Foster Photography For the Non-Photographer
By Foster Dogs NYC volunteer and dog rescuer Megan Penney
Picture this: You are super excited and finally have your new foster pup at home! Now, you wonder how you can help this amazing dog find his or her forever home. The application are not pouring in like you expected… You are not sure what you can do to help, aside from taking the dog to his/her rescue group’s adoption events if/when possible. Well, there actually is one thing you can do which is quite easy (and FREE): take great photographs! You might be a bit skeptical about this, considering most of us do not have fancy DSLR cameras, let alone any photography experience whatsoever. But that is not necessary because of the wonderful item most of us carry around on a daily basis: our smartphones! This will not guarantee a dog’s adoption, though it will aid in the hopes of the dog getting noticed! Get free Foster Dog Business Cards! Putting flyers up for your foster also helps a ton, especially if you have great photos. This is purely an opinion/experience guide here to assist.
Note: all dogs/puppies in these photos were photographed by smartphones, and have already been adopted.
As someone going into political research, I naturally make observations and do calculations in my head when I notice patterns. While fostering, I started to notice that even with similar-looking dogs, besides a nice bio, the photographs made a huge difference. FYI: The photos that worked the best were not always the ones shot by a professional photographer or with an expensive camera! While I personally have no professional photography experience, I have fostered over 100 dogs, each one finding a home within a reasonable time. I have had dog-siblings that look exactly like each other as well, and noticed that different types of photos received different types of adopters and different responses. I hope this post can provide some fellow non-professional photographers with tips on taking the best photos. With better pics, you can help get your dog the online attention he/she needs to find that fantastic forever home.
The first point is: Make sure your camera is focused. Blurry photos make your dog appear too energetic or difficult and also does not portray how adorable he or she is. By showing movement in the photo, potential adopters might make the assumption that the dog does not sit still; it is still important to show the good side of your foster since in many cases, this is an adopter’s first impression of your pup. If you are unsure how to focus your phone, just tap in the center of the screen (for iPhones). For a camera, choose the “automatic” option for focusing, rather than manual – unless you are experienced with using the lens zoom. On iPhones, you can tap twice to change the exposure of the photo — it brightens and focuses more on that — this is usually the face of the dog.
With getting your foster to sit still, there are many techniques. You can keep trying to get photos via treats and squeaky toys or you can have a dog sit on a lap or be held. This method can be great because it also gives a potential adopter a frame of reference. Also, this works for dogs of all sizes! I mean, everyone knows that bigger dogs can actually be the biggest lap dogs!
You don’t need to include human faces in the photos, which helps in case your friends/family don’t want to be in the picture. Potential adopters want to picture their face with the dog, anyway!
When you finally are able to get a dog to sit still on a lap or in your arms, take as many photos as possible. It is best to take dozens of photos over the course of your “shoot” since you never know what moments you will catch. You will also be able to delete the photos that are blurry or where the dog is looking away. Treats, squeaky toys, a foster brother/sister or anything generally distracting (including extremely embarrassing noises and voices) work very well to get the dog’s attention focused on you and you might even be able to get an adorable head tilt photo in there with the right noise!
Another important aspect I noticed with how quickly even similar dogs were adopted was how the dogs were posing. In the photos above, you can see some ideas of holding/having a dog sit on your lap. When holding a dog over the shoulder, these photos also can help with dogs you can absolutely not get to sit still or look at you.
If you can capture the photos without holding the dog, that is usually best (although a combination of both is a good option). The photos that seemed to get the most attention were the ones where the dog was laying down and looking up at the camera. These photos give a subtle “puppy eye” look without being too much. Laying down and just looking direct at the camera also works great. It shows the dog in a calm state and shows off the features best. It is very important to get a nice clear shot showing the eyes and face in the most adorable way possible. Again it is important to take a ton of photos so you can pick the best.
Another great position is the nice, easy sitting-down position. This position makes your foster come across as obedient and well-adjusted. Even if your dog is not perfect, first impressions are very important and many people’s first impressions are from websites like petfinder. This will catch someone’s attention and make it more likely that they will want to come and meet/potentially adopt your foster. With these sitting down photos, tongue is okay but not preferable. Some tongue photos are too cute not to use, but also try to get some closed-mouth shots as well.
