On Location Pet Portrait Photography (and Do-Gooding!)

Me and pet portrait photography go way back.

Once upon a time, I tried to make my 6-year old “Chi-Weenie”, Gracie, Instagram-famous. It just felt right. (For me, anyway. Not so much for Gracie, who now runs away every time she sees my camera.)

Here are some of Gracie's greatest hits:

I also photograph dogs in my street photography from time to time. Asking random strangers if I can take a pic is actually one of my favorite things to do when I travel. I love making new friends—human or animal. (This dog in the orange sweater is my fave!)

I guess that’s why my pals at MagMod nominated me to do on-location pet photography at our local shelter, Pima Animal Care Center (PACC)

We're on a mission to do some good in our community and inspire our fellow photographers to get out and do the same.

Pet Portraits are incredibly important to animal shelters. It’s a digital world, and one great photo on social media can help a dog get adopted fast. Nikki Reck (pictured below with sweet Leia), the Communications Coordinator at PACC, loves when photographers volunteer for the Center. 

Nikki Reck PACC Pet Portrait Photography


When we see them in their cages, shelter dogs can look frightened or aggressive. The “prisoner in a cage” look just isn’t a good one in terms of helping to market the dogs for adoption. But when the dogs appear friendly, alert and well-groomed in the professional portraits that get posted online, they’re likelier to be adopted faster. It's all about giving a shelter dog a chance to show off his or her sweet personality.

I actually adopted Gracie from PACC, so I was stoked to help some of the shelter’s long-term guests find homes. PACC will be using my images on their website.

I’m mainly a family portrait and wedding photographer, but my true love—in terms of photography techniques I’m passionate about—is creating dramatic, high-contrast portraits that look dark and moody. (Shout out to Platon, who I’m really inspired by!)

I knew that’s how I wanted to capture pet portraits at PACC.

So I packed up two MagBox Octa 24” Starter Kits and a Starter Flash Kit and hopped in my truck with Julia, MagMod’s Social Media Manager, and Aaron, our Videographer/Editor.

When we got to PACC, Nikki brought us one dog at a time. Our goal was to make as many portraits as possible in the time we had. We want lots of dogs to get adopted!

The room we were shooting in had a ton of natural light which was great, but to achieve the look I was going for, I used:

I also brought a grey paper backdrop, a folding table and a grey rug (to protect the backdrop from slobber). Here’s a photo of my lighting set up:

I used a three-light setup, including dual MagBoxes for my main lights (it's what we like to call the "Double Rainbow Light Setup"), each softbox with a single AD200 light inside, and another AD200 with a MagGrid and MagSphere for the background light.

Typically in studio environments, you shoot at a larger aperture to allow for more elements to be in focus. So I dialed my Canon 5D4 to f/11.

Using an aperture like f/11, you will get more in focus. So, for example, if you're shooting a portrait and want the background to be out of focus, you use a smaller aperture like f/2. But here I opted for the higher aperture because dogs have longer faces relative to human faces. Shooting at f/11 helped me get plenty of usable depth-of-field, allowing me to capture all the details from the tips of the dogs' noses to their eyes and ears.

Originally my ISO was set to 100, but I needed a greater output from my flashes. I opted to boost my ISO just a bit to get down to 1/64th flash power for very fast recycle times so I didn’t miss any shots!

It’s a good thing that MagMod is so easy to set up and change out, because these dogs did not want to sit still! Speed is definitely key when you’re shooting pet portraits using OCF. MagMod made it easy to set up and shoot so I could focus on the moment, not my gear.

Pro Tip: Treats are a must for getting dogs’ attention and encouraging their personalities to shine. Peanut butter is perfect for getting shots of the dogs' tongues sticking out. Hot dog pieces can make magic. I also recommend holding treats right over your lens to get a dog to look at the camera. 

Offering treats really helped me bond with the dogs in the short time we had together. Food was key in getting the dogs to relax and have fun so I could capture their expressions. 

The hardest part of this shoot? Holding myself back from adopting all the dogs! Julia nearly left with the little one who looks like an Ewok. What a great face!

As I’m writing this blog, Nikki let us know that 2 of the dogs (the Ewok and the Chihuahua) have already been adopted. Woo hoo!

But we wanna help out ALL of our furry friends at PACC! So if you’re in the Tucson, AZ area, contact PACC for information about Ludwig, Leia, Oswald, Sunny and Lacey. I can vouch for them all: they're awesome dogs!

I could easily spend another morning at the shelter volunteering with my portable MagMod studio again. I challenge all photographers to make pet portraits for their local shelters!

No, really! Do it! It couldn’t be any easier!

It feels really dang good to use my photography to do good for shelter dogs.



Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard is on MagMod's sales and marketing team, and he works with our USA dealers and sales reps. When he's not killin' it at MagMod, he's working as a wedding photographer. (He's actually been voted Tucson's best, and we're so proud of him!!!) Scott's been shooting professionally for 4 years and gets his jollies creating candid lifestyle images. His travel photography is bomb, too! You can follow him on Instagram @scotthubbardphotography.

Questions about his pet portraits? You can get in touch with Scott in the #MagModCommunity on Facebook.

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