Rescue Pet Photography Tips


Q. I am interested in helping the local humane society improve the photos they take of the adoptable dogs. Any tips you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

I do realize that the volunteers at shelter and rescue organizations may not have the equipment or the time to take the best photos of the many dogs they intake. One of the keys to the difference in quality of photos is having some time to spend with each dog and not rush the process. I don’t care if I have a million other things to do on the night I photograph at a shelter/rescue… I will take many, many, and I mean MANY photos of one dog if necessary to get the perfect shot. I am extremely picky, persistent and patient which are the three imperative “P’s” to have in this field. If you are frustrated easily, then I wouldn’t recommend photographing dogs in a shelter or rescue environment. You have to be prepared for the most hyper kind of dog who could really care less that you have a camera and need them to sit still. Most of these dogs have been sitting in a cage for hours… do you really think the first thing they want to do is SIT STILL when they are let out to come see you? With that said, here are some important things to remember:

Ensure the dog feels comfortable with you. Immediately pet them, sit down with them by getting on their level and talk to them. If you feel silly doing these things, then photographing pets is probably not for you.

Take a moment to learn about each dog. What motivates them? Do they like squeaky toys or balls? What gets them excited? Do they react to silly noises? Are they food motivated? Every dog is different and you just have to reach out to them individually and figure out what makes them happy so you can capture it on film.

Bring a helper with you. I always have another volunteer with me who handles the dogs, holds them on a leash and helps me get them to follow basic commands. It really takes two people to accomplish the goal of a perfect photo in this type of an environment.

Place the dog in a shady, grassy spot if possible. I like to use grass as a background because it’s the most natural and is a good contrast with most dog’s coloring. I also use a spot at KC PAWS with a nice blue metal wall as a background, so the color pops. If you are in a shelter environment, get them away from cages, chain link fences and other menacing backgrounds. We want the dogs personality to shine through, not the fact they may be depressed and in a caged environment every day.

Q. How on earth do you get active dogs to sit so still?

One important part of this is having a good camera. By a good camera, I mean a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) which is capable of having an extremely fast shutter speed and can capture a split second when you might need it most. For example, my Nikon can capture 7 frames per second. That means even if my subject doesn’t appear to be perfectly posing, my camera might just be fast enough to capture it. Especially in a rescue environment, I make sure I never rush the photo process and take time to pet and talk to each dog and ensure they are comfortable with me. I do feel I have a special connection with dogs and this helps greatly. Dogs can sense someone with a good heart and I feel the ones in a rescue and shelter environment must realize in some way that I am trying to help them find a new home. I have read that dogs communicate through telepathy or by sending “mental pictures”, so I can only assume that whatever I am picturing in my head (feelings of hope, finding them a new family) they must sense in one way or another and cooperate with my antics.

Q. Do you have any tips for photographing black dogs? They are often hard to do!

Photographing black dogs can be extremely difficult, because usually their eyes get lost in the rest of the fur and the end result can be a very dark photo without any clear focused area. To help prevent this problem, I always place dogs in a shady spot, which may sound contradicting to those who think you need bright sunlight. If the sun must be in the photo, it needs to be behind the dog, not in front of the dog. This goes for any color of dog really. And I never shoot with a background setup. I use only natural light and refuse to ever use a flash. If the photos still turn out too dark, I will edit them in post processing using Photoshop, by lightening certain key areas of the photo.

Q. Why do you not watermark or copyright your photos of adoptable dogs?

While most professional photographers watermark and copyright every one of their photos, including the ones of adoptable dogs, I chose to take a different approach. Since I began photographing adoptable dogs in 2009, I specifically chose not to watermark those photos (putting my logo and business name on the photo) because I want these dogs shared far and wide and I felt putting my logo on them would be distracting and take away from the ultimate goal which is finding the dog a forever family. Of course I appreciate a photo credit for my hard work, but I also want it to be very evident to everyone that I am only interested in the dog’s best interest and not plastering my logo on those photos to promote myself in any way.

Q. Are there any online sites or books that you have found really helpful?

As many of you know, I self taught myself everything regarding photography. Yes, I took classes to learn and improve my photo restoration skills, but when it came to handling a camera… I bought a DSLR camera, read lots of books and followed many well-known photographer’s blogs to learn what I have. I recommend Showit for websites. Two of my most inspirational photographers to follow are Melissa Jill and Jasmine Star. Yes, they are both wedding photographers, not pet photographers, but that really doesn’t effect their advice on a general level. They are absolutely amazing, inspiring and completely open and honest about everything in their life. They also provide FAQ posts to their faithful readers and I think every aspiring photographer can learn a lot from these talented women.

Q. So, if you self taught yourself everything photography-related, what did you study in school?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and graduated from the University of Central Missouri in 2003. This may give you a better explanation of why I enjoy blogging and writing so much. I have a passion for writing, but somewhere along the way, I listened really closely to my heart and it led me to volunteer at animal rescue organizations and teach myself about photography, long after I was out of school. Follow your dreams, listen to your heart and never give up. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

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