All shelters and rescues need photos of available pets. A few are fortunate enough to have professional photographers donate time to help, but the vast majority rely on volunteers. This photo can be the most important event in the life of a shelter pet – it is literally a matter of life and death.
The shelter photo will show the pet on the shelter’s website, on Petfinder, Facebook, and other online resources. It’s the pet’s lifeline, in many cases their only hope of finding a new home. At the same time, the animals are stressed, and you’re usually working with low-budget equipment.
Take your time
The shelter crew is often stressed, and it seems like a good idea to get photos of as many pets as possible in the shortest possible time. However, spending just a few minutes with each pet will make the photos so much better, and might very well decrease the amount of time the pet will have to spend at the shelter.
Spend at least 5-10 minutes with a dog, and even 15 with a cat. They need to transition mentally between being in the kennel and being with you.
Find a good spot
If at all possible, take photos of dogs outside. They’ll need a few minutes to explore before they’ll be willing to cooperate. If it’s bright and sunny, shoot in the shade. If you have to take photos indoors, try to find a good backdrop. Anything is better than the kennel. There might be a nice wall or something you can use.
Take many photos
With digital technology it’s possible to take many photos in a short period of time without extra cost. Pets are difficult to photograph because they move all the time. If you take many photos, the chance of one being great is much bigger than taking one and hoping it will be fantastic.
Don’t use the flash
Many good photos of dogs and cats have been ruined by using the flash. It can scare them, and the flash reflecting from their eyes or shiny coats can make them look like a pet belonging to Dracula. It’s also helpful not to hold the camera in front of your face. The pets will trust you more, and relax better, if they can see your face.
Talk to the pets
When it comes to dogs, you want to get them from “I’m in jail” to “This person likes me.” Talk to them in a cheerful voice. Shelter kitties can be skittish, and here a happy but soothing voice works better. Keep talking. If they can connect with you they might be able to relax a bit, and photo with happy ears or even a smile sells much better than a sad shape crouched in a corner.