Giving Back: pet adoption photography

Giving Back: pet adoption photography

Some of you may have seen a fellow photographer, Teresa Berg, featured on CBS a few weeks ago: Teresa is a Dallas, TX photographer on a mission to bring to light an important need of homeless animals hoping for a second chance in life: a beautiful headshot. I recently spoke to Teresa to get her perspective on the topic of pet headshots.

Teresa began offering her services in 2007 after adopting her own rescue from the Dallas Ft. Worth Dachshund Rescue Organization. When searching for her new family member, she was horrified by the quality of the photos posted on online pet listings. Teresa offers her services to both that organization as well as the Collin County Humane Society. She specializes in “tough cases”, including the senior, deaf, and black dogs (who are difficult to photograph well). Pet adoption photography is not a new concept. Several pet photographers around the country have long known the secret weapon of humane societies and rescue groups, however there are so many that either don’t have access to an experienced photographer or don’t have the time or money to invest in getting good images. But if they did… imagine what a difference we could all make in the lives and fates of these animals if we could each donate our time and turn something like this:

Into this:

I’m sure you’ve seen the typical adoption images: a sad-faced hound behind a chain link gate.  What kind of feelings do such images evoke?  Sorrow, anger, fear, tears; none of which inspires us to further investigate adopting that animal.

But with the right photographer we can get this image of the same dog:

What does it bring to mind? This image portrays tenderness, loyalty, warmth. It might even inspire you to share it with a friend or post it on Facebook.

Which image would inspire you to bring that pet into your home? For me THAT is the goal: to get that fur-baby out of the pound (or foster home) and into a new family’s living room watching Animal Planet.

How to Start Volunteering Your Services

Teresa recommends being very careful to volunteer with a reputable animal rescue group. She has a website for aspiring rescue photographers, Focus on Rescue, that has a list of criteria that helps identify a good group with which to volunteer. Teresa also gives classes and has started a webinar to give tips to those wanting to learn more about the specialty of pet adoption photography.

Being a veterinarian myself, I started taking images for the local rescue group, PAWS Rescue, for which we provide medical care. I really had no intention of doing pet photography, but after a few sessions, I was hooked! Not only are the sessions themselves fun (and challenging!), but watching the aftermath is the BEST part! Several pets that I have photographed were adopted within days (sometimes hours) of their new pictures being posted. I think Teresa said it best when she said, “I don’t really have time to volunteer at a local shelter, and I don’t have a lot of money to donate, but I can use my everyday skills to make a difference, and it feels terrific!”

Teresa and I are both members of HeARTs Speak, a wonderful organization of pet photographers and other professionals who donate their time and art to aid in increasing adoption rates and decreasing the numbers of pets who are euthanized each year. If you are interested in volunteering, they can be a great resource!

Tricks for the Rescue Pet Photographer

Here are some tricks that you as the photographer need to learn. I use these for my outdoor shoots. First, I try whenever possible to have an enclosed area where I can let the animal run around. If this is not feasible, then it helps to have an assistant and a very thin leash that is easy to clone out in post-processing.

Sit and Stay

The worst thing you can do is back a poor unsocialized pup in a corner and shove a lens in its face. Instead, sit quietly and let the pet come to you. Not only does this allow the animal to get comfortable with its environment, but it will also make for a much less intimidated expression. Curious, perky ears make for great shots!


Get down. And I mean WAY down. It’s not uncommon for me to lay flat on the ground for most of my best shots. You want to be eye level or lower. But be CAREFUL!!! Watch for land mines!


For tall dogs, lay flat with your head up (think sit-up or crunch position) to enable you to catch the sky as your only backdrop and expose for the pet. With a little post-production magic, you can get something that looks like this:

And finally, make sure to keep that shutter speed high. Think rambunctious toddlers! For indoor studio work, Teresa recommends an assistant to help with positioning otherwise you will become frustrated quickly. Since I work mainly outdoors in enclosed area, I personally like to be alone with the pet so that we can develop a connection that will come through in my images. It’s all about style and you will develop your own. Just remember, a little trust goes a long way and comes through the lens so if you’re not an animal lover then rescue photography may not be your thing – and that’s okay! But if you are interested and if you have any questions feel free to look me up on ClickinMoms or check out my blogsite or Facebook page.  Imagine how many lives we can save just doing what we love! Purrrfect!

Just a few more before and afters to demonstrate how a skilled photographer can make all the difference to these animals:

And a very happy ending for Maggie:

About the Author:

Visit Rachel Potter online.


  1. Diane S Sep 30 2011 at 6:52 am - Reply

    Rachel, You are a rockstar! What a great thing you are doing. And your photos are amazing.

