Do Your Photographic Homework First
Before you begin talking to shelters, think carefully about starting this volunteer work. Photographing people and landscapes is much easier than photographing animals. For the most part, you can't tell an animal where to stand, how to pose, and so on. It takes dedication and patience to be a successful animal photographer. If you love animals and think that this might be something you want to try, you should study and practice animal photography a bit before you start volunteering at a shelter.
There are many excellent books and Websites about general photography and even some good books about animal photography. There are also many books filled with photographs of animals that you can purchase and study. Invest in some of these books; brush up on your photography skills if necessary and expose yourself to animal photographs taken by other photographers.
Looking at photography art books that feature animal photographs is a great way to see what poses and photographic styles you prefer. We have a large library ourselves of photography instruction and animal photography art books that we regularly study. We list some of these books in our Links & References section.
Once you have spent some time studying animal photography, practice. Enlist your own pets or those of others and practice taking portraits of them. Study the techniques described in our Techniques section and try to apply them in your practice sessions.
Before we started working at the local shelter, we took over thirty rolls of our cat Zephyr. This exhaustive practice made me much comfortable with my camera and let me practice areas of photography in which I was deficient.
For example, I wasn't too good with my flash in the beginning but after shooting so many rolls and studying the results, I was quickly able to improve my skills. Photographing our cat also gave us a chance to practice different kinds of poses and really study her different expressions to see what we thought made a good photograph. She's been photographed so many times that she instinctively blinks now when she hears my shutter, whether I use a flash or not!
During this time, we also photographed the pets of some of our friends. This gave us experience working with animals that saw us as strangers and taught us how to work around this to get good images.
By the time we actually started working at the shelter, I knew what equipment I needed and how to work it, and my wife was more comfortable handling strange animals and coaxing them into good positions for me to photograph. By doing all the reading we had done and by practicing on our own cat and other animals, we were prepared to start our work as volunteer animal photographers.
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