Easy Tips for Great Shelter Pet Photos

Photos are a vital part of not only finding homes faster for homeless pets but transforming the way communities perceive shelters and pet adoption. A great photo helps a pet make an emotional connection in an instant— and that can be the key to motivating someone to visit the shelter to save a life. Here are some quick tips to up your photography game, no matter what type of environment you have as a backdrop!


For the best possible result, look for good, solid light. Believe it or not, shade and indirect sunlight will result in the prettiest images (avoid strong sunlight or patchy shade). When inside, position windows behind you (the photographer) so that the window light brightens the face of the pet you are photographing. Outside, look for open shade, like the overhang of a building, under a tree, tent or sail shade, or even in the shadow cast by a fence or wall.


One of the fastest ways to improve your photos is to clear the clutter in the background of the image. Simply moving litterboxes, dirty linens, and other items that we tend to overlook in our everyday work can help ensure the focus stays on the pet. On a cell phone, use the Pro, Portrait, Manual or Selective Focus settings and get the added benefit of blurring the background and making the subject stand out.


As they say, the eyes are the window to the soul and the fastest way for someone to feel a connection. The pet’s eyes should be the focus, whether you’re going for a close-up or a full body shot. To get the shot, stabilize your camera to avoid shake, and make sure your focus point is on one of the pet’s eyes. Finally, try to get eye-level with the pet to strengthen that connection that people will feel when looking at your images!


Show off your ability to do a lot with a little! If you’re looking for a backdrop, look no further than your donation bin or craft store: A fleece blanket makes a perfect background because it typically doesn’t show wrinkles the way a sheet will, or try vinyl show curtains and placemats (for cat condos). Just remember, neutral colors are typically more pleasing to the eye.

If you’re working alone on getting photos, patience and few good tools (think: feather wand, stinky and delicious treats, and a great noisemaker) will make all the difference.

BONUS: No squeaker? Try crinkling a bag and watch the head tilt happen!


We get into a routine and tend to overlook our everyday environment, but consider rethinking the beauty of your facility. Brick walls are gorgeous backdrops, concrete reflects light and is the perfect neutral background, and chain link looks magical when blurred in the background. You don’t need tons of space or professional equipment to get the shot that will get an animal home.

Last but not least, rethink being a part of the photo: Having staff or volunteers in the shot breaks down stereotypes, adds connection, and can help a shy animal stay calm and comfortable. Get tips on how to capture people with adoptable pets here.

Ready to take your photography game even further? Dive deeper with our free, 3-part shelter photography basics series or check out 10-Tips for Better Cell Phone Photos

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Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin Quinn

Caitlin is passionate about working with shelters and rescues to reimagine the way they tell their stories and connect with new audiences. She has served in the animal welfare field since 2008 and early on had the honor of working closely with diverse organizations across the U.S. to maximize resources, redesign policies, and find life-changing marketing solutions. In 2015, she got her MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management and in 2021, she began teaching marketing + communications for the University of Florida Master of Veterinary Science, Concentration in Shelter Medicine program. She lives in NY with a petite brindle pit bull named Sally who owns her heart.