Whether it’s your Instagram feed or Pinterest board, these days it’s all about the photos. And as we all know, us humans love nothing more than browsing pics of pups and (for some people…) their feline friends.
For rescue dogs, a cute photo can actually have a huge impact on their future – and can even save their lives.
For the pups at Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue, a non-profit organization that rescues dogs from high-kill shelters down south and gets them adopted in or around New York City, their “profile pics” (the rescue is crazy active on Facebook) play a big part in getting them adopted.
We talked to Hilary Benas, the talented photographer behind the scenes at Badass who is responsible for taking these amazingly adorable photos that have arguably saved some doggie lives.
When did you first become interested in photography? I’ve been shooting for as long as I can remember. My dad is a very talented photographer, so I grew up around cameras and film. My first camera was a Diana, and like most kids of the 80’s, seeing a Polaroid develop in my hands for the first time was pure magic.
Did you start off photographing dogs or did that develop gradually over time? As I kid I endlessly photographed our family pets. Don’t all kids?
Have you always loved dogs? Always. I don’t trust people that don’t love dogs.
How did you first become involved with Badass? I missed having a dog, but because my lifestyle wasn’t conducive to having one, I would sometimes sit by the dog park and watch the dogs play. I started seeing the Badass T-shirts everywhere, so I looked up the rescue and sent them a message saying that I wanted to volunteer. I explained that I would love to help out with handling dogs, but that I might be of use as a photographer as well. The first event that I volunteered at, I actually tried to do both. It was pretty funny/disastrous, holding a leash with one hand, and trying to compose and shoot with the other. When I got home and started editing the pics of all of the beautiful dogs, I was hooked.
How many dogs do you think you’ve photographed for Badass? Too many to count! Several hundred.
Are there one or two memories of you have of some special dogs you’ve photographed over the years? There are some dogs whose stories just destroy you. Avon Barksdale (fka Taurus) was one of those dogs. His original owner had passed away, and during his time at the shelter he was becoming despondent, basically just staring at the wall. A volunteer at the shelter down south took an interest in him and starting taking him for long walks, and he started to come back to life. I was so happy when Badass agreed to take him into rescue.
When he finally landed up north at one of our events, I was extra determined to get good shots of him to give him the best chance at landing an amazing family. He was adopted and that was that! (so I thought) A few weeks later, I was shooting an event and this couple approached me and told me that they had fallen in love with Avon/Taurus through the photographs. They actually thanked ME. I had been shooting a ton for Badass around this time and I was beginning to feel very burnt out. Hearing this reminded me why I was doing what I was doing. And now Avon’s parents are good friends and active members of the Badass Alumni community.
You capture some amazing moments, expressions and “poses” from these Badass dogs. Given the limitations of shooting so many dogs in an incredibly chaotic environment, I take what I can get. These rescue pups have been through so much change by the time I get to them, so I try to be aware of that and that the camera might be a little scary. If they seem skittish, I often crouch down and wait for them to come give me and my camera a sniff. Other dogs show up bounding with energy, and it’s a challenge just to get a photo that’s not a blur. With these dogs, it often helps to give them an activity, like walking back and forth, to focus their energy, and I’ll shoot while they’re walking. Sometimes I use treats or a squeaker, sometimes I engage them in play, sometimes I try to be as inconspicuous as possible. It’s really about figuring out what works for each dog.
What are some of your tips for getting dogs to “pose” for photos? When dog owners ask me how to get better pics of their dogs, these are some tips I give:
– Be as prepared as possible, so that you can really be present. Know your camera, even if it’s just your phone. Don’t wait until your dog is sitting all crossy-pawed to figure out your settings.
– The more light, the better, especially for camera phones; just make sure that it’s soft, diffused light. Harsh sun and shadows are tricky for anyone, and especially tough for photographing black or white dogs. Try setting up near a window, or outside on an overcast day.
– Most dogs (and people for that matter) don’t love having a camera trained on them. If you can get your dog to think you’re just doing something fun, they can relax and be themselves, and then it’s just a matter of capturing it. So, be prepared, but then just be patient.
The photo you took of Captain Morgan and Badass Director Eva Armstrong went viral and got Badass some great press! Why do you think people responded so strongly to this particular photo, and to your photos of dogs in general?
The formula that makes a post go viral is a confounding bit of magic. Captain Morgan had a great story, and an adorable face to go with it, but there are SO MANY amazing rescue stories. We are very fortunate at Badass to have an arsenal of highly talented volunteers. Our social media team does an amazing job of culling content and putting it out on the various media outlets at the right time.
What other types of photography work do you do in addition to photographing dogs? I shoot what I love. If you look at my portfolio, you’ll see portraits, rock-n-roll, yoga, landscapes, urbanscapes, and of course loads of dogs!
To view Hilary’s entire portfolio or inquire about commissions, please visit hilarybenasphoto.com.