Tuesday, October 04, 2011

photographing shelter dogs

When I shopped for our newest family member a little over a year ago, I was no different from scores of people who pour over hundreds of teeny tiny hard to see photos on websites in search of "the" dog face that would somehow speak them. What an enlightening but maddening experience!

It was easy to see why some shelters attract more rescue help and adopters than others - they know how to win hearts with a good photograph. Below are some dos and don'ts when capturing dog faces in hopes of attracting those solid homes.

Many thanks to Berkeley Animal Car Services, whose volunteers set the tone with some of the best examples of public shelter portraits on the Net. All of the appealing photos in this post are from their facebook page. I won't tell you where the not-so-great photos came from!


Above - Look into My Eyes - Which dog do you feel connected with? Unless you want to send potential homes running straight to the backyard breeders, avoid using photos of distracted dogs in bleak and dismal backgrounds. Eye contact is golden and easy to get with a dog treat and a silly sound at the right moment. Black dogs photograph best in the early morning or close to dusk. You might end up taking 20 photos to get that winning shot, but with digital cameras, who cares? That one winning shot you spent 10 minutes trying to get will empty your kennel much faster then the bad photo you grabbed in a fast hurry.



Above - Touch Me. Adopters are rightfully hoping to find family dogs who welcome touch, but institutionalized settings only serve up the heebie jeebies. Get that pooch outside where he'll look (and feel!) more like herself. If your subject is shy or uncomfortable with the camera, a warm embrace can make all the difference in her experience as well as the viewers' opinion of her.


Above - What a difference a pretty background makes. This photographer was smart - it looks like she waited until her subject was back from her walk and 'smiling' before she pulled out her camera. Dogs that are tied to walls might beg up sympathy from a select few, but the fearful body language that comes along with being tied will send the more discerning dog shoppers to websites where it "feels good" to look for dogs. You can't blame them.


Above - Ouch. Did that dog on the left do something bad to land him to jail? Probably not, but the chain link mimics the photos news outlets use of dogs who've been involved in bites. Compare to the photo of the happy dog who wants to show us how much fun her adopter will have with her.


Finally, I had to end on this most inviting shelter photo. It says, "Yep. I'm an older, brindley mixy girl. But I'm loved here at the shelter and I've got a lot of life left to give. Come on down and get me!" The gentle hand on her flank, the splash of color with the bandana, the smile that came from (probably) taking photos after she'd been exercised. And note how she's standing on her handler's shoe. Love it.

Here are more tips from fab photographer Lori Fusaro on ways to grab a digital masterpiece. And, more examples from Berkeley Animal Care Services. Good luck!

18 comments:

Christina said...

Thank you for this! I'm looking to adopt another dog and have these same feelings looking at all the dog photos. I've also been thinking that this is a way I might help the local shelter as a volunteer -- by taking pics that engage the viewer in a positive way.

Donna said...

Christina - Volunteer photographers literally make a life and death difference. You're so smart (and generous) to consider helping your local shelters spiff up their portraits. Please tell us if you do! We'd love to know about it.

MrsMoos said...

Hmmmm... Maybe this would be a great opportunity to get high school photography classes involved. See which student/class/grade/club etc can get the most dogs adopted from their photos!

Donna said...

Smart thinking MM!

Amber said...

It makes me so sad that I IMMEDIATELY recognized the shelter in the first bad picture... Its sad because they have so many nice dogs and only more recently did they start adopting out pit bulls. Hopefully with more of a push their dogs can get out. Thankfully they have some good volunteers trying their best!

Jess @ Instyledog said...

We visit shelters once a month and take pictures and video of their pups - then post them on our blog :) We think you're dead-on ... pics are better when dogs are engaged and happy!!

Our latest spotlight is here for an example: http://community.instyledog.com/second-chances-spotlight-new-beginnings-animal-shelter/

Anonymous said...

Check out a cool new article written by the "best pet photographer in the Twin Cities": http://rescuewire.org/?q=node/25&utm_source=RescueWire+Newsletter&utm_campaign=08d76ae004-October_11_newsletter10_4_2011&utm_medium=email

Also, I agree having dogs interacting politely with other dogs, cats, and people really makes them more appealing (especially the 'bully breeds'). And of course, outside with natural lighting and down on the level with the dogs. and take them after the dog has adjusted to the situation so they don't look so worried.

