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Shutterstock Stories: Catching up with Susan Schmitz

Last year, Shutterstock launched an artistic grant program that awarded a total of $75,000 to seven very deserving contributors. To continue sharing inspirational tales of creativity, we're pleased to announce a new video spotlight series. Each month, we'll highlight the work and personal insights from one of our contributing artists. To kick off the new series, I caught up with one of our original Stories winners, photographer and animal rescue activist Susan Schmitz.

Want to know even more about Susan? Check out the interview from our guest blogger Lindsay Comstock below.


Scottsdale, Arizona-based Susan Schmitz is on her way to saving the lives of many pets across the United States, one dog (or cat or bird) at a time. The photographer began A Dog's Life Photography a little under a decade ago, with the intention of saving unwanted animals from being euthanized. Schmitz's organization partners with other rescue groups to provide complementary photographs of animals up for adoption. In turn, she has helped hundreds of animals find new homes, and has aided in raising tens of thousands of dollars in fundraising efforts for the groups with which she works.

Shutterstock: How do you decide which animals to photograph?

Susan Schmitz: The animals I photograph for my stock photography library mainly come through my rescue group photo program. Local rescue groups can bring pets that are in need of homes to my studio for photos to be used in their adoption ads. The groups usually select the animals that they are having a hard time finding homes for. Pet adoption ads that contain professional photos that isolate the animal tend to draw them more attention and make a higher impact on the viewers. This results in a higher chance of a quick adoption for the animal.

How does working with animals differ from human subjects?

I personally enjoy working with animals much more than I do humans. Not many people like their own image, so they become uptight and self-conscious in front of the camera. Animals are easy-going and fun-loving and they don't really care if they are having a bad hair day.

What are the steps you take to prep the animals for a shoot? 

The only preparation taken prior to an animal session is to ask that they are bathed and groomed a day before the session and that they come a bit hungry and tired out. I used to take a lot of time to plan out my photo session and shoot with a certain theme in mind, but I found that things never seem to go as planned with animal sessions. Now I just simply take photos of the animals being themselves, then I analyze the images afterwards to determine whether I want to make any sort of embellishments to them in Photoshop by adding in props and background elements.

What equipment do you use?

I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II and usually a Canon 24-70L lens. I use four Profoto monolight strobes and a white vinyl backdrop. 

What kind of post-processing do you do? 

Images are imported into Lightroom for culling, then exposure and white balance perfection on the final selections. From there, they are exported to Photoshop, where a series of actions are run on them to remove the digital haze, pop the colors, and bring out the texture of the fur. All images are then taken through Topaz Labs Remask to extract the muddy white background and replace it with pure white. Using a layer mask, I paint back in subtle shadows under their feet. On select images, I will add in some elements that were photographed separately to add some flair, or I'll create a composite with other previously taken animal images. 

How has adopting your dog Oliver enhanced your family's life? What was it about him specifically that you couldn't resist?

Back in July, my husband and I lost our beloved Doberman, Misty. My heart was left with a very big hole in it after she passed. There were many wonderful rescue dogs that came through my studio in the following months, but I didn't feel that I was ready to adopt one yet. The day that I was shooting the behind-the-scenes video for the Shutterstock Stories contest, I had Mavyn Animal Rescue bring in a bunch of puppies and kittens for photos. All of the animals were playing and running around the studio except for one shy, scruffy misfit named Oliver. He kept hiding behind things and scurrying away when I went to pick him up. Once I got a hold of him and held him gently in my arms to calm him, he didn't want to leave. It was instant love. My heart felt full again. For a week after the session, I couldn't stop thinking about him. I knew then that I had to adopt him. Since he came into our home, his confidence has soared and he plays happily all day long. He has brought so much joy into our home. As an added bonus, he is an amazing stock model and is quickly becoming my best seller. 

Are you working on any new projects we should know about?

I am spending time learning video and illustration, and am excited to add these types of files to my portfolio in the near future. 

View more of Susan's work here and read more about her story on Huffington Post.

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