Tips for Photographing Adoptable Animals

Tips for Photographing Adoptable Animals

A picture is worth a thousand words, so they say. What does a dog or cat's Petfinder photo say about them? Photos help sell an animal's personality to its potential new adopter. It's what initially gets people interested, so it is imperative to the success of a rescue organization or shelter to put the best foot forward on their online listings! But taking pictures can be tricky when the subjects are human, and much more so when you have animals with minds of their own! David Carlyon, Gateway Pet Guardians resident animal photographer, explains photography tips for foster parents and rescues to help them take better photos of adoptable pets and perhaps increase the likelihood that they will be adopted.

This is the first of a 3-part series on photography basics with an emphasis on photographing dogs and cats. Compelling photography can also help raise awareness of the cause, and to help raise funds for animals in need of expensive care.

The emphasis here is on the technique of photography itself, rather than, say, how to pose dogs or cats.

Part I is very basic, and assumes you're using a cell-phone camera, or an inexpensive digital camera without much in the way of manual operation. The principles described will be applicable to higher-end cameras as well, so it may be worth a read even if you're using a more advanced digital camera or DSLR.

PART 1: The Basics of Photography


So let's begin with the basic principles, starting with the concept of Photography itself. Photography literally means writing (or painting) with light. And the more light you have, the better!

You may have noticed your outdoor, daytime photos are usually a lot clearer than those taken indoors or at nighttime. There are several reasons for this, which I will discuss in detail in Parts II and III, but

Look how a cloudy day softens this photo.

they all stem from the general fact that more light is better. Of course there are many exceptions for skilled photographers and artists but we're just trying to get a nice clear shot of Fido, here!

The sun puts out more light than your typical lightbulb, and as a result, the camera's sensor doesn't have to amplify the signal as much, resulting in a cleaner image. The exposure time can be shorter as well, minimizing motion blur.

A built-in flash can give you sharper, clearer images indoors, because it puts out a lot of light. But aesthetically, it usually leaves much to be desired, because we're used to seeing the world with the light source above us, or off to the side, or behind the subject. We usually don't see the world with a light-source right next to our eyes. But this is the effect a built-in flash gives us, because the flash is very close to the lens. The closest real-world examples would be driving at night with the headlights on, or wearing a miner's helmet. Flashes that are close to the lens are also what causes red-eye (though the color may vary when photographing animals). When you shoot outside with adequate natural lighting, the flash usually automatically turns off (unless you have it configured to stay on).

So if you can, try to take photos outside. Sometimes light through a window can also be very effective, as well as aesthetically pleasing.

By all means, if you see Princess doing something cute inside, try and get a shot. You might get lucky! And as you get more advanced, you will be able to pull off indoor shots more reliably. As technology continues to improve, cameras will become more capable in low light.


I just said more light is better. But actually, softer light can be better still. In the studios, professional photographers often use a "softbox," to diffuse the light, and soften the shadows.

A cloudy day can give you the same effect without a studio! Overcast skies act as a softbox, diffusing the sun's light. If you take photos on a sunny day, you may notice the shadows can be very dark. On an overcast day, the shadows will be naturally lightened, and it can even make colors look more vivid in photographs.

You can also get this benefit on a sunny, clear day, by shooting in the shade. But make sure you don't have patches of direct sunlight falling on Rover, or they'll show up as hot-spots in the photo. And try to choose your position so that other shaded areas are in the background, because a brightly lit background might fool your camera into making Rover too dark!


A big advantage of digital photography is that you're not wasting film. With digital, you just have to delete the shots that didn't turn out. So take as many pictures as you need to! People always like to see an animal in action much more so than they want to see one who's just sitting, sleeping, etc. So don't try to pose the pet, let them outside to play – nobody wants to see a depressing picture of a dog or cat in a kennel/cage. Take several photos (15-30 is always a good number), you're bound to get two or three great shots.

Stay tuned for Part II and III – which will go into the options available in the next level of cameras, allowing some degree of manual operation and delve into a bit of the DSLR world, with interchangeable lenses.

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