Capturing Adoption Photos for Your Rescue Foster Dogs
Photographing adoptable dogs for Lionel’s Legacy Senior Dog Rescue in San Diego, CA is one of my favorite things ever. I’ve been volunteering with them since 2013 (holy cow!) and have lost count of how many of their wonderful rescue dogs I’ve had the honor of photographing.
Right now, we’re in the middle of the COVID-19 stay-at-home mandate, which means all adoption photos are in the hands of the incredible families who are fostering the LL dogs. Until we can gather together once again, I wanted to give you a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when you’re creating your photos!
Get a helper — or two!
It’s really hard to do it all on your own! I find it super-helpful to have at least one helper but preferably two. If you can only get one helper, ask them hold the leash and get the pup into position. If you’re lucky enough to have a second helper, have them handle the treats so you can focus on capturing the perfect shot.
Choose a location without a lot of commotion so your foster pup is more interested in you than anything else. If there are other dogs running around, people walking by, or children playing, consider looking for a different spot for your photos.
Distractions also come in the form of clutter, so choose a location that’s clean and simple. Nice fences make a great location, as do pretty gardens and greenery. If you’re in a more urban environment, look for fun murals, brick walls, or interesting architecture.
Grab your foster dog’s Attention
Getting their photo taken should be an extremely positive experience for your foster pup! One of the easiest ways to keep them happy is with delicious treats. String cheese, boiled chicken, and hamburger make great people-food treats. For dog treats, I love Plato Thinkers Duck Recipe. Hold the treats directly over the lens or crinkle the bag behind the camera.
Funny and unusual noises are also a great way to get attention. I will often make really high-pitched noises to get a great head-tilt or use an animal call (like a duck call). Just remember that noises are usually good for a limited amount of time. A noise that gets a great reaction once might not work the second time, so be ready!
Have a plan
I have two go-to shots for foster rescue dogs: the headshot and the full-body shot. For the headshot, get the dog sitting in front of you and photograph them at eye-level from the chest up. For the full-body shot, step back a little and try to get their body turned slightly so they’re not straight-on to you and you can see some of their body.
Elements that can help make a great adoption photo
A lot has to come together to make a great photo but here are a few elements that can help:
- Blurry background. A blurry background helps bring focus to your subject. If you’re using a cell phone, experiment with portrait mode. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t, so play around with it. If you’re using a camera with more controls but don’t fully understand shooting in manual mode, try aperture priority (usually noted as A on the dial) and set your aperture to a low number (some might go down to f/2.8, others might go down to f/5.6). If you have a zoom lens, zoom it in all the way to the highest number (like 200mm). You’ll want to focus right on the dog’s eye so that’s the sharpest part of the photo. Be careful NOT to focus-and-recompose (that’s when you focus then move the camera so the shot is framed better), as at that can throw your focus off.
- Even lighting. Try not to shoot in direct sunlight that makes lots of harsh shadows. Early morning right around sunrise and late afternoon a little before sunset are going to provide the softest light. I generally avoid shooting mid-day unless it’s overcast. Try putting your foster pup in the shade facing a bright sky (this makes beautiful, sparkly catchlights in their eyes) but make sure your background isn’t brighter than where your pup is placed. One of my favorite shots is when the sun is low in the sky and is being filtered through the trees; I’ll shoot right into it, creating sparkle light all around the dog.
- Leading lines. Look for elements like bridges, pathways, or fences that lead the viewer’s gaze right to your subject.
- Hide the leash. Safety is always #1 so if it’s not safe to go leash-free for your foster dog’s photos, do your best to hide it. Either drop it behind their back so you can’t see it from your angle or, if you know hiding it is going to be tough, choose a thin lead in a neutral color so the viewer isn’t distracted by a bright pattern or color.
- Accessorize thoughtfully. While that bunny costume may seem like a great idea a week before Easter, as soon as the holiday passes, the photo will seem out-of-date. Go for more neutral accessories like a lightly-patterned bandanna or a nice, classy collar.
It all comes down to this: just do your best! The beautiful thing is that as a foster dog parent, you’re able to get to know your pup’s personality and tailor their photos to who they are and the kind of home that would be best for them. You’re gonna do great! Just get out there and have some fun with your foster dog!