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Is that Shelter Pet Adoption Photo Important?

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 determined having a good image made a world of difference in how quickly dogs were being 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 significant difference, with an average adoption time of 37 days compared to 51 days for indoor photos. In my personal experience of photographing various rescue’s “old timers”, those dogs and cats that have been at the shelter way too long, in nearly every case the animal 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 sharpness and overall quality of the image

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

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

Take lots and lots and lots of pictures! Many cell phones have a “burst” feature when you press one of the volume buttons, which takes rapid-fire pictures at a high rate. This is especially great if you’re taking action pictures. From all these images, you typically end up with a good selection to choose from.

TIP #2

As with any camera, try not to shoot into the sun. Sunrise and sunset are optimal times for phone photography because they offer the best colors without too much brightness. Overcast or cloudy days can also work in your favor – any color in the picture is sharper and bolder by contrast.

TIP #3

Some camera phones are very sensitive to even slight movement, so if you can lean the phone or your hands on something to keep the phone steady, that can help eliminate blurring. Shooting indoors where the light is lower creates even more of a stabilizing requirement because the shutter speed is slower. You can also help to decrease movement by keeping your elbows against your sides and holding the phone with both hands.

TIP #4

Don’t shy away from selfies with your dog! You can get some amazing shots of that loving look in your dog’s eyes when you’re nestled up against him. You may also end up with some incredible candid surprises you may not have expected but will cherish forever, like your dog giving you a big kiss.

TIP #5

Squat down to your dog’s level to get some great shots. If there’s a lot going on behind your dog – movement or even just a very busy, distracting landscape – zoom in on your pup so he takes up most of the frame and the background doesn’t take away from the subject.


And don’t forget to check out the apps available for camera phone photo correction; some are free and can make a big difference. For ideas on professional photos of your best friend, contact us about how we can create the image you’ve always wanted.


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