For most of us, the connection we share with our furry friends is a large part of why we are driven to help more animals find a life of love and happiness with their own human. And the promise of that connection can be a powerful tool in the promotion of shelter pets. Not only does it showcase the friendship potential of the pet in question, but it can offer the public an inside look at all the love, care, and magic that’s happening every single day at their local shelter!
HeARTs Speak artist member and professional photographer Rita Earl Blackwell has been photographing pets in need for the past 10 years and recently began inviting people into the frame. Initially, it was a way to give a little love back to the staff and volunteers who contribute so much to the day-to-day lives of the animals in their care, but Rita was pleasantly surprised when she saw just how emotion filtered through the images.
Her touching work simultaneously casts a spotlight on the elusive and magical thread that fastens two souls, and the importance of animal welfare staff and volunteers in the fight to save lives. So, how does she do it? Of course, photographing people can be a different experience to photographing shelter pets — especially if you’re a self-confessed animal person!
Here are Rita’s expert tips for getting great shots of shelter pets with people:
- Start with the pet’s solo portraits first, and then ask the handler if they could sit and cuddle with the pet to help show the human-dog connection and provide a size reference.
- If they’re nervous or shy, tell them not to worry about looking at you, just focus on the dog and cuddle away! Being encouraged to ignore the camera always helps.
- Don’t put your camera down too soon! Often, as soon as you say “ok, we’re done!”, your model becomes more obviously relaxed and the real magic happens, so keep snapping.
- Some people may need a little coaxing to have their photos taken. Be patient and take the time to explain that it is in support of finding this pet a loving home by showcasing their true personality.
- Share your work with your human model! Send them a copy of the photo they’re included in as a thank you and a keepsake — and encouragement to continue helping!
Rita says her biggest challenge with photographing people alongside pets is a person’s fear of or discomfort with being photographed. To take some pressure off, she encourages them to look away from the camera and just interact with the dog — which is usually when you capture the most genuine connection!
Rita is currently working with several rescue groups in Los Angeles, including Angel City Pit Bulls, Camp Cocker Rescue, A Purposeful Rescue, Mutt Match LA, and Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation, along with several city and county open intake shelters. Follow along via Rita’s Facebook page and website!
You can help more Works of HeART like Rita’s happen for shelter pets. Contribute to our end-of-year fundraising campaign and join us in creating a world where no shelter animal goes unseen.