Interview with Sally Andersen-Bruce – The Photographer for The Adopt A Shelter Pet Stamps

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Bindi Su, Sally Andersen-Bruce and Frankie
Bindi Su, Sally Andersen-Bruce and Frankie (Photo credit: Michael Duffy)

You  might recall the US Postal Service’s Adopt A Shelter Pet Stamps that came out on March 17, 2010.  One night I was watching Animal Planet’s Cats 101 and found out who the photographer was (Sally Andersen-Bruce) for the stamp shoot – so I immediately Googled her the next day and requested an interview.  Sally Andersen-Bruce kindly obliged.  Thank you, Sally for the interview.

How did you get into photography?

When I was a young girl I loved watching slide shows and looking at photo albums.  When I was in middle school I was introduced to the darkroom in art class.  That was it.

 Specifically, pet photography?

Neuter Spay Stamp
Neuter Spay Stamp

I received an assignment from Derry Noyes, one of the art directors at USPS to photograph Neuter / Spay for a special cause stamp.  That was the beginning of my pet photo career.  I went to the local shelter and I’ve gone back at least once a week looking for the perfect face.  As we all know animals cannot speak so we have to get their message out to people who can help them.

Did you always think you would be in the photography business?

Adopt a Pet StampI fell in love with photography when I was in second grade so I guess the answer would be yes.  I didn’t even know that photography was a career.  I was shocked when I got into design school and met other people who loved photography as much as I loved it- I was in my element.

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Did you do anything before focusing on your photography business full time?

Attended design college and many odd jobs that just reinforced that I wanted to become a photographer.

How did you get involved with the US Postal Service for stamp photography?

Adopt a Pet StampI sent Derry Noyes, a personal friend, a poster I had photographed at The International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe New Mexico of a family of dolls.  I knew that she had young daughters and I thought that they might enjoy the poster.  I didn’t know that Derry was one of the art directors for the United States Postal Service. It happened to land on her desk the same day she was working on “Classic American Dolls” stamps.  She called me and asked me if I’d like to try

Audrey McKay, Chief Animal Control Officer, Bindi Su, Frankie, Sally Andersen-Bruce stamp photographer, Renee Gardner, manager Animal Welfare Society New Milford, CT
Audrey McKay, Chief Animal Control Officer, Bindi Su, Frankie, Sally Andersen-Bruce stamp photographer, Renee Gardner, manager Animal Welfare Society New Milford, CT (Photo Credit: Michael Duffy)

photographing the stamps.  It took me ten years to finally get the stamps accepted.  I did not understand the special design problems of an image that will be reproduced at stamp scale. Fortunately I learned a lot on that assignment and now I can shorten the process a bit some of the time.

Who chooses the final photo for a stamp? 
I do not.  I have several conversations with the art director before I begin a direction for photography.  It’s an evolving learning process, I photograph one thing, submit it to the art director and then she describes to me what is successful and what is not working and needs more fine tuning and then I begin all over again. 
I understand that you were the photographer for the recent “Adopt a Shelter Pet” series of stamps from the US Post Office, how did you or they go about choosing the cats that were featured?

Adopt a Pet StampOnce we had a design direction I called The Animal Welfare Society of New Milford manager, Renee Gardner and The Animal Control Officer, Audrey McKay and asked both of them to keep their eyes open for great cat faces that came into the pound or shelter or great cats that they had already placed in homes.  I tried to find as many different “looks” as possible.   There were many wonderful cats that were not chosen to appear on the stamps that easily could have replaced one of those that was chosen.

 Did people apply?
 No, but I now receive several pictures of cats every week from people who have volunteered to have their cat on a stamp and feel that a new series should be released.  I’m all for it.  Keep those letters and request going to the postal service and maybe we’ll be lucky enough to get a Cat Forever stamp, one never knows.

Or did you go to a shelter and choose them from there?

Animal Planet Cats 101
Willow, stamp cat,USPS official ambassador for Adopt A Shelter Pet being photographed by Sally Andersen-Bruce (in blue), Audrey McKay, Animal Control Officer in red, Producer and video crew from Animal Planet Cats 101 who featured Willow on their program

I photographed several cats: shelter cats that now had homes, cats that were in the shelter.   I submitted all of them to the postal service.  All of the animals have to have similar head sizes and enough space around them for the typography that appears on the stamp. I worked with one shelter, as my projects are confidential until the USPS officially announces the stamps.  Also there are many obstacles to over come to get into a shelter to make arrangements to take photos.  All the animals in the Adopt A Shelter Pet stamps were photographed in my photo studio. The Neuter / Spay stamps were photographed in two different shelters, one in a laundry room and one in a grooming room (hair was a big problem).

What makes a cat easy to work with as a model?

I think it’s very difficult to work with a cat.  I didn’t know any of these cats before the photo session, they can’t take directions from me.  I worked with the Animal Control Officer and a handler/trainer and the manager of the Animal Welfare Society of New Milford.  All that for a simple head shot. 
What makes a cat hard to work with as a model?

Adopt A Shelter Pet StampsThey hate to be transported to the photo studio.
They do not like to go into their carrier.
They do not like the strobe light flashing in their face.