  2. Lynne Sep 30 2011 at 6:55 am - Reply

    Rachel<3 This brings tears to my eyes. You are amazing. Gorgeous shots and you are truly changing their worlds with photography. Wow. xo

  3. Sarah Wilkerson Sep 30 2011 at 7:02 am - Reply

    Rachel, I'm so touched and inspired by this (and the tips are wonderful) … but that last set (Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday) brought me to tears. And this quote, oh – "Imagine how many lives we can save just doing what we love! " You're truly amazing.

  4. Lexie Sep 30 2011 at 7:03 am - Reply

    Rachel! These are so great! And what a great thing you are doing. I have to admit that when we just adopted our dog, I totally skipped over him on the rescue's website – his personality didn't shine through on the picture they had posted of him. Luckily we met him in person a few weeks later and fell totally in love with him! You've got me thinking about seeing if I can make time to do something like this for the rescue we adopted him from 🙂 Thank you for the inspiration!!! (And seriously love your logo!!!!)

  5. Julie Anders Sep 30 2011 at 7:04 am - Reply

    Loved this Rachel!! Warms my heart 🙂

  6. Denise Sep 30 2011 at 7:06 am - Reply

    I love this idea & actually tried it with my local non kill shelter a few years back. Unfortunately I had to stop. The people who volunteered at the shelter including the ones that ran the shelter, began using & publishing my images without my permission & removing the watermark off the images. I tried explaining to them the do's & don't's of using my images & the copyright policy, but it just fell on deaf ears & they seemed to have no respect for me or my work. Rather than to make a huge issue out of it, I just quit offering my services. 🙁

  7. Anne Sep 30 2011 at 7:10 am - Reply

    The last 3 photos made me teary as well. Rachel, this is so wonderful, what you are doing. And you are so talented, and so good at this ! <3

  8. Nance Heidemann Sep 30 2011 at 7:10 am - Reply

    Rachel, this is so inspiring! I love this article and your images. I love that Maggie has a new home. 🙂

  9. Megan Cieloha Sep 30 2011 at 7:22 am - Reply

    You are an inspiration, Rachel. Thank you so much for sharing your talent and giving heart with us <3

  10. Crystal Sep 30 2011 at 7:28 am - Reply

    Rachel, this is fantastic! Wow, those are lovely images of those pets. Thank you for sharing with us!

  11. Ashley Bruschi Sep 30 2011 at 7:29 am - Reply

    This is SUCH a great post! Thank you so much for the inspiration. And your before/after shots are great!

  12. Anita Sep 30 2011 at 7:31 am - Reply

    Rachel, I am so proud to call you friend. You are a tremendous inspiration, and not only is your work extremely important, but you are also opening the doors to others, making it reach that much further. I hope many CMers will read this and see how a small gesture can make an enormous difference.

  13. Mindy Sep 30 2011 at 7:49 am - Reply

    Loved this post! Your images are just beautiful Rachel and you truly showed what a difference a nicer image can make in portraying the animal. I spent 5 years volunteering at our local shelter and taking the pics and doing the adoption write-ups and counseling and am sad to say I haven't had time this last year to continue it. Your post has reminded me how much I loved it and hopefully I'll be able to find some time this next year to sneak it back in! Also I absolutely loved your Sunday/Tuesday/Wednesday image – so touching and encouraging!

  14. Annie Sep 30 2011 at 7:50 am - Reply

    Rachel you inspire me! How wonderful that you have connected your two passions — caring for animals and photography to create some good in this world. We need more people like you. Oh and you've got some crazy mad skills too by the way!

  15. Lacey Sep 30 2011 at 8:03 am - Reply

    Wonderful article, Rachel! These images definitely tug at my heart strings as I sit here with tears in my eyes! Your photos are beautiful and what you are doing for these animals is such a gift. This is such an inspiration and definitely shows the power of a beautiful photo. 🙂

  16. Amy Lucy Sep 30 2011 at 8:08 am - Reply

    Rachel, you never cease to amaze me! I love that you giving your time and talent to such a wonderful cause. From someone who used to be a regional director of breed rescue organization, I know how much need there is for adoptive homes, but also for beautiful portraits like the ones you create. Your images will make a world of difference for those wonderful animals needing someone to love them. Bravo, Rachel! You're amazing!

  17. Ali C Sep 30 2011 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Rachel, you are awesome!! What an amazing thing you are doing for these animals!

  18. megan moore Sep 30 2011 at 8:44 am - Reply

    Rachel, this is wonderful! I LOVE the tips you gave, and am so happy to see that Maggie had such a happy ending. You're inspiring. 🙂

  19. Anne Sep 30 2011 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Rachel, this is truly inspiring! You do beautiful work and your passion for these sweet animals is so evident. Amazing!

