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Slammin’ Shelter Photos: Getting The Shot

You know it when you see it—a photograph that captures the essence of an animal, an image that gets right to the heart of the work you do at your agency. But how do you get that shot? We grabbed some of the finalists from the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge Photo Contest and asked the ASPCA’s expert photogs, Brenna Jennings and Meg Allison, to share their thoughts and advice.

Photograph by Jessica Kovalcik for Portsmouth Humane Society

Why it rocks: What a wonderful example of the kind of image that shows a cat in her best light—and can help her get adopted! “Can’t you just picture her laying on your windowsill soaking up the sun?” says the ASPCA’s Meg Allison, GIS Data Manager. “That’s why this picture is so great—it brings the cat front and center, and she seems perfect for any home looking for a four-legged friend.”

How to get the shot: Says Meg: “Duplicating this shot is really easy and can even be done by one volunteer. Cats love to get scratched, so why not use one hand to scratch/distract the cat while using the other to handle the camera? Make sure you are in an area flooded with natural light and your camera has a fast shutter speed or is set to the Action setting. When you are done, you can just crop your hand out if it made its way into the photo.”

Photograph by Lynda Tersigni for Ashtabula County Animal Protective League

Why it rocks: “This photo makes me all warm and squishy,” says Brenna Jennings, ASPCA Web Design Manager. “There’s not much in the frame but it tells such a storythe love in Max’s face as he gazes up at his human, the soft pat of the hand. We can write stories about everything that’s left just out of that box. It’s beautiful.”

How to get the shot: Advises Brenna: “Watch for these kinds of moments, and be a reporter and observer during them. The less intrusive you and your camera are, the more likely you’ll be to capture easy, relaxed moments like this one. So genuine.”

Professor McGonagall
Photograph by Shaina Sheaff for Denton Animal Shelter Foundation

Why it rocks: “She is like the Mona Lisa following me everywhere with her eyes!” says Meg. “Really, I think this picture captures the simplicity of what animals need when looking for great homesa simple well-lit picture that connects them to people.”

How to get the shot: “This kind of picture can and should be duplicated in every shelter across the country!” states Meg. “All it takes is an area well lit with natural light and a background that is clean.” No backdrop or lighting equipment? No problem! “Walk around your facility, and I am sure there is at least one place that you could put a table or chair against a wall.”

Photograph by Katherine Kitzerow for Great Plains SPCA

Why it rocks: “I love Boots’ caught-in-the-act expression in this shot!” says Brenna. “The lighting is gorgeous and natural, and you can imagine that just before he heard the shutter snap, he was happily batting his toy mouse, visible in the bottom right of the frame. It’s the perfect non-action action shot.”

How to get the shot: “Capture shots like this by being a quiet observer,” says Brenna. “Think of a nature photographer, hiding in the brush quietly observing wildlife. (This technique also works great for human candids!)” P.S. A simple background will help keep the viewer’s eye on the animal’s face.

Slugger & Michelle
Photograph by Jill Caren for Eleventh Hour Rescue
Why it rocks: “This picture really captures the joy that Slugger has interacting with Michelle,” says Meg. “A potential adopter can see what a happy dog he is, and they are more likely to envision their lives with a happy dog than a sad, sulking dog.”

How to get the shot: Meg says: ”Pictures like these can be captured by being the quiet bystander. Watch your volunteers and and just wait for that perfect shot. Here, the dog is focused on the volunteer, so all you’d have to do is move yourself to take a picture of this sweet moment. Be patient! A staged dog doesn’t smile like Slugger!”

Photograph by Lorinda Norton for Canyon County Animal Shelter

Why it rocks: “This is a classic portrait,” states Brenna. “Marisol’s gaze is fixed on something enticing, and the viewer is left to guess what it could be. The sunlight is bright and even, and you can feel her anticipation.”

How to get the shot: Photographing an animal with a stunning or patterned coat? A plain background will really make it stand out. “Shots like this showcase an animal,” explains Brenna, “as there are no distractions in the frame.” Be sure the full body is in view—in this case, “showing off that tri-color fur and perky ear!”

What’s your favorite trick for getting the shot? Please share in the comment box.

Click the links to see the finalists and winners and runner-ups in the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge photo contest.

Thank you to our staff experts, Meg Allison, GIS Data Manager, and Brenna Jennings, ASPCA Web Design Manager, for sharing their insight and advice on getting the perfect shot.

Related links:
ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge Photo Contest Winners
“Hot Shots: Getting Great Photos of Your Animals”
“Great Shelter Dog Photos (And Killer Abs!) In 7 Easy Steps”