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?
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?
I 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.
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?
I 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
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.
Once 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?
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?
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?
I 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
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?
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.