How to Setup a Professional Photoshoot for Pets with Santa (Made Easy for Beginners)

December 16, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

My photography journey is continuing as I volunteered at my local animal rescue center (PAWS of Dearborn County) with photos with Santa.  You can find my gallery from the photoshoot here.

Since this was one of my first attempts at something like this, I put a lot of planning into the setup to ensure a successful event.  I made two mistakes that I was able to recover from thanks to my wife being able to bring me an additional piece.  So, let me fill you in on the process.

First Step - Client Visit
I started with a visit to the location about a month before the event to talk with the client (even though it was a volunteer event).  We discussed the date and time of the event and looked at the room to be used for the photoshoot.  The room had a single door to the outside and did not have any windows so all lighting had to come from the fluorescent overhead lighting and studio lights that I would bring.  We agreed on the following:

  1. The event would run from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM
  2. We would print a 5x7 on-site for each pet (They provided me a printer)
  3. I would provide a link to a gallery on my website for the pet owners to download a digital copy.
  4. They are providing the Santa (The Santa is a dog trainer - a plus for sure)
  5. The backdrop is provided by PAWS of Dearborn County and set up by them.

Second Step - Prep

Printer setup
Once I got home with the printer I had to install the printer on my laptop and test the printer.  This took me a long time due to typical issues with printers and getting them to work with your computer - good that I am a computer geek.  

Printer supplies (ink and paper) were a little short and I acquired the needed supplies for the event.

Tethering my camera to my laptop
The next hurdle is how to get the photos from my camera to my laptop quickly. Tethering my camera to my laptop is the solution, but I have not done tethering other than once at home to see how it worked and that was a long time ago.  I practiced and found this to be easier than installing the print driver.

The Printing Opportunity
I used Lightroom to tether my camera to my laptop which places the photos directly on my laptop.  Lightroom has a feature to print two 5x7 photos on a single 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of photo paper.  So far so good, and little by little I am solving each hurdle.  I practiced printing a couple of photos and had a minor issue with the printer to fix, but all was good.

Follow-up Visit
A few days before the event I visited the location again with my camera and several lenses.  I brought a 50mm, 85mm, and my 24-70mm.  I tested several options with these lenses to see which would be best.  My 85mm was not a fit, so I decided to bring the 50mm and 24-70mm for the photoshoot.  The backdrop was in-place with a decorated Christmas tree and some doggie toys in a basket under the tree.

Night before Prep
You may not think there is much to do here, but trust me this prep is important.

  1. Camera
  2. Batteries fully charged
  3. Memory cards (yes cards) formatted and ready.  You never know when one will fail.
    But should be fine since going straight to the computer
  4. Laptop and tethering cable
  5. Printer and printer cables
  6. Pack Lenses
    Lens cloths
  7. Collect and pack gear
    Studio light
    Softbox for studio light
    Light stand
    Tripod L-bracket to allow both portrait and landscape orientations
    Extension chord
    Painter/Gapper's tape to secure extension chord to the ground
    Duct tape to secure tripod and light stand to prevent tipping if bumped
  8. Extras:
    Go Pro for some footage
    Snack: Protein bars and drinks

Third Step - Day of the shoot

I arrived an hour and a half early to set up for the photoshoot.  You can see my extensive list above, so I will spare you the details of setting it all up with the exception of one prep step I failed to do.  The softbox I brought with me did not work with my studio light (it didn't fit).  I had to call my wife to bring my second softbox to use instead.  That was the first mistake I referred to above.  Oh, one more thing.  I decided that since my camera was going to be on a tripod and not mobile, I stuck with the 24-70mm lens throughout the shoot to allow for adjusting the framing.  Here are a couple of photos of the completed setup:

Photo Shoot SetupPhoto Shoot SetupPhoto Shoot Setup Photo Shoot SetupPhoto Shoot SetupPhoto Shoot Setup

Fourth Step - Photo with Santa Time

Everything started great as planned and a few photos were taken and printed without issue. My camera settings if you are interested were as follows:

Aperture was my important setting to have a decent depth of field to ensure focus with moving pets.  My aperture was set to 4.5.
I set the shutter speed to 200 ( no flash, but still stuck with that setting).
I had to push the ISO to 800 to get a bright enough exposure.

I would have liked to have had a faster shutter speed, but it worked well as the pets were good with sitting nicely with Santa (for the most part).

With everything going great, I decided to introduce a new item to my setup (aka mistake number 2).  I added a remote (wired) trigger so I could interact better with the pets and Santa.  I had not practiced with this device and it wasn't long before I started having issues.  At some point, the remote trigger was set to with a delayed shutter release.  This caused me a small panic, but I work in technology and can troubleshoot quickly.   I attempted the tried and true restart options with my camera and my computer to no avail.  Then thought, what changed?  Aha - the remote trigger.  I removed the trigger and was back in business.  Lesson learned:  If you have a good plan, don't mess with it.

And Done

All photos turned out great and PAWS of Dearborn County posted this comment on their Facebook page:

Thank you to everyone that came to our Pics with Santa yesterday, it was so much fun and our biggest one ever.

This was an awesome experience and I prepared well.  It taught me a few lessons in addition to the two mistakes I made.  Be sure to visit the full gallery and I hope to make a Youtube video as well on this topic.  So to wrap up, here are a few of my favorites from my gallery.  I am in the first one below:

Santa PhotoSanta PhotoSanta Photo Santa PhotoSanta PhotoSanta Photo
Santa PhotoSanta PhotoSanta Photo Santa PhotoSanta PhotoSanta Photo



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