Working in animal welfare and rescue involves every sort of emotion on a daily basis and there are so many ways to work or volunteer in the field. But one of the most wonderful aspects can be taking photos of the adoptable animals to help find them a forever home! Thanks to social media platforms and more accessible technology, taking photos is a lot easier and can be a lot of fun for everyone involved. Getting started can be as simple as taking out your smartphone and snapping a photo but if you want to take it up a notch, here are 26 tips and photography definitions to help you get a great photo.
Attention: have appropriate ways to capture an animal’s attention! This can mean letting the animal sniff and explore the space before taking photos, having treats/toys on hand, using sounds, walking the dog beforehand, etc. If there is too much going on around them, the animal isn’t going to be interested in paying any attention and having their photo taken.
Background: have a clean, simple background, as a cluttered background can pull focus from the animal. It doesn’t always need to be a white, blank slate; just something simple!
Calm: be calm during the shoot; animals can pick up on a lot and can get anxious if you’re anxious! This also means being patient and understanding. Sometimes, animals aren’t going to do what you want them to do and while it might be stressful, keeping the atmosphere calm can make the photo shoot more fun and rewarding for all involved.
Depth of Focus/Field: this is a photography term that refers to the zone/area of a photo that appears sharp and in focus
Eye-level: get to the animal’s level! That means getting to the ground/floor or getting the animal to a higher level. By getting eye level with the animal, the perspective of the photo changes
Focus: keep focused on the task at hand and make sure the subject/animal is in focus! They are the star of the show after all. For some cameras, there is an autofocus feature, which means the camera may pick a different spot in the frame to focus on instead and the resulting photo could have a blurry animal.
Golden Ratio: this refers to the special number (roughly 1.618) that appears in geometry, art, architecture, and other fields. It’s also called the “Fibonacci Spiral” but the simplified version in photography is referred to as “the rule of thirds”, which is a way to visually compose a photo by dividing it into nine rectangles.
Help: have someone help! An “assistant” for taking photos can help keep an eye on the animal. Having an extra set of hands and eyes can really make a difference, as the other person can help get the animal’s attention, clean up messes, and more.
Imagination: be creative and don’t be afraid to use your imagination! Have fun with the shoots.
Jpeg: this stands for “Joint Photographic Experts Group” and is traditionally the standard file format. Other file formats include PNG, TIFF, and HEIC (which is currently the common format for Apple products)
Keep it simple stupid: this really is self-explanatory.
Light: use natural light whenever possible and avoid using a flash! A flash is generally not great around animals, as it could freak them out. With the right preparation, taking photos outside can be a whole lot of fun.
Modes: Be sure to familiarize yourself with all the different modes and settings of your camera, even if it’s your phone! While they don’t have a wide range of modes and settings like DSLRs, smartphones do have several fun camera features/settings.
Noise: in photography, noise refers to the grainy veil/abnormal pixels in a photo; basically, this refers to the random imperfections of a photo.
Objective: Have an objective/goal for a session! Is the point to just have cute photos of your pet? Or to help a shelter pet get adopted? Or promote a pet-related business? Is there an adoption special or holiday coming up? Know before you start taking photos to help keep the flow going.
Positive Reinforcement: use positive reinforcement training to get an animal to do what you’d like or to get them used to a camera.
Quiet: have a relatively quiet space and session. Use squeaky toys and random noises to get the animal’s attention but use it sparingly! It doesn’t have to be dead silent but not having a lot of stuff going on around the animal can mean they’re a bit calmer and less distracted.
Revise: don’t be afraid to edit and revise photos! This also means that during the shoot, take a ton of photos! You can always delete the ones that don’t look good later.
Safety: be safe and aware at all times. The most important thing when you take photos should be the safety of you, the animal(s), and anyone else in the room/area. For days with high or even low temperatures, have readily accessible water for everyone; make sure to keep an eye out for signs of heat stroke/exhaustion, frostbite, and other potential health issues associated with more extreme temperatures. The safety and well-being of everyone involved are by far the most important things.
Treats and toys: Have appropriate and high-value treats for the animals. Toys can also get an animal’s attention or help create an action shot.
Understand: learn about and understand animal behavior to know what an animal is trying to communicate during a shoot.
Vantage Point: be willing to move around and use different vantage points during a session!
White Balance: this is the color of the image; some are warmer/yellow while others are cooler/blue. The lighting of a session and editing after the fact can make a huge difference in the end result!
Xylitol: this one is a bit of a stretch because not many words start with x. Xylitol is a sugar substitute used in some peanut butter and other products. It is incredibly bad for dogs and can be fatal for some animals if ingested in relatively large amounts. The reason this is mentioned is to know what animals can and cannot eat! You don’t want a photoshoot to ultimately end up with an animal at the emergency vet so avoid any and all toxic or harmful treats, like those with xylitol, grapes, or chocolate.
Yard: don’t be afraid to shoot in different areas! Yards, living rooms, or studios are all great places and any place with natural lighting will be fantastic.
Zoom: for those with DSLRs and other specialty cameras, there are different lenses that have different focal lengths and can zoom to different degrees. For those using a smartphone to take photos, zoom and lens aren’t really important but for those with cameras, the right lens can really help. For me, I’ve found that an 18mm-55mm lens works well for taking photos of shelter animals.
These tips and tricks are meant to help you take great photos of shelter dogs but they are just a starting point! Learn what works and what doesn’t for you through trial and error and feel free to pick and choose what works for you. Additionally, if you are interested in taking photos of shelter animals, make sure to go through volunteer training/orientation with the shelter to learn their policies and practices. Different shelters will have different policies and trainings but having a relationship with the shelter is a great way to ensure you’re doing what is necessary to keep you and the animals safe and happy!