One of my favorite things about working for Microsoft is how much the company as a whole encourages employees to participate in local communities. They match donations to charities $1 to $1 and they match volunteered time at something like $17 / hour. That’s awesome.
Starting in February of 2012, I got it into my head that I would start volunteering my time. I already liked taking photos - how could I make that useful? Well, my pets provided the inspiration. By that, I mean that they were annoying enough that, although I would have loved to have more, it would never have worked out! So, I should try to help some other animals. I contacted the Humane Society Fargo-Moorhead and they were happy to let some strange guy come shoot (see what I did there?) all of their animals.
I knew I wanted to shoot them on a white background with the idea being that the cats and dogs would stand out on their own. At the time, I had one flash, a couple radio transmitters, and a lightstand/umbrella combo, so that’s where we’ll start this equipment list. I also purchased a random white backdrop cloth because, well, what if they didn’t have a white wall?
That’s how I started out. I put a couple metal chairs on a long table, draped the backdrop over those chairs and held it in place by putting something heavy on it. I’ll talk more about the actual shoot at some future time.
Doing it this way means you’re going to end up with a gray background in your photos, with a hopefully well-lit cat or dog in front of it. That also means you’re going to do a fair bit of editing (I’ll write more on that later, too) to get the white background to actually be white. That’s rather laborious and got old, quick.
Notice the gray around the cat that my poor editing skills missed. Looks weird!
Can you do it with just what I listed? Absolutely. Does it get old fixing in post? Absolutely.
I decided to upgrade.
- Background stand (Linco Crossbar kit) [No more chairs!]
- Backdrop clips (Linco clips) [Holds the backdrop taut]
- A couple spring clips from Home Depot
- An extra speedlight (Yongnuo YN-560 II)
- Extra light stand
- Extra Cactus transceiver
Adding those things allowed me to light the background separately from the animal to make sure it mostly blew out before I even started processing. Much easier! The other pieces made setup and tear-down a whole lot easier and more repeatable - I can set this up anywhere I need to!
At this point, we also added in colored blankets to the photos: for scale and a little personality.
In part 2, I’ll talk about actually doing the shooting.