Dog Photography in a Shelter Setting

By Kim Rodgers, Sarah Sypniewski

Not every dog makes it to the shelter’s adoption days, so if you’re up for actually photographing at the shelter, here are a few things to keep in mind so that you can get the best photos possible:

  • Start by talking with the shelter staff about which dogs are in most need of photos. You may want to start with the ones in the most danger of being euthanized.

  • Shelter kennels may be indoors, outdoors, or a combination of both. More often than not, you’ll come across rows and rows of concrete kennels void of bedding, toys, or the comforts of home.

    The concrete environment makes for a very loud and stressful home for these dogs, so if you can find any way to take them out of that environment — even if it’s just to the front lawn of the shelter facility or a quieter meet-and-greet area — you’ll have a much better chance of getting decent photos.

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    24mm, 1/320 sec., f/2.8, 320

  • Shelters have very strict operating and handling guidelines, so don’t expect to walk in there and pull a dog out of a kennel on your own. The shelter will likely pair you up with a shelter volunteer who can safely handle the dogs you intend to photograph.

    If you plan on being a regular fixture at the shelter, consider becoming an official volunteer so you have more clearance to freely access the animals. Most shelters have a volunteer training program you must pass in order to be with the animals unsupervised.

  • If you absolutely can’t remove the dogs you’re photographing from their kennel environment, try to shoot through the kennel bars by using a selective focusing technique. The goal is to be sure your camera focuses on the dog and not on the kennel bars. The bars become blurred in the foreground of the image, but you’ll still be able to get an okay shot of the dog.