contact HeARTsSpeak. Or simply do what I did… find a local rescue organization that could use the services of a photographer.

What if you want to do this and you are one of those people that has never taken their DSLR off of the ‘Auto’ mode? Now would be a good time to try some new tricks. The first thing that you are going to do is put your camera in ‘Aperture Priority’ mode. This allows you to manually set the f/stop that you will be using. Set the f/stop to the lowest number that your lens will go, usually f/3.5 if you are using a kit lens that came with your DSLR. This means that the lens is wide open and will throw the  foreground and background out of focus. This allows the subject to stand out against the background. When shooting wide open like this, make certain that you focus on the eyes. That is the most important facial feature to have in focus and this goes for shooting both people and animals. If you find that your lens is a bit soft when shooting wide open, or you notice that the focus is a bit in front of or behind the eyes, use the Unsharp Mask in Photoshop to bring the eyes into focus.

When possible, shoot in the late afternoon as that will provide you with the best light to shoot with. If it is an overcast day, then it is not that relevant. You will want to use a flash to help fill in the shadows, especially if shooting in the sunshine. You may have noticed when you set your aperture to wide open, the shutter speed has jumped way up. This will require you to set your flash to ‘High Sync Speed’ for it to function properly (check your camera and flash manual if you are unsure how to do this). If your camera/flash is not capable of doing this, do not use the flash as the wide open aperture is more important to producing a quality image than using fill flash is. If you are having problems with harsh shadows without fill flash, then find some shade to shoot in. You can also adjust the shadows in Photoshop and this is an excellent reason to be shooting in RAW as opposed to jpeg. The ‘Fill Light’ slider in Adobe Camera Raw was made just for situations like this.

Many dogs that have spent time in shelters can be skiddish and a bit wary of strangers. Have a pocket full of treats, as giving the dog a couple of them can go a long way in dissuading their fears of you. Also, when you reach out to pet them, it may be advisable to reach out from below their head (like you are going to scratch their chest) instead of reaching over the top.

If the dog is on a leash when you are shooting, try not to take shots when the dog is pulling against the leash. A shot of the dog pulling against the leash can give the impression that the dog is difficult to control. If the dog is sitting, have the dog handler put some slack in the leash (if possible), or completely drop the leash if the dog will stay seated or has good voice recall. When getting shots of a sitting dog, make sure that you are not using the ‘Bulls-Eye’ method by putting the dogs face right in the center of the photo. You will want to ensure that the entire dog is in the frame and that you have not cut off the feet at the bottom of the image. When getting close-ups of the face, be sure to get shots that show the entire face and do not get only profile shots. This is especially important when each side of the face has different colors or has different markings, as in the close up shot of Bonzo seen further down in this post.

If you have a dog of your own that you can practice on, head outside and give it a try. Keep practicing until you are comfortable with what you are doing and can get consistent results. If you don’t have a dog, I’m certain that you probably have a neighbor/friend/distant cousin that has a dog and is willing to let you practice (especially if you offer them copies of the best shots).

Below are some of the shots that I have taken for The Dog Shack.

Curran No.1 – Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (350D) – Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II – Exposure: 1/800 Second @ f/2.0 ISO100 – Lighting: Camera mounted Canon 430EX for fill

Yes, the above shot is of Curran, the same dog that is in the example of a bad photo earlier in this post. While the earlier shot may tug at your heart-strings to go and save him, the new shot shows Curran more favorably and will go further in finding him a forever home.

Update: Curran has been adopted into a loving, forever home.

Tipper No.1 – Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (350D) – Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM @70mm – Exposure: 1/60 Second @ f/4.0 ISO100 – Lighting: Camera mounted Canon 430EX for fill

Tipper No.2 – Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (350D) – Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM @200mm – Exposure: 1/160 Second @ f/4.0 ISO400 – Lighting: Camera mounted Canon 430EX for fill

To get a dog to look straight at me like Tipper is doing above, I use a small squeaker toy that I held in my hand and squeezed just before I took the shot.

Dustin No.1 – Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (350D) – Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM @140mm – Exposure: 1/320 Second @ f/4.0 ISO100 – Lighting: Camera mounted Canon 430EX for fill

Update: Dustin has been adopted and is now living in his forever home!

Coda No.1 – Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (350D) – Lens: Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM – Exposure: 1/500 Second @ f/2.0 ISO100 – Lighting: Camera mounted Canon 430EX for fill

UPDATE: Coda has been adopted and is now living in her new forever home!

Bonzo No.3 – Camera: Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (350D) – Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM @154mm – Exposure: 1/500 Second @ f/4.0 ISO400 – Lighting: Camera mounted Canon 430EX for fill

If you are in Northern California and are looking to adopt, or can foster a dog, please contact The Dog Shack. They are always accepting donations for those that would like to make a financial contribution to support the excellent work that they do. The Dog Shack is a 501(c)3 organization and your contribution is tax deductible.

Note: If you go to visit The Dog Shack’s website and do not see any of the pictures that I have taken, we are still waiting for the volunteer that handles the website to post the new shots and take down the old ones.