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. 😀embellishment

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?

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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Meeting Miss Lawton

In Boneventure Cemetery, there is but one monument that stands out among the rest. Although it is not towering high, or even massive in volume, it has drawn myself as well as hundreds of others to seek it. It’s a plain statue. A portrait of stone. To say it is simple would be unjust, but it truly is. It’s just a young girl, in the likeness of the deceased, posed ever so appropriately at the side of her own grave. She looks as if she is weeping for the loss of herself. But alas, she is not weeping. She has no eyes, no true expression, just spheres of stone. If you look close enough, you may see them. You may even believe them to move. Her mouth is posed open, in just a slight way. You cannot tell if it is meant to express surprise, loss, confusion, helplessness, hopelessness. Part of you wants to tell her that she will be okay. But then you realize, she is not real. It’s an illusion and an image which has ingrained itself into the minds and continues to haunt all of those who visit… Including myself.

Her epitaph reads, “Allured to brighter worlds and led the way.” What a beautiful sentiment. Such a nice way of indicating someone has passed. I can somehow picture the statue, coming to life, with her flowy dress and clutching her flowery wreath, running through the flowers and trees, finding a brighter world. All the while, the mortals (we) follow her lead…Not knowing what is next, but following, nevertheless…

There are many tails about Corinne Elliott Lawton, the person who came before the corpse who now lies in this plot. Stories have spun through the centuries until a tale of unattainable love and suicide is concocted, and is now fed to tour groups daily. Alas, it is but a fable.

Corinne, living in the dark times she did, was stricken by an illness. According to her mother’s diary from around that time, it appeared to be a severe respiratory infection of some sort. Or perhaps even a dreadful common cold. (Yellow Fever epidemic? Pneumonia? The Flu?) Days passed, and Corinne appeared to be doing better, however the illness reared its ugly head once more and finally took Corinne down with it. Written in her mother’s diary, Corinne drew her last breath on January 24th, 1877.

Corinne’s father was of nobility, of high rank in the confederate army, hence the elaborate statue you find in Boneventure. He commissioned a famous Italian artist to create the likeness of his beloved daughter and turn her into stone. Now she sits there eternally.

He did a fine job.

Meet Corinne.

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Rose Hill Cemetery

One of my most recent adventures was last Sunday. Instead of church, we found peace and spirituality in another, more unusual place. We participated (somewhat) in the Rose Hill Ramble, which is held every Sunday before Halloween. It was a large group of people and one man with a megaphone wandering through Macon’s largest historic cemetery (and one of my personal favorites), Rose Hill. I’ve been known to ramble through Rose Hill in years past with my old Canon Rebel XS. The intentions were good, but it was difficult to hear, and people’s heads were interfering with my photo taking. We wound up wandering off from the large group and my creative juices started flowing. I took a few shots and threw them in Lightroom to play around with the colors/contrast. I feel like in old/abandoned/cemetery photography, there is a little more leeway for creative edits… as long as they are not overdone. I’ll go back one day when it’s not as hot… and I can drive my car. 🙂

Here’s what I came up with…

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Lord knows I love a creeping vine on a tombstone.

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There is something so beautiful and peaceful about the Son and the sun…

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John B. Ross, another famous occupant of Rose Hill. An 8 year old little boy who aspired to be a fireman when he grew up. Read the blog post about him by Stephanie Lincecum HERE.

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Ellen Gertrude headstone. 9 year old girl who died in 1859 from Scarlet Fever. Stephanie Linececum of Rose Hill blog wrote about her, READ HERE.

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Dr. Robert Collins family plot statue: read about his wife and her sister HERE. (Great history lesson!)

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Dr. George Pierce Gostin, M.D. headstone. Died in 1912, age 60. It reads: In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

 

Which one do you like best? Tell me what you think…

 

 

On a side note, the 24-70mm is a beast. It’s so sharp and intuitive. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I finally took the dive and bought it.

All photos taken with Canon 6D and 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk II lens with UV filter & hood. Edited in digital darkroom.

 

Propofol, Profanity, and Plasticity: Why Anesthesia is Awesome

Luckily, I have been fortunate enough in my 27 years of existence to have avoided the need for any surgical procedures; however, I’ve experienced being put to sleep twice. If you’ve never had anesthesia before, I will be the first to tell you that entering a state of sleep that borders death isn’t half bad. Honestly.

I will begin by describing my most recent procedure: an upper GI endoscopy. I’ve heard horror stories about the chemically induced confusion for colonoscopies and endoscopies by using the drug Versed (midazolam). I know that with the use of this particularly potent benzodiazepine, it (1) Makes you not give a crap and (2) It has an amnesiac effect, so you forget everything that happened to you while it’s in your system. Now, here is my beef with this practice: You still get a tube shoved down your throat (or if you are over the age of 50 and every 10 years thereafter, via rectumus inserticus) WHILE YOU ARE AWAKE… yet only SOMEWHAT conscious. However, you DON’T REMEMBER ANYTHING. Voodoo, I say.

