Voluntography: Snap a Pic to Save A Life

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I’ve been a “voluntographer” for animal rescue/shelter projects since 2011. You might be wondering… a “voluntographer” is. We are photographers who volunteer his or her time and offers photography services at no charge to support a cause. Some voluntographers take pictures of premie babies, sick children, needy families, elderly people, military families, goods up for charity auctions, and other great causes. All of these are great, but since I’m a bleeding-heart animal lover (“crazy dog lady”), I take pictures of homeless animals.

When I read in a local paper about a mass euthanization of 60 shelter animals at a poorly run, rural middle Georgia shelter, I was heartbroken and infuriated. I felt the urge to do something to prevent this from ever happening again, but what could I do? I wasn’t really sure what to do because I had no money as a student, but I loved animals and enjoyed photography. I decided that I could use my photography skills to take photos of the dogs to help get them more exposure.

To say that volunteer job was easy would be a lie. After my first visit, I left that 95 degree, foul-smelling, over-crowded shelter feeling defeated, and so very small. I remember sitting in my car and crying, because I felt as if I’d accomplished nothing during the three sweltering hours I spent there, crawling into those dirty pens trying to capture the best of some extremely pitiful, abandoned animals. Until I posted my first batch of photos on the internet to advertise the dogs to rescuers and adopters, I had no clue how important those photos were going to be.

Some of the dogs from the poor rural shelter taken during my 1st voluntography project adventure.

Suddenly, there was a lot of buzz about that shelter. More dogs came in, but they steadily were leaving. Luckily, with the right networking and volunteers (those I affectionately refer to as the “crazy dog ladies”) fewer dogs were being euthanized, and more dogs were going home.

Then I moved an hour away. I started residency, which was a year of half the wages and twice the work, but I missed having a meaningful project in my life. Luckily, I was able to get in touch with the local Humane Society and started photographing their adoptable pets. On my “first day”, I remember the director telling me, “We want good photos. Ones where there’s not a big head and no body, and not pictures of scared animals in cages with blurry faces.” I smiled, and nodded. I knew exactly what they needed.

Shelter workers are often overloaded with tasks. They are busy cleaning, walking, feeding, watering, taking care of all the animals and tons of administrative and customer service work. They don’t have time to stop and take good quality photos of animals. It’s nothing against them, or their photography, but to get a really good photo of a dog or cat is more than just a click of a button. They move, wiggle, squirm, jump, bark, roll, sit, beg, lay down, blink, and sometimes tinkle with excitement. A dog’s intake photo may not be the greatest.

When a dog is in a shelter (or a cat, for that matter) they aren’t going to “look” like themselves. They may be scared, or a little dirty, or not really happy. It is my job to take extra time with the animal, to capture their personality and spirit in a photograph. Then, people on the outside can see a photo and say, “Hey, that is a great looking dog, I think I want to go meet him/her” instead of “That poor dog, it looks so pitiful.” With the help of a volunteer photographer (a “voluntographer”), the Humane Society is able to advertise their pets using more appealing photos, capturing the best of the animal.

Here are a few examples:embellishment

Poor scared little Ringo was just a pup, discovered in a box with her siblings stranded beside the road.

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Now she’s a fearless pup with the wind in her hair (ears) and ready to be your friend.embellishmentOreo is so pretty, but she’s really hard to see behind that pen. And doesn’t she look a little sad?
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If you get inside the pen with her, though, she opens right up and is ready to play. There are no wires or cages between the potential adopter and pet. It’s like she’s right there, happy and smiling. ūüėÄembellishment

You can’t even tell what kind of dog Loca is behind that pen. How will she stand out among the rest?
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When you get her in the light, you can see her coat is a rich brown color, and she has beautiful brown eyes! Hey, now they see it — she’s actually a Dobie mix!

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Ace looked a slight bit nervous in his intake photo. He might be looking at his potential adopter, but he’s not real sure about that.

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And now, Ace is thrilled to see his potential adopter. He looks like he’s ready to jump through the photo and give him or her a kiss.embellishment

Poor Drucella. You can’t even see her eyes. I’m sure adopters were thinking “That scruffy grey mix of a dog looks so sad.”

