Using photography to help raise awareness

We’ve all done it. We share a photo someone has sent us with the hopes that one of our friends will know someone, ANYONE, who can give that dog some help.  But when you post a photo online, please stop and think of the subtle messages that you create. Does that dog look adoptable? Friendly and healthy? Playful?  If not, I’m suggesting that you may be doing more harm than good.

Research shows that more money, more volunteerism and more adoptions occur when we use sharp, bright photographs of happy dogs –as opposed to the quick snapshots of sick dogs lying in the bottom of their crates, or worse yet –through a chain link fence.  Don’t reinforce the public’s perception of shelter pets as pathetic and unwanted. If you’re having trouble getting a good photo, use some of the tips shared on this blog and give them a much better chance. Show them as potential members of the family and very soon they will be!

20% of all shelter pets are purebred

20% of all shelter pets are purebred


  1. I agree completely with the fact that pet photos should be appealing.

    However, I volunteer with a shelter that has a HUGE turnover and a very high kill rate. Animals are often lucky to be there for more than a couple of days. The only way that anybody even knows what animals are at the shelter is through our Facebook page, run by volunteers. We often post photos of sad, injured, unwanted dogs taken through the bars of the kennel – and often these photos spur rescues to step forward to pull the pets, or volunteers to foster. The main reason that we post these sad photos is that we try our best to document every single animal in the shelter, and there is not always enough time or volunteers to do that properly. Some of the photos are fantastic; many are not. It’s not done deliberately – I’d much rather see a happy picture – but it’s the circumstance. In this case, I think it’s okay to share the “bad” photos along with the better ones. Also, most of the pets that make it out are via rescue organizations rather than adoption, so the people who are viewing the photos are more likely to be sympathetic to the fact that the photos aren’t very good. Once the rescues pull the animals and they are safe, then there is a lot more time to take good photos and then work on marketing them as pets to the general public!

  2. Teresa – I’ve been assisting a rescue organization with their photos and it has made a great deal of difference. The adoption time between those that I photograph and the others that I am unable to photograph ( due to geographic location) is dramatic. My question is: I see that you photograph a lot of your dogs on furniture. I’m always concerned that this will suggest to potential adopters that this is a poorly trained dog that is going to be all over their furniture. Have you ever gotten any negative feedback about this?

    1. Nope, never. I think they just assume that it was placed in the photo to benefit the composition. Usually we only photograph the little guys on chairs and owners kind of expect smaller breeds to jump on the furniture. Hey, thanks for your work with rescue! It’s amazing how much difference a few good photos can make.

  3. I photograph both cats & dogs, & have heard from adopters that my photographs got them to visit the pet they saw online. It absolutely works! It’s ironic, because the dog I personally adopted was photographed cowering in the corner of a cage…it was blurry to boot! I have learned that most people need to see a strong, clear image of the pet. Most people just don’t seem to be able to visualize an animal that is acting afraid, might only be a momentary response. Thank you, Theresa! Your work has inspired me to help pets find loving forever homes.

  4. Love your site and the work you do, thank you! I am trying to find the research you cite, there’s not a lot out there but I’d like to grab what there is and compile it, to make a compelling story so shelters can justify recruiting volunteers and investing a little in space & equipment. Can you share the research you know about? Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your comments. My research is anecdotal — based on my work with three different rescue groups here in the Dallas area. I don’t know of a published study that would help you. You might want to contact Hearts Speak ( — they are an organization of artists and photographers working with rescue groups and shelters around the country. They might have something that would help you. Or contact The Shelter Art Foundation. But what I do doesn’t necessarily require a big investment. Studio lights and reflectors are nice to have, but not critical. You can achieve amazing results just by using common everyday equipment in a more thoughtful way.

      Good luck with your article.

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