Through my volunteer work as an adoptable dog photographer, I’ve had the opportunity to see thousands of rescue dog pictures and develop an eye for what works. If any of what I’ve learned can help someone else, I definitely want to share it! The more great pictures we can take of these dogs, the better chance they have of finding a forever home!

Rather than going into technical details of dog photography, I want to share my number one tip for getting great adoptable dog shots. In my opinion, this is the tip that anyone can use, regardless of their camera gear, and it makes the biggest difference in how a rescue dog looks to potential adopters!

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Adoptable Dog Photography Tip: Recognize the dog’s expression and aim for a positive one!

We’ve all seen those pictures of dogs in a shelter… they’re crouched in a corner, scared, and look so sad that it just makes your heart hurt. These pictures elicit a strong emotion, but it’s not what I want a potential adoptive family to be feeling when they see the that dog for the first time. I try to capture positive photos of each adoptable dog I photograph. Regardless of where I’m shooting or the dog’s temperament, my goal is to capture he or she lo
oking happy. This is what I want that potential adoptive family to see. I want them to envision this dog adding something to their lives and I believe this starts with a positive photo.

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Positive Dog Expressions

To help pick out the photos that show off a dog’s best expressions, look for:

  • perky ears (ears up and forward)
  • head up
  • overall body posture that looks normal (not crouched or small)

When the dog is panting or has his mouth slightly open, this is also a great way to make it look like he is smiling. These positions are fairly easy to identify. Once you start doing so, you’ll notice how much more positive the dog looks in a photo!

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Negative Dog Expressions

Avoid photos where the dog looks:

  • dog looks aggressive (ears back)
  • scared (crouching or tail between the legs)
  • extremely intense

Sometimes dogs appear aggressive in a photo simply because they were excited or focused on something in the distance. The last thing I want is for a dog to appear aggressive in a photo and scare off a potential adopter. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a dog will come across this way in a final photo, so keep shooting until you know you have a few shots of the dog looking relaxed, happy, playful, etc.

It’s important to note that this body language does not guarantee that a dog is feeling positively towards you. The ASPCA has a great article on canine body language to help you identify when a dog may be feeling aggressive.

Picking the Best Photo

As you choose the final photos to send off to your rescue organization, keeping a few simple tips in mind can help increase the likelihood of a dog being adopted:

  • Pick out the photo that will make someone stop scrolling through all the other pictures and really look at that particular dog.
  • Include a full body shot as well as a closer shot of the dog’s face.
  • Fill the frame — adoption websites only have room for small photos, so make sure the dog is large enough that she will be seen in the photo.
  • Horizontal and square crops display the best on most adoption sites, including Petfinder.

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Working With Adoptable Dogs

To help ensure that each dog is relaxed and displaying positive body language in your photos, here are some of my best tips on working with rescue dogs!

  • Let the dog outside and give him a chance to walk, sniff, relieve himself, and calm down before your photo shoot.
  • To encourage the dog to look in your direction, you have to be the most interesting thing in the area.
  • I find the fastest and easiest way to accomplish this is to have someone behind you or off to the side. He or she can use sound, motion, or affection (rub the dog and then back out of the frame) to grab the dog’s attention while you work on getting the shot.

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On October 15, posts like this are helping to Blog the Change for Animals! To learn more and see how you can get involved, click here.

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