Behind the Scenes with the VBAS Photo Team

by Cheyenne Hohman

Lights, Camera, Action! But not always in that order. For the VBAS photo team, it’s usually more of a blur of all three! The great photos you see in VBAS newsletter articles and social media posts are the final product of setup, clean-up, wrangling, hot dogs, catnip, dangly feathers, squeaky toys and, most of all, patience.

The VBAS photo team isn’t just taking pictures of cats and dogs, either. Sometimes the list of animals to photograph includes hamsters, roosters, bunnies, or any animal that needs a signal boost or a clear photo for Pet Harbor. Every animal is brought from its crate, pen, coop, or wherever it is taking up residence, to the ‘studio’ – a corner of the conference room, a storage room, or play yard that is temporarily converted into a professional photo booth, for a few hours every week. For nearly a decade, the team has been photographing between 50-100 adoptable animals per month.

The all-volunteer team brings animals in one at a time (except for bonded pairs, who are typically done together) for their moment in the spotlight. Various volunteers get a chance to take photos using the equipment the team obtained through a grant from the Shelter Art Foundation in 2014: durable backdrops, lighting gear, stands and other necessary equipment. From behind the lens, capturing the right photo can be tricky.

Some animals are very cooperative and look straight into the camera (or give a sassy over-the-shoulder stare) but many are nervous, or more interested in a hot dog or a toy than looking at the camera. Snapping a perfect portrait is sometimes eclipsed by the hilarity of trying to get a critter to cooperate. The outtakes can be incredibly charming in their own right, and may capture the playfulness of a cat, or the loving desire of a dog who wants to give kisses more than anything.

For most animals, there are at least two people trying to keep them in front of the backdrop, and sometimes a third (or fourth!) volunteer is necessary, if the animal is especially wiggly or curious. It can be disappointing sometimes to know that an animal is nervous or confused and to capture that in a photo, but with some patience (and okay, maybe a toy or snack), volunteers can often coax a few good shots out of them. The satisfaction of knowing that these photographs will help the animal find a forever home is absolutely worth all the work.

Volunteers get experience with handling all sorts of animals for photos, and at the end of the day, it’s about helping these wonderful creatures find their forever families. And if you’ve seen any of the photos lately, you’ll agree that they look far more flattering – and professional – than a casual snapshot!