Common Elements of Shelter Photographs to Avoid

We look at a lot of shelter photographs from all over the country and are always analyzing them objectively as photographers for ways on how they could be improved. We understand that some of the photographers may not have had handlers, may not be experienced photographers, may not have good equipment, and may be busy shelter staff or volunteers doing the best they can.

The tips in this section are based on our opinions of what makes a good animal photograph but we realize that the ideal situation for photographing the animals is just that, an ideal, and you will not always be able to avoid some of the pitfalls we try to avoid in our photographs. When creating adoption posters and press releases for newspapers, any photograph is usually better than none. We are offering the guidelines below simply as ways to improve shelter animal photographs to present the animals looking their best.

In the shelter animal photographs we review, we often find several constants in the less attractive photographs. These constants are visual elements that distract from the main subject and the pictures portray an undesirable "shelter animal" look. Since we are trying to capture the best possible image of these animals, we typically try to avoid the following visual elements.

The "Caged" Look

As a general rule, when photographing animals for adoption we always take animals such as dogs and cats out of their cages for photographs. For us, this is essential part of our animal photography. We see these animals as intelligent, dignified, and deserving of our respect. We believe that photographing animals through or in their cages undermines our attempt to share these qualities with the public. The best way to convince a potential adopter that the animal could be their pet is to make them look like pets, not prisoners. This means, however, that if you are going to take the animals out of their cages you will have to use a handler.

Looking Down

It's usually best to photograph a cat or dog at eye level. People aren't usually photographed from above and animals shouldn't be either. Whenever you photograph an animal, get down to their level and photograph the animal eye to eye.

The "Strangling Leash" Look

You will need to keep dogs on a leash at all times when photographing them outside. However, you should avoid having the leash in the photograph as much as possible. Most importantly, you should avoid having the leash point straight up into the air such that it looks like it is strangling the dog. It is visually distracting and doesn't help to present the image that this is a dignified animal. We cover ways to accomplish avoiding this look in Posing and Composition.

Errant Human Body Parts

Although your handler will most likely be in close contact with your subject at all times you should avoid having the handler, or "parts" of the handler in the photograph. We see many photographs with a human leg in the background or human hands holding a dog down. It's best to try to avoid this if possible. We have some suggestions on how to accomplish this in Posing and Composition.

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