When you’re rehoming dogs, photos can mean the difference between a dog attracting attention and being rehomed or having to be put to sleep due to lack of space. Sadly many rescues are underfunded and understaffed which can make it very challenging to get good images of the dogs for advertising. I am more than happy to photograph dogs for rescues in the area free of charge, so if you are struggling please email me via the contact button above. It is a bit trickier for rescues further away, so here are some simple tips to help improve the odds of your rescue dog finding a home.
Ideally you want the photo to be evenly lit so that you can see all of the details of the dog without harsh shadows or bright white highlights. To do this you either want to photograph the dogs in the early morning/late afternoon, or just put them in some shade. When we are photographing dogs for DC Rescue Dogs, we use the trees at the back of the property or we use one of us to cast a shadow where we are photographing puppies.
Also keep in mind that you want to have catchlights (highlights) in the dogs eyes if possible. This is more appealing visually and makes them look more alive. You shouldn’t have a problem with this if you are photographing them outdoors, but for indoors images try and keep the dog facing the light. Sometimes having them look up towards you can help with this.
2. Backgrounds are important!
Not only is photographing a dog in a dark pen difficult from a lighting perspective, it can also distract from the dog itself. If you can, take the dogs outside and try to find a clean non-distracting background to use. My personal favourite is trees such as I used in this adoption portrait for Greyhounds as Pets. If you are finding it difficult to get a clear background, try using a different angle. For most portraits you should be shooting from the dogs eye level, but sometimes by shooting up towards the dog you are able to put some nice leaves behind their head which creates a beautiful backdrop. You could also try using the grass as a background by shooting down from above the dog.
One of the trickiest parts of photographing dogs at rescues is the fact that most of them don’t have a lot of training. This can make it challenging to keep them in one spot long enough to take a photo! What we do with a lot of the older dogs is have one of us hold them on a lead. I then remove this lead in photoshop, but you can also just crop it to reduce the amount of distraction in an image. The key with this is to leave plenty of space between the handler and the dog so that there is as little work needed on the image as possible. (Note the blue container in Cherie’s hand – that’s full of dog bikkies! We shake it by the camera to get quieter dogs looking.)
Another trick is to put them on or in something to keep them off the ground. This creates a mental barrier to prevent them from jumping away and will slow them down a little. If you decide to go down this route, please make sure you have a spotter nearby to grab the dog if they do decide to jump down – especially puppies! For the image below, we were struggling to get the puppies to stay in a spot long enough so we put them in a nearby wheelbarrow. This provided enough distraction for them to sit still for a few seconds while we got the shot.
To get the dogs looking at the camera, you need something to grab their attention. For timid dogs you need to be careful not to overwhelm them, so using vocal noises like squeaking or other animal noises will often do the trick. For more distractable dogs, try a squeaky toy, throwing something in the air or bringing a treat from in front of their nose directly back to the camera. Rescue dogs often have short attention spans so make sure you reward them often! For young puppies visual aids usually work best. Something similar to a cat toy, or even a stick or leaf can work well. Leaves also make for cute props as the puppies carry them around!
4. Happy faces on!
Whiskey is a beautiful dog but found the camera a little scary and we found it difficult to get a happy expression out of her. To solve this problem we let her do what she loves to do most – run! Check out that happy expression. To capture good action photos, make sure you have a fast shutter speed (or have the camera in sports mode) and make sure you stay low to the ground to capture their happy faces! Because many rescue dogs don’t have good recalls yet, it can be helpful to have someone else run along side them to keep them going in the right direction.
5. Capture their personalities
Not all the photos you share need to be picture perfect portraits. Sometimes the fun images are what prospective owners fall in love with! If it makes you smile, chances are it will make someone else fall in love.
6. It’s not all about the gear
It isn’t neccessary to have thousands of dollars worth of gear to take good adoption portraits. Any modern camera will do the job – even a phone – as long as you have good light and the dog looks happy then that is all most prospective owners will notice when they are looking for a new family member.
Thanks for taking the time to help these animals in need! If you are located in the Waikato and would like a photographer to assist with photographing dogs at your rescue, or if you would like advice about photographing dogs for your rescue, please leave a comment or contact me using the button above. If you are outside of the Waikato and in need of a photographer, I recommend approaching your local camera club or even googling for pet photographers in your area. Many photographers would love the opportunity to hone their skills and help animals in need, so don’t be afraid to reach out.