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ASPCA’s Tips on Shelter Animal Photography

Adopted puppy Tonks at Strut Your Mutt

Ready, Set, Shoot!

At Foster Dogs Inc, we are always looking for helpful tips to share with our readers on getting great dog photos. It’s not just about the dog looking “cute,” it’s also about showing an adoptable dog in his/her best light for prospective adopters. Thanks to our incredible network of foster parents, as well as our volunteer photographers, we are able to make a real impact on NYC’s rescue community. Below, we share an ASPCA article featuring their photographer Stacey Axelrod, who has dedicated countless hours to helping our organization! (See: BarkFest, Max and Beau‘s photo shoots, Halloween Parade, and Strut Your Mutt)

We frequently receive submissions of dogs to our website for posting, with photos that are dark/blurry/unflattering, thus doing a disservice to the dog in need. Foster Dogs Inc will work with the dogs’ rescue advocates to guide them on taking photos that are more helpful to the cause, or even send one of our volunteer photographers for a photo shoot.

In a world so influenced by social media, we all must “up” our game and ensure that homeless dogs are getting a solid chance at getting noticed. Even if you are not a professional photographer or writer, you CAN create an appealing profile for a shelter dog – just use some tips from the pros!

See’s other helpful articles on this topic, including one from many-time foster mom Megan, and one from celebrity photographer Sophie Gamand. Need advice on writing a compelling dog bio? Here’s ASPCA’s tips. And you can browse the available dogs on for helpful examples!

These tips were reprinted courtesy of ASPCA Professional, in an article titled “Hit ‘Em With Your Best Shot: Taking Great Photos of Shelter Animals” — Photos below by Stacey Axelrod, for Foster Dogs, Inc.

This week we get down to nuts-and-bolts—from the perfect lighting to the perfect background, thanks to the ASPCA’s Anita Edson, Senior Director/Story Producer, Media & Communications, and Senior Photography Coordinator Stacey Axelrod.

Know thy camera

Bottom line: You don’t need a fancy camera, but you do need to know how to time your shots and compose portraits. (If you do want to use a professional camera, learn your settings and practice every day in a variety of situations, so when it’s time for a photo shoot, you’re not distracted by your camera and miss that “oh-wow-he-just-did-THE-cutest-thing-ever!” shot.)

Beau in Central Park

Flash? Light? Get them both right

  • Soft, even natural light is always preferred. The best lighting is usually late afternoon or early morning, when the sun is less harsh.
  • Avoid using direct flash. It can scare some animals, and often results in unnatural shadows and glare.
  • If you must use flash, be sure to avoid red eye or the dreaded green or blue eyes that make everyone look straight out of a horror flick. Bouncing the flash off the wall or having the animal look slightly aside will do the trick.

Background joys

  • Remove/avoid distractions like litterboxes, toys, food, crates, even floor drains. This way, the animal’s the main focus of the photo.
  • Use props like beds and toys to your advantage, but don’t let them clutter the photo.
  • A background that contrasts with the animal’s fur color can help make him really stand out.

Max, a Fospice dog with Foster Dogs Inc

On your mark, get set, GO!

  • Set your focus point first—then stay calm and patient and wait for the animal to look at you or pose the way you want.
  • Then take LOTS of photos. The beauty of digital cameras is we’re not limited by film any longer, so shoot, shoot, shoot! A slight change in expression could happen in a split second. Shooting from different angles and vantage points also lends a unique perspective. (You can always delete the shots you don’t want later.)

King and foster mom Paula at Strut Your Mutt

Fix it in the editing room

Got some good shots? Make ‘em even better! The most basic image editing programs have tools to spruce up images by fixing red-eye or cropping out background clutter and other simple fixes.

Read Part 1 of this multi-part article on ASPCA’s blog.

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