Brandi Scharrer and Scott Roeben
Brandi Scharrer and Scott Roeben have been on fire taking positive photographs of shelter animals since attending the One Picture Saves a Life workshop in Las Vegas on June 15th. At the time of this interview, the number of animals photographed was over 400. By the time this article goes live, they expect it to be up to 500!
We asked Brandi and Scott how they got involved volunteering for animal shelters. Brandi stated:
“We had talked about volunteering for our local shelter before, but were always nervous if we could “handle it.” We feared the same questions that we get asked all the time—‘How can you do that? I feel so bad for the animals.’ ‘I couldn’t work down there; it is too sad.’ ‘How can you not adopt all of them?’ etc. In April I told myself my fear was stopping me, and it was time to get over it if I really wanted to help. Our almost 15-year-old German Shepherd Averi was nearing the end of her time, and I began to do a lot of reflecting back on her life. She was also a rescue and lived an incredibly long and full life. We lost her in August. She was an amazing companion and friend. Every dog deserves to have the chance at a life like she had, and every person should have the opportunity to find that special friend. In January, Scott took some memorable and beautiful pictures of our girl Averi. She was pretty much deaf and wasn’t your average subject, but he did a phenomenal job with her. So of course I had to drag him along to the shelter. He needed that little push as well. Teaming up is how it is possible for us to photograph as many animals as we do.
We have been working with the The Animal Foundation for about 6 months. However, our photography adventures just started in July. We have both had a really great experience working with their staff, adoption counselors, other volunteers, and of course the animals there! They have such a high volume that they keep us busy. And they just recently won the grand prize for the 2013 ASPCA & Rachel Ray 100K challenge!”
When asked how they managed to shoot over 400 dogs in such a short time, Brandi told us:
“The shelter we work with here in Las Vegas, NV is an open-admission shelter so the volume of photo candidates is endless and sometimes overwhelming. Just a few days between our visits brings a whole new batch of lovies needing a home and a picture. In the beginning we struggled a bit with quality vs. quantity and finally settled on some place in between. While I think the photographs we take are amazing, the photographer in Scott would like to perfect each one, making them “award winning”, but we would never help the amount of animals we have if that was the goal.
The shelter has a photo program set up to help the volunteer photographers out. They print a sheet daily of all the dogs and cats up for adoption along with their pictures. After reviewing the sheet, we try and pick a bungalow (a building that houses 12+ dogs) that has the most dogs with poor intake photos and start there. That way we can work right down the kennels instead of bouncing around. Currently the shelter has 22 bungalows, so this does save us time.
Most recently we have set a goal of trying to photograph 20 dogs in one visit. The most we have ever done at one time was 43. Once we hit our goal we usually wind down a bit and socialize and snuggle with a couple of the dogs. This always produces more pics! So in one week’s time we photograph around 40-50 animals.”
We asked Brandi and Scott if they had any good photography related adoption stories to share, and they provided us with the following:
“On multiple occasions we have had a patron adopt a dog we were photographing or walking. The actual photography session draws attention to the dogs and gives them more exposure. People see us playing, laughing and photographing them and it creates interest. Not only do the dogs look more adoptable with a better photograph, but they also look more adoptable outside of their kennel and interacting with people.
Ranger was a cute border collie we photographed on a Sunday afternoon. We returned to the shelter two days later when we were stopped by a nice couple looking for a specific dog. They were at the shelter to see a dog they found on the website and wanted to know if I could get him so they could walk and see him. The conversation went something like this:
Brandi: Which dog would you like to see?
Brandi: Oh the red, cute border collie? Awesome! We just photographed him on Sunday.
Couple: YOU took that picture on the website?
Brandi: I assist. I wrangle and hold the dogs while my friend Scott snaps the pic.
Couple: We are here because of that picture! When we were searching the website his picture popped right off the screen. And we were moving down the list pretty fast. We had to see him.
Two minutes later I handed Ranger over to them to walk. Thirty minutes later they adopted him!”
This dynamic duo of shelter photography also provided us with a few transformation stories and some great photo tips from Scott:
“From time-to-time we will encounter dogs that are just too scared to even be photographed. Either they won’t come out of the kennel or we can’t get near them to try. We are always respectful of their space and never force ourselves on them. When this happens we stop and focus on socializing. Then we photograph. If we pass them by, so will others.
This girl was our first love. When we met her I couldn’t even get close enough to touch her and she was even more scared of Scott. After working with her and earning her trust, we finally broke her out of her shell. As soon as we did, a wonderful couple spotted her and adopted her. She went from not being able to be touched to crawling in your lap and rolling around. It was a beautiful transformation.
Destiny’s challenges were greater. She would allow us to touch her and get close to her, but no one at the shelter could get her out of the kennel. We spent a couple of days working with her and finally I got her to walk out and around the shelter. The shelter staff was amazed and cheered! She was adopted soon after!
This little guy was listed as “scared/shy” and ran away when we approached his kennel. It took a much shorter time to convince him to come out and when he did he started showing off. When we started photographing him, he started doing this little trick. I couldn’t stop laughing, so we stopped and Scott took this Vine video of him.”
Photography tips from Scott
“There’s a lot of trial and error involved, even for seasoned photographers. You quickly develop some go-to techniques. Dogs warm up to you if you offer them a treat before you start. Certain noises work with different breeds to get them to look at the camera (one of the most appealing angles). Chihuahuas love squeaky toys. Certain dogs love a popping noise, others like whistles or smooching noises. You get used to running through the routine until you get the photos you need.
It’s great to be able to use “bokeh” to blur the background and lessen the visibility of leashes and enclosures or fences. While there’s not always time, exercising a dog gets them panting and “smiling” for photos.
Finding a good light is one of the most important aspects of photographing the animals. Bright sunlight makes animals, and people, squint…along with creating harsh shadows. It’s best to find some shade, or light through a window is also flattering.
Working as a team is really important. Each person can focus on their job, and it really speeds up the process, so you can give more pets their time in the limelight, and a better chance at adoption.”
Finally, we asked the pair how they liked the One Picture Saves a Life workshop, and how if has affected their photo shoots. Brandi told us:
“The workshop is what really got us motivated. I was already volunteering at the shelter and wanted to start taking pictures of the animals. When I saw the announcement for the workshop, I enrolled right away. Then I got a better idea: invite Scott and team up!
Scott was already a fabulous photographer, but it was definitely helpful to be part of the workshop. We discovered quickly that photographing dogs and cats is different than other subjects, and doing the photography at a shelter adds more layers of challenge.
Seth Casteel also answered some great questions around our fears and how he “handles” being in and interacting with the dogs in a shelter setting.”
A big thanks to Brandi and Scott for sharing their experience and insights from the One Picture Saves a Life program. You too can be a hero by taking positive photos of shelter animals. Connect with your local shelter here and train online with our Learning Videos. And as always, remember: One Picture Saves a Life!