Do you have any suggestions on how a cat owner might get their cat photographed?

The cat will be most comfortable with his owner so I would suggest watching one’s cat on a daily basis: where does he like to sit, where is he comfortable, take notes when he’s in a great pose-time of day, light. Also watch the quality of light, morning light, high noon, low afternoon light and see which makes the cat look most beautiful.  When I light a cat I try to copy sunlight.  There’s no greater or more beautiful source of light than nature, it constantly changes.  I work with only one light source. Most importantly be patient.

If one chooses to go to a photo studio I’d look at samples of that photographer’s work and choose the one whose photos you like the best.

Do you have a favorite cat that you’ve photographed?

Adopt A Shelter Pet StampsI like many of the cats.  I love the markings on Frankie the Siamese mix, I like the color of Willow the big grey cat I love some of the cats simply because I know their background stories and the journey that brought them to the shelter. I really liked Runner, A Cornish Rex who had a terrible limp from living a crate his entire life.  I’ve been working on a book of shelter cat portraits and the stories that brought them to the shelters, I’m looking for a publisher. I feel there are so

Frankie and Sally Andersen-Bruce
Frankie and Sally Andersen-Bruce (Photo Credit: Michael Duffy)

many wonderful cats available that have ended up in shelters, by no fault of their own, I want to let the general public know how they can adopt one of these great cats. 

 Do you have a pet photo that you’re most proud of?

I would have to say it would be the Adopt a Shelter Pet Stamps because those stamps and the United States Postal Service raised awareness to the cause and got the message out to so many people.  

What tricks can you suggest to help an animal (cat) cooperate?

Photo Credit: Gordon Bruce - First Day of Issue Ceremony- Burbank, CA Ellen DeGeneres and Sally Andersen-Bruce
First Day of Issue Ceremony- Burbank, CA Ellen DeGeneres and Sally Andersen-Bruce (Photo Credit: Gordon Bruce)

Patience, surprise, food, calm voice, squeaker toys, real bird feathers, no stress, no loud noises no smells of the vet office (sorry, not their favorite place to go to).
How does photography of animals differ from that of humans?

It doesn’t.  They’re shorter, they’re not vain, and they don’t care what their hair looks like or if they have a tan. I don’t need to bring a make up bag and hair spray to animal photo sessions but I do bring toys and treats. I use all the same photo equipment lighting and cameras.  The set up time runs about 1.5-2 hours to get the lighting ready for a cat photo or an executive portrait.  I try to treat both the executives and cats with respect and kindness.

Comments (6)

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  1. Sally is an awesome lady! We actually talked after the Cat’s Meow interview when I found out she lived near me. We were talking about doing some publicity for Save A Sato – but then I stopped helping them.

    Sally’s an amazing photographer – and what makes these stamps even more special to me is – these are all local rescues.

    Willow would love to volunteer anytime for the next stamps 🙂

    1. Hi- I looked for you at the New Canaan Post Office when I gave a brief talk there. I actually brought a small Sato named Nina to the event, many years ago. On my most recent visit to the New Canaan Post Office for Adopt A Shelter Pet Stamps I brought Bindi-Su, one of the canine ambassadors from the USPS and one of the dogs who appears on a stamp. I apologize for not bringing a cat. I brought Frankie, the stamp cat to the Roxbury Library when I gave a talk there but as you well know, cats are not too fond of getting into their cat carriers. Thanks again for all of your help with the animals. Sally

      1. Sally – I am so so sorry – that was when everything went wrong with SAS – and I was not comfortable explaining why I left at that time. It was very sad for me after 7 years of helping them – but I don’t miss the daily conflicts. It also gives me more time to help locally.

        hehehe – I know too well about cats singing in their carriers!


  2. I certainly do remember when these wonderful stamps came out! They’re the only stamps I’ve bought since, even for my Christmas cards. I love these and love the extra message they add to everything I mail. A Cat Forever stamp? What a splendid idea! Thanks for the great interview with Sally… I’ll share the link with many like-minded friends 🙂

  3. Hi Beth–Thanks a million for using the Adopt A Shelter Pet Stamps.

    The stamps, earned the “Reader’s Pick from 2010” award for the best stamps of last year as voted by reader’s of Beyond the Perf — the Postal Service’s online complement to the USA Philatelic catalog.

    To date, customers have purchased a total of 13.4 million panes. An average commemorative stamp printing is 65 million individual stamps. USPS initially printed 300 million Animal Rescue: Adopt a Shelter Pet stamps — 4.5 times more than average.

    So Beth, I wanted to thank you and your friends for helping raise awareness for this worthy cause. Sally

  4. Dear Sally,

    Your reply is a lovely surprise! I am pleased USPS printed so many of these stamps and thrilled with the customers’ purchasing response. Undoubtedly we pet lovers will buy all 300 million–not just because they’re beautiful, which they truly are, but because we believe in and support their statement.

    Thank you for putting our important message “up front” on 300 million pieces of mail 🙂
    (The Cat Forever stamps would be much nicer than the current Forever stamp design!)

    Kindest regards,


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