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Shelter Pet Portraits

Great Photography Saves Lives

Does that shelter photo really make a difference in adoptions? In 2014 the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science took a look at 468 photos of various dogs adopted via Petfinder across the US. The goal was to discover how much of a difference an image makes in adoption, as well as what aspects of the photo most capture the attention of adopters.

You can read the entire study here, but in brief, they found having a good image made a world of difference in how quickly dogs were adopted. The dogs with a high quality profile photo were adopted within 14 days, compared to 43 days otherwise.  Among adult dogs, being outside made a big difference, with an average adoption time of 37 days compared to 51 days for indoor photos. In my personal experience photographing “old timers” (both dogs and cats that have been at the shelter way too long) in nearly every case the pet was adopted soon after their new image was posted online.

The study found these to be some of the most important aspects of the image to adopters:

  • the dog making direct eye contact with the camera
  • the dog standing up
  • the dog posing in an outdoor location
  • the overall quality of the image

Interestingly, the things I see many people do to make dogs appear more friendly, like wearing a bandana, flower or shirt, having a toy in the photo, or dogs with tongues out, didn’t have much sway on potential adopters.  The take away from the study is a photo of the dog or cat looking into the camera and enjoying an outdoor setting is the biggest factor in getting adopters to inquire.

With that said, below are 5 key recommendations for getting the most out of your shelters adoption photos, even if all you have to work with is a point and shoot or a smartphone.

TIP #1

Create a relaxing environment when you can. Let them play and then snap some photos.  Take the dog outside, and remove the leash whenever possible.  Look for interesting backgrounds like trees, benches, colorful walls or doors and arches.

Make sure there are no distracting elements in the photo like a fence, kennel, bars of any type and other obvious things like a garbage can and dog poop (or anything that the viewer might think is dog poop!).

TIP #2

Try not to shoot into the sun or in direct hard sunlight. Sunrise and sunset are optimal times for photography because they offer the best colors without too much brightness.

Overcast or cloudy days can also work in your favor – but if you don’t have that option or the choice of time of day, find an area with open shade, i.e. the side of a building or in a door way.  This creates softer light and will improve the overall image quality.

TIP #3

Get the dog to look directly in the camera.  This is not always easy with shy, frightened or stressed dogs. When you hold an object in front of your face dogs can become uncomfortable as they can not read your facial expression.  Try holding the camera at their level so they can see your face.

If they are treat (the stinker the better – not a plain old cookie) or toy motivated hold the item directly over the camera lens to get their attention.  Also making funny noises to get their attention will often have them perk their ears or tilt their head which is a great look for an adoption photo.  Don’t do this too much though as it quickly looses appeal.

TIP #4

The main goal of every portrait should be to make a connection with the viewer. The best way to do that is to focus on the eyes, so go for close-up headshot.  Also be sure to pull-back and get a full-body shot.

Shoot from above, get down on their level, or get below them and look up for differing looks.

TIP #5

Stay calm and be patient.  You probably have too many dogs that need adopting and a bunch of other stuff you need to do, but rushing this process will not result in the best images.

When you are calm and relaxed the dog will feel more comfortable.  Use a clam, friendly tone in your voice, spend sometime petting and loving on the dog and enjoy the process.


Find a professional to do it for you. is a great organization where you can find a local pro, like me, to help with your photos.  Get in touch, I’m happy to help.

Richmond Family Portraits – Extended Family at Alvarado Park

Richmond Family Portraits – Extended Family at Alvarado Park

I first met Barbara, the matriarch of the B family, when her grand-daughter, Xoxa, participated in my Tween ‘Who I Am‘ Project.  At the time we were reviewing Xoxa’s portrait, Barbara let me know she wanted a portrait of her entire family and she needed to do it soon, as her husband was ill.  So we got to work on the logistics of finding a time and place the family could gather.

We choose Alvarado Park in Richmond, as they are long-time residents of the area and Alvarado Park is a hidden gem in the city.  It is part of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park and is a really beautiful area with many trails, picnic areas and even streams to splash around in on a hot day. The park has been around since the 30’s and it nestled in a residential area, so you might not find it unless you know where to look.

A lovely park and a lovely morning with the B family.  As it turns it, a great spot for a family portrait.  I was very glad to have been able to provide this family with images with their patriarch, as he passed before he had a chance to view the portraits.

Thanks Barbara and Kriz for letting me a part of your family for that short time.

I love working with the whole entire extended family, so if your family needs a moment captured, please get in touch.

Oakland Family Portraits | The B Family

Oakland Family Portraits | The B Family

I head out early with my camera gear to Lake Temescal in Oakland on what is promising to be another scorching hot day in the SF Bay Area.  Summer is almost officially over and yet it has been blisteringly hot the past several days. I suggest to the B Family matriarch that an early morning session time will not only be better for the softer light but also help to keep us all from melting in the sun.  They are all game and I catch up with them standing in the shade as it is already inching up to 80 degrees before 8am!

We spent our time shooting around the Lake Temescal Beach House, which is a pretty cool stone building with a beautiful, lush garden with a stream, waterfall and other fun features to use for our portraits.  Also, thankfully, on this day a goodly amount of shade.

It is a real pleasure for me to spend time with a grown family that so clearly enjoys each other.  The oldest son was home from college and mom wanted to snag the opportunity to get some updated portraits.  They were good sports as I asked them to do silly poses and the boys had a blast when they realized I was down for them goofing around and jumping off the life guard towers.  As long as we all stay safe, I’m always up for something fun that shows off the families personality.

Thanks B Family, it was a great pleasure to work with you all.


Family Portraits – Strolling Around San Francisco

Family Portraits – Strolling Around San Francisco

Meeting and photographing the W family was a whole lot of fun.  They wanted a portrait session walking around in their Sunset District neighborhood, as they were about to move.  We headed out along Noriega Street and strolled along visiting the shops and looking for cool backdrops for the portraits.

We made our way down to the Great Highway and crossed over to the beach.  There is some cool graffiti down there and we made use of it for our photos.I had them take of their shoes and run around and play in the sand.  They were great to work with and up for playing around.

It was a typically day next to the ocean, which is to say not warm and sunny, but the W family is used to the overcast skies and moody weather of San Francisco.  And I love that light for portraits.

Who says having your family portraits taken is boring?  Not this family!

Bay Area Family Portraits – Welcoming the New Baby Boy

Bay Area Family Portraits – Welcoming the New Baby Boy

When Sam first contacted me she was considering a newborn session, but that is not my specialty so she decided to wait a few months until her baby was old enough to smile and make it a family affair. And smile little D did. What a sweet and easy going baby and he was so fun to work with.

They are a beautiful, charming family with a gorgeous home in the Oakland hills that had great light streaming in through the windows the day of our session. And to top off all the fun they have stunning and amazingly well behaved Akita who very sweetly got in on the act for a few shots with the little man.

Family Fun and Portraits in Tiburon

The O Family is another wonderful repeat client that I have been privileged to work with for the third time. Well, twice for family portraits and once with the daughter for a BFF Tween session.



They are sweet and loving family and mom believes in getting a formal portrait each year to record the changes, which, includes the families two dogs.


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I love going out to visit them as they live in beautiful Belvedere where there are numerous cool locations to shoot, not the least of which is their home.


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