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But in fact, Drucella is a Scottish Deerhound. Her coat is unique; it is filled with browns, greys, whites, and tans. Her eyes are a stunning caramel color. As a favorite among volunteers, Drucella is a lovely lady. Her new adopted family saw that immediately after finding this photo on a display board at a local pet supply store.

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Hunter, the sad sleeper, waiting by himself in his crate for somebody.

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But when a little girl saw Hunter’s “new” picture on the Facebook page, she saw a happy smiling Hunter. He looked like he could be her best friend. And now he is.

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It’s pretty amazing what you perceive about these animals looking at the two different photos. It’s almost like night and day to us; but for those animals, it is the difference in sadness and happiness, homelessness and having a warm bed… and in many cases, life and death

If you are a photographer, consider donating your time to a local shelter/rescue group (or any other great voluntography cause, for that matter!)

One click of your shutter can make a difference!!

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Note: All “After” photos taken by Brooke Butler, using Canon 6D and 50mm f/1.2L or 24-70mm f/2.8L II. Before photos were taken by different people working at the shelter. They don’t have the time or resources to put together professional photos. This post is in no way trying to insult them or insinuate they aren’t doing a good job. They do a wonderful job and deserve much praise!

 

 

Graceless Captures: Wedding Photography Woes

I’ve been helping my friend photograph weddings. I like doing them, they are fun, challenging, and excellent practice. But bless my OWN heart, I am about as physically coordinated as a beached Blobfish. They are a lot of hard work, and physically demanding. I remember someone said, “But you’re just taking pictures, how is that tiring?” Yes, you are. And to take those pictures, you have to MOVE. You don’t just stand there and press a button. You are carrying heavy, expensive equipment in a bag, on your shoulder, in your pockets, around your neck, and running around, sometimes crawling/crouching/sitting everywhere, following the party like paparazzi… And moving FAST, because if you don’t, you might miss something. Your job is to capture it… ALL of it. After all, these are someone’s memories.

I’ve done some weddings solo in the past when I was a starving student, but I had to give it up. It was just about more than I could handle by myself. Too much stress, not enough money. I’ve quoted people absolute steals of prices for weddings and they have refused, saying it’s “too much money”. I want to scream at them… You have NO IDEA how hard they are… how much skill, patience, stamina, physical exertion, stress, and talent it takes to shoot one.

It’s a nerve-racking experience, and from what I’ve noticed, most of the wedding parties are all about the same:

1. The bride’s Mom is running around going crazy

2. The groom’s Mom is running around going crazy

3. The bride’s Dad is laughing and joking 

4. The groom’s Dad is laughing and joking

5. The groomsmen are all sweaty, uncomfortable and complaining

6. The bridesmaids are all sweaty, uncomfortable and complaining

7. The flower girl is no where to be found/asleep/pouting/uncooperative

8. The ring bearer is no where to be found/asleep/pouting/uncooperative

9. The groom is a nervous wreck

10. The bride is exhausted and is about one more demand from her breaking point

As a photographer, you don’t just wear one hat. In a perfect world, you think you are just going to take pictures. You’re not. You serve as a psychologist, therapist, server, carrier, mover, locator, teacher, conductor, hand maiden, bringer of things, taker of things, organizer and planner. You are the person who is beside the bride generally from start-to-finish, so you see it all go down. ALL of it. These are people you may have never met in your life, and you hear the dirty details backstage, and witness all of the drama first-hand.

There are 3 things we always wish for before a wedding ceremony:

1) good light!!!! — we PRAY For this…

2) a pretty wedding — for pretty pictures

3) NO DRAMA… 

Usually you can get 2 of your wishes, if you’re lucky. But you’re bound to get 1 that goes awry.

I can say that the last wedding we shot was beautiful. I loved all of it, the colors, the flowers, the clothes, the setup, the photogenic and cooperative wedding party, the location. The light could have been more desirable (it was FULL sun during ceremony), but hey, you can’t have it all.BUT… after running around for a couple hours, your legs start feeling rubbery and you’re concentration is fading… and that is where things go wrong.

The wedding was set up with a large tent with guest tables and chairs under it for supper. The buffet was located inside a building right next to the tent, and it backed up to a porch. A porch with uneven terrain (i.e., steps). In my haste to run and take pictures of the food before it was picked over, I failed to notice a step and put one foot forward off of the edge and fell at a 90 degree angle, directly to the ground, in front of everyone sitting under the tent.

