By Katherine Spink, PAWS Staff
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to our adorable adoptables, it can mean the difference between a few days or a few months of patiently waiting for the perfect forever family to walk through our shelter door.
In this month’s Volunteer Spotlight, we talk to Angie McMeins (pictured right, with Sadie). She's one of several talented Web Team photographers who kindly give their time and expertise to capturing that perfect moment for each and every PAWS adoptable.
What led you to get involved at PAWS?
I’ve always wanted to work in animal rescue but never had the time when I had to work full time to support myself, a mortgage and three pets. I worked in corporate advertising for years and it was unrewarding work that didn’t fulfill my creative needs. Now, I’m lucky to have a supportive husband and the opportunity for a “second chance” in life.
When I looked at the volunteer opportunities at PAWS and saw I could be a photographer, the decision was a no brainer. I’ve combined my education and life experience with two of my passions: photography and animals!
Tell us some of your favorite things about your role at PAWS.
I absolutely love working with the animals, they are why we’re here. Even if I’m not feeling my best, I can come in and get some 'fur therapy' and go home with a smile. Photographing rescue animals is the most challenging (and the most rewarding) thing I’ve ever done. I've also made some great friends, I always feel at home when I’m at PAWS.
Talk us through a typical shift.
I work with shelter staff to compile a list of animals that need to be photographed, and then off I go! We have many adopters who drive a long way to meet our animals based on the photos we post online, so our focus is to get the best possible photos of each animal and help someone fall in love with them.
What do you do when you’re not at PAWS?
Besides photography, my passion is scuba diving. Anyone who thinks taking topside (what we divers call 'land') photos is difficult should try shooting underwater loaded down with dive gear, paying attention to dive time and depth, while chasing down a constantly moving fish not remotely interested in posing! As for work, I started a pet sitting business several years ago. I’m also an avid reader, and I love to cook, garden and spend time outdoors, usually with a camera in hand!
What are you hoping for when you come to take a photo of an animal available for adoption?
My hope is that my photos might help an animal get adopted more quickly. I hope for good lighting, a calm animal, dry ground (since I often lay down to get at eye level) and a place where I can shoot uninterrupted. However, hopes and reality often differ, so I just take it one animal at a time and try to get the best photos I can.
I want to minimize their stress, give them a break from the kennel, let them smell things and hopefully get a few good pictures. I know I’ve nailed a photo when I see it and my heart skips a beat. When that animal gets adopted quickly, it’s the best feeling in the world.
What are the specific challenges of photographing shelter companion animals?
Where do I start?! Besides bad weather and bad lighting, I’m dealing with confused, stressed animals who don’t understand why they’re in this strange, loud environment. They don’t know me, and a lot of them are scared of the camera.
I often try to spend time with them before I even try to take a picture; give them some treats, let them smell me, let them hear my voice, maybe give a scratch behind the ears if they’ll let me.
If I’m successful in winning their trust, then I start taking photos - hanging onto the leash with one hand and operating the camera with the other, all while figuring out how to get them to look at me, to stop licking the lens, to stop stealing hot dogs out of my treat bag, to stop trying to chase that squirrel!
Take Jack (pictured right) for example. In typical beagle fashion, he was far more interested in treats than in being cooperative for the camera. Taking photos of him was a challenge as he was either in the process of barking or just finished barking with a funny look on his face. I finally did get a nice photo of his beautiful brown eyes and soft velvety ears.
Any funny moments to share?
My funniest PAWS moment actually involves kittens. I love going in the cat colony room at PAWS in Lynnwood since I can photograph several cats at once and get some kitty love at the same time. This particular day, I was trying to take photos of a cat that was more interested in smelling my shoes than looking at the camera, so I sat down on the floor to get a better angle.
All of the sudden, I feel a “thump” on my back. A kitten had jumped on me and was climbing up my back! As I was twisting to try to get the kitten, I felt a leg go down the back of my pants! So by this time, the first cat had stopped smelling my shoes and crawled in my lap, the climbing kitten had managed to crawl up my braid and was sitting on my head (memo to self, don’t wear long hair in a style that cats can climb!), and a third cat had its leg down my pants.
I just sat on the floor covered in cats and laughed until I cried. I’m really glad no one was around, I’m sure I would have ended up on YouTube!
As for taking good animal photos, here are Angie’s top tips:
Focus on the eyes: The eyes are the story, they show the animal's personality, their feelings, their soul. You don’t have to show the entire animal, focus on the essence of that animal and let their story speak for itself.
Get on their level: Don’t look down on them, lay down on the ground or the floor and see the world the way they do. Try some unique angles, maybe shooting below their nose or through a bush. This leads to much more interesting results.
Be patient: Photographing animals is challenging in any circumstance but animals in a shelter add a new dimension. Spend the time making them comfortable, have treats, love on them, let them walk around. I’ve spent an hour with one frightened hyperactive dog, and ended up getting fantastic photos. We are there to get the best photos we can, don’t rush the process.
What would you say to anyone interested in photography at PAWS?
Sign up for volunteer orientation now! We’re always looking for new talented people to join us. It doesn’t matter if you’re an amateur enthusiast or a pro, or what kind of equipment you use. All you need is a love for animals, a passion for photography and a heart of gold.
We also need handlers to assist our photographers in getting the animals out for photos, holding and positioning them, and giving treats or playing with the animal to get them to interact. Make a difference and join us in our mission of helping animals at PAWS find their forever homes.
Thanks for this fascinating insight into photography at PAWS Angie – we couldn’t do what we do without you and our wonderful Web Team!
Inspired by Angie? Become a PAWS volunteer today.
No spare time to volunteer? There's another way you can help us. Donate now.
October is National Adopt A Shelter Dog Month and we're celebrating! Check out our adoption special for adult dogs 7yrs+.