Phare-Camp said...

Huhm, I would love to see this post as a printable pdf...it would be great to hand out to photographers at local art events and festivals. What a great way of asking them to pay it forward!

Donna said...

Great idea Phare-Camp. I'll fit to PDF format and post when I do. Thank you for your good thinkin.'

Dianne said...

The shelter where I volunteer has also had great success with a flip camera and youtube. We had a very intense p-b pup that loved to do agility and we posted it on youtube. A family came in from over 50 miles away in VA because they wanted an agility dog and apparently did not get the "pit bull" memo. All they cared was that he was soo good at agility!

Anonymous said...

Anybody have any suggestions for taking good photos of dogs who really don't care about treats or squeakies or any toys? I volunteer at a no-kill rescue shelter, and a lot of the dogs do respond just find to treats or squeaky, but there are also a lot of them that try to sniff, pull, run, won't stay still, and WILL NOT look at the camera for anything, and I end up getting the side of the head, noses, butts, tails, lol. Any suggestions for those?

The most difficult ones though are the ones that come in terrified of everything. They are constantly anxious, won't stay still, and freak out when they hear the click of a shutter. With those dogs, it usually takes months of waiting for them to calm down to the point I can get a decent picture where they don't look like they are being beaten!

Donna said...

Anon - It's pretty common for underexercised shelter dogs to act extra squirrely when they first come out of their kennels, so our best advice is to plan a tiring exercise session and don't even pull out the camera until they've worked thru some of their ya-yas. They may take 15-20 minutes, but the wait will be worth the great photo. Then, ask a helper to engage the dog in some play and you can stand near, ready to get shots of the dog when she's engaged and smiling.

I agree that shy dogs bring an added challenge. Which is why I love what Berkeley does -- bring in someone to soothe and embrace them and then snap those tender moments.

Kim Martin said...

I really appreciate having a reference point to judge a dog's size. Knee high might be described as large by small-dog owner, and a chunky short dog can be the same weight as a under-nourished tall dog....if the pic shows me a dog with its paws on someone's shoulders and looking down to see the human's face, I get a good idea of the dog's size. If the pic shows the dog on someone's lap, peaking out, then I know it's something else....not everyone's "large" is the same thing. If you see a pic of my big-boy, sprawled across the couch and across my lap with his chin resting on my shoulder in a full-body hug, you understand why I think a 30 pound Am Staff is a "little cutie" that deserves a rhinestone leash and nail polish.

Diane said...

Donna,

Is that brindle girl Shirley still up for adoption? I knew her at EBSPCA. She was there most/all of 2010. She came to us from BACS, then went back to BACS. It kills me to think she still might not be in a home. She is a great dog! I would consider her for foster/adopt but I have a female that would probably not accept her.

Joel said...

Diane, Shirley Temple was adopted from BACS over a year ago. She's with a great adopter who continues to bring her to pit ed classes on the weekends.

See her here:

http://bacs-doggies.blogspot.com/2011/08/old-school.html

Alexandra said...

I've been doing this work for years at SFACC and all of those tips are right on.

Diane said...

Hi Joel, Thanks for the Shirley update and link! Lovely dog. Happy to know she is doing well!!

Cindy B. said...

More Tips-have a helper that knows what you want and you can work with regularly. your helper should be confidant and quiet, not distracting the dog from looking at the photographer. KNEEL DOWN! get your photos from the dog's eye level, this also helps them feel less intimidated than if you are aiming down at them with a camera. letting them sit with you prior to photos and smell the camera, listen to it's noises helps a lot for nervous dogs. Get a nice close up of face for the "lead-in" photo, nose to tail side shot of them standing in front of your helper for size comparison and coat color/texture/pattern/length questions, if it is a small dog have your helper hold them, if you have fenced in availability get a pic of them running and playing with toys. get those big happy doggie grins on film. and somewhere it stated on here about taking many shots to get that good one-VERY true! look at all of them, crop all of them and then look at them all as thumnails rather than full screen so you are seeing what the adopter will be seeing when they are skimming thru listings. holidays-put those little antlers and halloween hats on those doggies! they really get that cutie pie vote when they are smiling away with a santa hat on. if you have volunteers that jog, see if they will jog past with a dog on leash and get a nice shot of the dog taking a run.