Standing photos are also great to have in the variety but be careful because these usually are the hardest since many dogs want to move when standing. If you cannot get clear action shots (running photos are fantastic but can be a little difficult at first with a smart phone). Some great standing photo moments are when your foster pup is taking a quick breather or is simply enjoying the fresh air/sun. Some dogs just look more natural and adorable when standing. Just make sure you can see the full face of the dog in the photos. Some photos of a dog’s profile can be adorable, but it does not give the potential adopter a full idea of how amazingly perfect and adorable your foster is (they should get a suden urge from the photo to come visit for cuddles and kisses from your pup).
I am not suggesting you ignore other types of photos, but it is important to at least have one or two of each type so that the rescue can rotate them. They can then use them for different sites/flyers and can simply pick which images go where. Including fun or candid photos are also a great thing to include in a dog’s profile. With larger breed dogs, photos of the dog with another dog(s) and if possible smaller dogs (or even a cat) helps show a softer side to the dog and shows in photo form that your foster plays well with others. These photos can range from playing in the park/a yard to cuddle time. Just when taking these photos again no blurry photos or photos with too much motion in them. This is not appealing to the audience you are reaching. Also try to only have a couple multiple dog photos since you want it to be clear on which dog is for adoption.
Besides fun action shot (if you can get clear ones), sleeping photos tend to be a favorite of ours; little effort on your part, and the dog looks angelic. While these photos are indeed adorable, they should not be the only photos. It is important to show potential adopters the dog/puppy’s eyes (sad puppy dog eyes and head tilts work like magic) and some personality in the shot. Yes, first impressions are important and you want the dog to seem like he/she could be mellow or a fun running partner so that the person is drawn to the listing and will actually read the bio to see if this is the right dog for them. There needs to be some mystery. If a dog only has sleeping photos (especially puppies), someone might thing the dog is lazy or that a puppy is “easy.” Sneaking a couple sleeping photos places though is tons of fun and does really well with apps like Instagram.
Finally, be creative! You now have some general groundwork but if possible think of unique ways to make your foster pup stand out. There are so many dogs for adoption but if yours has photos that catches people’s attention, more people will check out his/her pages. Some things that have worked great for me in the past include: using fabric from stores like Joanne’s Fabrics to create backdrops, props such as toys, and items that you can use to spell out the dog’s name such as baby blocks.
And now, some final tidbits. Lighting is very important, especially with darker colored dogs. If possible, try to use a lamp (or a friend holding a lamp) in order to get good light in your photos without using flash (flash can ruin a photo with the shiny or red eyes).
Natural light also tends to be best. If you can, take your foster to the park and use the outdoor scenery and lighting to your advantage. Black dogs are especially difficult and require both good light and a lighter background (if you don’t want to buy a background or don’t have a light colored wall or sheet, grass makes an amazing background for darker dogs). While some photos can be touched up and lightened, it makes the image less clear in many cases so try to get good light on your dog. Snow is also good for darker dogs as long as you are careful of the glare. Another thing to keep in mind is that there Is not always shame in costumes or cute sweaters (especially costumes themed to an upcomming holiday and sweaters during ugly sweater season). Taking your pup to a store for photos with Santa is also a lot of fun and saves you the work of taking your own photos (If you cannot scan the photo at home, try staples, it is super affordable). Another way to impress people and spunk up a social media post is to create a collage. www.fotor.com is one great one out of many. There are also many awesome collage making apps for your phone!
Don’t be discouraged, even if you take 100 blurry, not-so-hot shots. You will eventually get one fabulous one in the bunch; when you do, you will feel so proud! This also gets easier after a while. Looking at Shamrock’s baby block photo (see photo above), we took about 200 photos in order to get about ten decent ones (less than one second after this photo, those baby blocks were scattered everywhere). Try to make this fun for yourself and your foster pup; it will show in your photos. If you are not ready to do anything too adventurous or time-consuming, stick to the basics mentioned above and you will for sure get some great, eye-catching shots.
Now here is a collage of some examples of awesome goofy/fun photos that happened just by taking a ton of photos and having fun with the pups. Not only will you be helping your foster pup, but you will also be helping your rescue group out a ton. Not sure if you know, but many time, they are made up of volunteers (who typically work full-time jobs). While they don’t expect fosters to do everything under the sun (since you are already a huge help taking in a dog), photography helps them out so much. It really makes their day and reminds them that through all the stress, about the joys of rescue and those involved in it.
For any more tips, Megan can be contacted for advice. Check out her Foster Hacks article for information on her offer to be a “foster consultant” as well if needed. Email info AT fosterdogsnyc.com, and ask to be connected with Megan Penney.