Kristin McKibbin won second place in our July Photo Contest with her awesome photo, “Catch of the Day.”
We loved this photo and contacted Kristin to find out more. It turns out that animals are her favorite subjects: not only does she have her own budding pet photography business, but she also takes photos of the pets up for adoption at the Humane Society of Elkhart County’s website. We asked Kristin to write about her epxeriences as HSEC’s photographer and any tips she might have for photographing animals. (All photos courtesy of Kristin McKibbin.)
I started volunteering at the Humane Society of Elkhart County, Bristol, Indiana, in 2005 after I adopted my dog, Annie. However, it wasn’t until February, 2009 that I decided to try and combine my passion of photography with my passion for animals. The pictures on the shelter’s website, like many shelter websites, left a lot to be desired. The animals’ eyes were reflecting, the pictures were taken looking down on the animal and they were usually very stressed and/ or frightened at the time. I wanted to see if I could use my self-taught photography skills to provide them with a better photo, and, hopefully, increase their chances of being adopted.
Another volunteer offered to hold the animals while I clicked away. At first, I just had my assistant drape a blanket over her and hold the smaller animals in her arms. I had never done pet photography before, so I was just learning as I went along. A few months later I invested in a few yards of black micro suede material and an off camera flash. I hung the material as a backdrop, and the off camera flash took away the red eyes and provided depth, as I bounced the light off the ceiling. A few months after that I bought Photoshop Elements and learned how to edit pictures. The shelter also gave me access to their newly designed website, and I was made responsible for posting my pictures of the adoptable animals.
It’s been three and a half years since I started this adventure. My fourth volunteer/assistant has helped me for two and a half years now. We meet at the shelter on average twice weekly to photograph the animals, which has ranged from cats, kittens, dogs, puppies, iguanas, snakes, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds and even pot-bellied pigs! I average about 30 hours of volunteering each month, which consists of the actual photographing time, editing and posting on the website. The shelter director told me that a recent survey revealed that 46% of the people who adopted from the shelter initially saw the animal’s photograph on the shelter website. Good pictures make a difference!
Through this experience I have learned a LOT about photographing animals. Most importantly, you have to have a love of animals, as well as patience, to photograph animals. I have the patience to work with animals, but not young children. We are all different. I won’t stop until I get the photo I believe captures an animal’s personality. Secondly, make sure you have an assistant with just as much patience. He or she will be the one ensuring the animal stays on the table or sits for the camera! With cats especially, we like to spend a few minutes to make them feel comfortable and safe. Thirdly, you cannot be too proud – be prepared to make a lot of strange, goofy noises in order to get a dog’s attention. Use feathery toys and purring noises to get the cats’ and kittens’ attention. Finally, invest in various backgrounds, like black, dark brown, gold and gray micro suede. I also use animal print pillows and blankets for the animals to stand/sit on. It doesn’t have to be a significant investment.
Now that I’ve photographed thousands of animals, I am starting my own pet photography business. I meet people either at their homes or at a local park to photograph their pets. To me, pets are a special part of a human’s life. It is important to have quality photos of them so you can cherish them forever.