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Every photographer has their own workflow when preparing for a shoot – which can vary a lot based on what kind of photography you practice. I specialize in animal rescue photography and portraits – so my prep work is very different than a landscape photographer’s. If you’re still working on your own workflow, hopefully this will give you some ideas for finalizing your pre-shoot routine.

Choosing a Location

Since the majority of my photoshoots take place at an animal shelter, most of the location scouting process is taken care of for me. I’ll either be taking photos outside where the dogs go for their walks, or inside with my lights and a backdrop.

If I’m working with a client for portraits,, I’ll discuss with them about where they would like to shoot. Once we set a location, I like to scout it out a day or two before at the same time I plan on shooting. I’ll get to see the light that I’ll have to work with and get to plan out the shots I’d like to get. Many times I’ll take my dog with me, so I have a subject to take some test photos with.

Picking a Palette

When photographing indoors at a shelter, one of the most important steps is picking my color palette: what Savage Seamless roll will I be using?

There are two different ways that I tend to choose a color palette:

Holidays – Is there a holiday coming up? Seasonality can help make color choice an easy decision. Primary Red was a perfect fit around Christmas, Black worked well for a NYE themed shoot, and I plan on using my Coral for Valentines Day photo sessions.

Primary Red Seamless Paper


Animal Coloring – Knowing the coloring of the dogs I’m going to photograph is another deciding factor when choosing a color palette. If I know I’m going to be photographing mostly light colored dogs, I would avoid white or cream backdrops; for mostly black dogs, I would like a lighter colored roll.

Black Seamless Paper


When I’m photographing people, it’s also helpful to know what my subjects are planning on wearing. This can help ensure that they do not clash with anything at our shooting location or with each other!

Learning About Subjects

When photographing dogs, it’s important to try to learn a little bit about them before photographing them.

Some dogs come to a shelter with behavioral or medical issues, or a history of abuse and fear of new people, which determines how I will interact with them. You want to make sure that a photo shoot is a positive experience for an animal you are photographing, and they can easily be anxious about a stranger putting a clicking metal box in their face.

I like to find out if they are motivated by treats or a specific type of toy; this can help them stay still and make eye contact with the camera. Sometimes they know how to sit and stay, which makes things easier for the shelter volunteer assisting me. I also like to find out how they are with props, like bandanas.

It’s good to learn about the relationship between dogs as well. Sometimes, dogs are what we call a “bonded pair.” These are dogs who lived together before coming to the shelter, and who are so connected to each other that we ensure they are not separated during the adoption process. If they are a bonded pair, I need to make sure to photograph them separately and together. It’s nice to show off each dog on their own but also show them interacting together, so potential adopters can picture both dogs joining their family.

Olive Green Seamless Paper

If I’m doing a portrait shoot with people, I try to find out how comfortable they are in front of a camera.

Choose Your Gear

It’s important to pick out your camera/lens combo in advance. I always shoot with my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and since I generally take portraits, I bring prime lenses with me on all of my shoots. I tend to use a 45mm F1.2 lens (a 90mm equivalency for full frame cameras) or a 25mm F1.2 or F1.8 lens (a 50mm equivalency for full frame cameras). One, if not both, of these lenses will come with me wherever I go.

Because my camera has in-body image stabilization, I do not shoot with a tripod, but you should evaluate if you need to pair your gear with a tripod based on your shooting situation.

If I will be shooting inside, I pack my Savage Universal LED Portrait Kit and a power strip, so that I’ll have more flexibility with where I can place my lights. You should figure out if you need to bring any external flashes or strobes.

The Physical Preparation

Once I’m mentally prepared for my shoot, there are a lot of little things to double check on that can be easy to forget if you don’t have a standardized workflow.

    – Be sure to charge your battery, and keep an extra charged if you have one
    – Check your SD cards to make sure there is plenty of space, and bring extra cards with you if you have them
    – Clean your lenses
    – Load all of your gear into your car in advance, to avoid last minute packing and forgetfulness

Be the Early Bird

Plan to get to your shoot early. When I’m shooting at a shelter, I will have volunteers who help hold the dogs for me. I like to be sure I’m completely set up before my assistant gets there, so that we can jump right in. Check what the traffic will be that time of day to make sure you don’t end up running late!

Expect the Unexpected

No matter how well I prepare – I ultimately accept that I have to be ready to roll with whatever changes pop up. I like to practice a little moment of mindfulness right before a shoot. You could be working with a scared or overly energetic animal, experiencing unexpected changes to light and weather, or waiting on a late client – but you always need to make those around you feel like you’re totally in control.

If you’re photographing animals, they can pick up on your nervous energy and will feed off it. If you’re photographing people, you want them to feel like they’re rocking their shoot – and your confidence will help them be more confident. Remember – it’s scary in front of the camera too!

What’s your pre-shoot routine?

Amanda Strozeski

Savage Universal Featured PhotographerAmanda Strozeski is a professional animal rescue photographer based out of Pennsylvania. She is a member of HeARTs Speak, an international nonprofit organization uniting art and advocacy to increase the visibility of shelter animals. She is an Instagram influencer, along with her constantly smiling dog at @itsmisterbarclay. She also works on the marketing team at Olympus, and is an advocate for the wonders of shooting mirrorless. She has spoken at events like Imaging USA and loves to share her photography experiences with others.  


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