My gastroenterologist, a very tall, young and handsome Brazillian man whose name I can’t spell or pronounce, informs me after a recent stint of chronic stomach pain, they want to examine my innards. I immediately informed him that I was onto his mind games, and I shall not be duped by their Versed trickery. This is when he informed me, in his gorgeous accent, “No, Mees But-lerr, ac-tulee, we arre go-ing to uce the pro-puh-full.” Swoon.

That day, D&D/DDs (Denise & Dane/Designated Drivers) drove me to the appointment. They took me in the back room to get me ready for the procedure. It was decided that it should be Denise, not Dane, who accompanied me… just in case I decided to strip down naked and jump up and down on the bed post-anesthesia. We were pretty sure Dane wouldn’t know how to handle it.

I prepped for the procedure, putting on the usual unflattering garb. They refused to let me keep my pants on, which I protested and caused me to question their motives. “That tube is only destined for my mouth, right?”

They introduced me to the nurse anesthetist and Dr. Brazil came in and spoke to me in his soothing voice as they wheeled me away… Mom gave me the “Denise smile”, the one where she looks at me adoringly, but uncomfortable. She knew what was coming next…

Last thing I remember was seeing the milky juice being injected into my veins… and counting down from 10… 9… 8… Just 8.

After the procedure, I woke up in recovery. I had on clothes. I felt like a zombie. Denise was still smiling, and Dane was sitting on go. He shuttled me out of the building as soon as possible. I slept. They’d tell me how I’d embarrassed them later via telephone.

Mom: “You were quite the comedian today, young lady.”

Me: “Oh yeah? Did Daddy turn red?”

Mom: “Yes, but he missed most of it. Luckily he wasn’t there when you told the anesthetist he was hot.”

Me: “But he wasn’t.”

Mom: “You didn’t care…”

Me: “Oh.”

Mom: “There’s more… you asked the doctor if your esophagus was ‘beautiful’.”

Me: “Oh, bless his heart.”

Mom: “He didn’t really know what to say, he just said everything looked fine. You corrected him: ‘beautiful.’ I think they were even more uncomfortable when you told the entire recovery room about your LAST experience of being put to sleep.”

Me: “Uh oh…”

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There is a good reason why the propofol structure looks like a little man going “YAY!”

 

(FLASH BACK TO 2009…)

My wisdom teeth were coming in more crooked than young Forrest Gump’s back so during my month off after my first year of Pharmacy school, I decided to be proactive and get them taken out. What a stupid idea. The highlight of this experience, by far, was my reception of controlled substances.

Versed pre-induction. A short-acting barbiturate. Sleep. Pure bliss.

I “woke up” 8 hours later, but OFFICIALLY I had awaken in recovery. I woke up from my mild coma and screamed. My Dad thought they had killed me. Luckily, it was just “Versed Tears” (Google it.) 

On the way out, I told the anesthesiologist he was “the man” (it’s apparent that I appreciate their art) and cursed through the waiting room, at the reception desk, and the entire way to the car. They tried to help me into the front seat of my parents’ Avalon and I swore some more. I told them their car was ugly. My Dad reprimanded me, in true Dane-like fashion. I was oblivious. We headed home.

The true pearl is coming… the whole reason for me telling this tale of drugs and defiance… 

For those of you who don’t know my Dad, he is a 65-year-old former school principal. He’s a good man, worked hard his entire life, and has very little patience for my silliness. Stern, serious, all-business. He’s a forced to be reckoned with, and possesses a limited sense of humor. He is Dane.

According to Denise’s recall of events, I was very talkative on the ride home. Mom said it was difficult to understand some of it, as I had about 5 wads of gauze shoved in both sides of my mouth, but continued to talk without cessation. I was bleeding. I was drugged. I was awake. But I was still sleeping. And TALKING.

We weren’t far from home, and I paused… interrupting my own sentence. I turned my head to my father, who was cruising at 55mph, at 10 and 2, concentrating on getting his extremely chemically altered daughter back home safely. I am sure he was growing more and more uncomfortable by the mile. Mother said I turned and looked at him with glazed over eyes, gauze in mouth, and raised both hands to my chest. I cupped my hands and pressed them against myself, then proceeded to ask, “Daddy? Do my boobs look bigger?”

Mama said at that point she saw a look come across his face that she speculates has happened only once in their 30+ years of marriage, complete with raised eyebrows and widened eyes, a look of confusion, horror and genuine hilarity. 

She laughed hysterically, “WRONG SURGERY, BROOKE!”

I became solemn at this point, stared at my lap, and entered complete silence. I’m sure my parents were relieved, but I almost feel sorry for myself in that moment… I can’t imagine the disappointment I must have felt… because I sure as heck don’t remember it.