A Friend in the Field: The Shelter Photography Field Guide

Batman is great, but let’s get one thing straight: you can bet Gotham would have stayed a big, scary mess a little longer if Robin hadn’t been tagging along for the ride. And is peanut butter truly as fantastic alone as it is with chocolate? Or jelly? Every Mac needs their (vegan) Cheese, and every Shaggy knows how important their Scooby is. What the faithful sidekick may lack in bravado, they make up for by quietly serving as the brains of the operation; the unfaltering support system that even tough-as-nails heroes need to succeed.

We consider ourselves lucky to have met countless shelter superheroes over the years — Those devoted employees and volunteers working tirelessly on the front lines of animal welfare, getting their hands and hearts dirty in the name of saving lives. They inhabit every facet of the day-to-day running of shelters across the world, and no job is too big or too small if it contributes to even one pet finding their happily-ever-after. Needless to say, it requires a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

HeARTs Speak artist members, a unique breed of superhero, cover a lot of ground; 48 states and 20 countries to be exact. But despite the program’s growth and ever-changing community reach, the demand for resources to help create amazing photos, videos, writing, and marketing content still outweighs the supply. Our Perfect Exposure Project, first launched in 2013, aims to fill the gaps by giving shelter staff and volunteers the tools and knowledge needed to give animals the dazzling first impression their lives depend on.

The cherry on top of each workshop is always the Shelter Photography Field Guide; a 50-page go-to manual that handily summarizes everything taught throughout the Perfect Exposure Project. It’s jam-packed with photography tips, social media and marketing ideas, post-processing wisdom, and big-picture inspiration. And for 7 years now it’s been a dependable shelter marketing sidekick.

So, let’s get to the good part! What’s in the guide? Here’s a sneak peek:


We cover everything you need to know to get great photos of your adoptables, regardless of the environment you have to work in or the type of camera (DSLR or cell phone) you are using.

  • Learn which camera settings get the best results in both natural and studio light.
  • Learn how aperture and depth of field can work together to help you blur a cluttered background.
  • Get tricks for capturing crystal clear action shots.
  • Curious how to manage focus points so your subject’s eyes sing? We have a whole page devoted to that.
  • Not sure which lens is the best for each type of photograph? We melt zoom and prime lenses down into something photographers of any experience level can grasp, complete with visual examples.


Putting some finishing touches on your images can elevate them from moderately eye-catching to adoption-scoring with just a few minor tweaks.

  • Why is cropping important and what constitutes a great crop?
  • Learn how a simple exposure adjustment can give you the extra light you didn’t get in the field.
  • So long leashes: learn how to edit out leashes or other cosmetic issues that can serve to distract adopters from an emotional connection.
  • Get tips for paring down your images to the cream of the crop.


Knowing how to effectively channel your enthusiasm for an animal you’re caring for can be an invaluable tool in the search for community connection. The details you focus on and the vibe you maintain can influence both the quality and frequency of adoptions.

  • Learn why positivity is the best approach (we’ve done a lot of research on this one!)
  • Get tips for selecting the best pieces of a pet’s history to focus on and learn how to word the not-so-great stuff.
  • Learn how to infuse humor, write a bio from a fresh, exciting perspective, and employ the power of words to further push the awesome photo you’ve taken!

We hope you’re ready to dig into this treasure trove of tips, tricks, and how-tos: Learn more about it here. Together we can make sure no animal goes unseen!

Posted in
HeARTs Speak

HeARTs Speak

HeARTs Speak's goal is to increase the visibility of shelter pets by uniting creativity and advocacy. Through programs based in partnership, training, resource-sharing, and innovation they are proud to be the only organization of their kind uniquely focused on the portrayal and marketing of animal services and pet adoption. A tiny but mighty organization with over a decade of work under their belt, they're passionate about ensuring that no animals go unseen, and that creative marketing for shelters and rescues is fast, easy, and fun.