Two thing went through my mind: OMG MY CAMERA and OMG WHO SAW ME. The camera was fine, luckily the lens hood took the brunt of the impact. I got up quickly, dusted myself off. No one could be seen laughing hysterically, so I assumed they didn’t notice. But maybe they aren’t as rude as I am… cause I know I would have damn sure laughed if I had seen it.

Artist’s rendition of the event:

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Luckily the only thing that was severely damaged was my ego… my knees escaped with bad bruising and minor skin abrasions.

Don’t worry, I won’t quit weddings, and despite my injury, I don’t regret helping Victoria shoot that one at all. In hindsight, it was a ton of fun… and at least not now, as long as I am working with a partner I will continue to shoot. Weddings keep you on your toes (and sometimes on your ass)… and it’s all about the art, anyway… right?

Old Sheldon Church Ruins {{ Yemassee, South Carolina }}

Well,¬†it’s been a while. But have I got a great photo essay for you!¬†I was able to¬†visit somewhere I’ve always wanted to see this Saturday, and it did not disappoint! Old Sheldon Church was originally built around the 1740’s, but was subsequently burned down by the British. It was rebuilt (new roof, interior) in the early 1800’s, but then the Yankees gutted it during the time of Sherman’s march. Now all that is left is the nearly 300 year old ruins, and it is a special place here on Earth. I can’t really tell you why, but there really is something amazing about it. I’m not sure if it is a reminder of what once was, all the emotions that have been felt on those grounds… the numerous weddings, funerals, services, tears, laughter, pain… or the sense of¬†feeling just a tad bit¬†closer to something or someone much larger¬†than yourself. Or maybe, it’s both. Go visit. Then you decide.

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Fun Fact: Occasionally services are still held (Easter and Christmas) and weddings are also booked here because it is still considered a church!

All photos taken with Canon 6D and 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens, enhanced in LR5.

1 Year Anniversary Session

People get Engagement photos before they are married, so why not get Anniversary photos, AFTER they are married? I think surviving a year of marriage is a bigger achievement than just planning to get married. So do Robin and Wes, the happy couple I had the opportunity to photograph last weekend for their 1 year anniversary. They were even happier than many engaged couples I know, which speaks highly about their relationship. Thanks for being so adorably smitten with each other, y’all!

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All photos taken with Canon 6D and 50mm f/1.2L, RAW format, processed in Lightroom and finished in Photoshop

First Maternity Session!

I haven’t done much “human” photography lately, but one of my best friends in the world is about to become an Aunt and her brother and sister-in-law let me use them as guinea pigs for my very first maternity session. I was super excited to see how these turned out… talk about an adorable couple!

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All photos were taken with the Canon 6D and 50mm f/1.2L lens.

Fuzzy Puppies and Fluffy Stuff

These are the beautiful little monsters we’ve been fostering over the past two months… God knows I love them to pieces but can’t wait for my sanity to return. We’re down to 2… the deaf babies, of course. They aren’t so bad. They sleep like a rock and have tons of fun playing together. Luckily we have experience with deaf dogs (Buckley) so they aren’t hard at all. Love these babies… and they are SUPER photogenic. My gosh!

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A Few Furry Faces {May}

I’ve been so busy lately, I haven’t had a lot of free time to sneak down to the shelter, but I managed to go a week ago. With the help of another volunteer, Chuck (thanks so much!), I was able to catch these guys (and gals) at their best…

 

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Thor-in-a-box

My parents gave us a lovely wooden bench to sit on our back porch. It has a nifty little area that opens up and allows you to put junk and whatnots inside. We generally use it to keep our shoes in, but its most prominent occupant is an array of dog toys… and Thor knows it. So, every day, we let him outside to do his biz, and next thing I know, he’s sitting on the box, barking at us to open it for him and get out a tennis ball or frisbee and play. I’ve never met a dog more obsessed with toys.

Anyway, today he decided to stick his whole upper body in the box and Ryan just so happened to help his back end in the box too. So, there he sat. In his little toybox, staring at me like, “where did all the toys go?”

Pretty boy…

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Thor in a Box

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These photos were taken with my Canon 6D and 50mm f/1.2L lens in mid to late evening light. Adjusted in Lightroom.