  20. Paws Rescue Sep 30 2011 at 9:14 am - Reply

    Thank you Dr. Potter, for helping us find adoptive homes faster, which means we can help more homeless pets faster. Thank you for giving us (the rescues) your time. I know your busy but you never say no. thanks from the bottom of our hearts and paws!

  21. Katrina Stewart Sep 30 2011 at 9:25 am - Reply

    Wow Rachel. Love this article. It makes me want to work really hard at photography so that l can use that skill to help others whether it be another person or our furry friends.

    Your pictures are just awesome! l can see how much effort you put into them.

  22. Andrea Thomas Sep 30 2011 at 9:41 am - Reply

    Wonderful, wonderful article! Thank you so much for sharing this! I have wanted to volunteer somehow and this is a fantastic idea! My dog Murphy is a rescue from a local organization and he has brought us so much joy. What a great way to give back!

  23. Jen Sep 30 2011 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Rachel, it has been so exciting to watch this develop for you, this article really touched my heart and made me think of all the exciting ways photography can be used for good. You definitely are an amazing photographer AND person! What an incredible blessing to give this gift to the adoptees, adopters, and…I'm sure it has been a huge blessing for you, as well. Great job, sweetie – you are an inspiration!! <3

  24. Stacey Haslem Sep 30 2011 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Rachel!!! This is such a wonderful article. You truly are an inspiration! I love how your two passions have come together and it is so apparent in your work. I am so happy that our paths have crossed <3

  25. Lisa (Tout Petit Pix Sep 30 2011 at 9:49 am - Reply

    Oh Rachel you've just warmed my heart!!!!

    When a generous soul and a talented photographer combine into one single person, the result is magic <3

  26. Monica Sep 30 2011 at 10:03 am - Reply

    You have such a big heart Rachel!! I seriously think you ROCK!!!

  27. Lacey Sep 30 2011 at 10:05 am - Reply

    What a wonderful idea! I have never thought about this before. Your images are amazing and so inspirational!

  28. keli Sep 30 2011 at 10:18 am - Reply

    this made me cry – SO SWEET!!! thank you for all that you do!

  29. jodi arego Sep 30 2011 at 10:22 am - Reply

    what a fabulous way to use what you have to benefit a needy cause. the world is better because of people like you! thanks for sharing this and encouraging as all to give!

  30. Ariana Falerni Sep 30 2011 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Beautiful images and great tips for a great cause. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  31. Ashley Spaulding Sep 30 2011 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    This is one of the most inspiring blog posts I've read. Thank you for your amazing heart and your wonderful talent, Rachel, and for taking the time to share both of them with us!

  32. Elle Sep 30 2011 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    Rachel, your generous spirit and amazing talent is truly inspiring… Maggie's story just warms my heart… <3

  33. susan Sep 30 2011 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Rachel! I'm so proud of you 🙂 What dramatic (holy cow) transformations!

  34. Darren Sep 30 2011 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    Dang, I really wanted to do this. Thanks for sharing. Reminded me to contact the local shelters.

  35. Heidi Oct 01 2011 at 5:30 am - Reply

    Rachel – this is a wonderful article! Your tips are excellent and the story so inspiring. I am now brainstorming how I can help others through photography. Brilliant!

  36. Bobbie Galford Oct 01 2011 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Rachel — your photography is both incredible and inspirational. Thanks for helping so many rescued pets!

  37. Lisa Harrison Oct 01 2011 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    You are amazing <3 Your work is gorgeous. Thanks for sharing xo

  38. Jes Gwozdz Oct 01 2011 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Rachel, what you do is wonderful. Thanks for sharing your story and your tips!

  39. Melanie Fuelling Oct 01 2011 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    I know firsthand the magic of your photography…… a trip thinking i was going to be taking a lonely, scared senior girl to a foster home and greeted with the news that a loving, caring person wanted to adopt her after seeing your photograph of her…. and has, and she is in the greatest place… thank you so much….your love for these furbabies shines through in your photographs … rewarding for you also… i'm so thankful for people like you with compassion and a passion for the homeless and helpless…. keep up the awesome work and thanks for the tips, especially the land mines one – LOL – i've come close a couple of times !

  40. Pat Oct 01 2011 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Awesome idea and inspiration!!! Beautiful, beautiful photos!

  41. Joyce K. Oct 03 2011 at 7:43 am - Reply

    LOVE you for doing such wonderful work both photography and pet adoption!

  42. Heather N. Oct 03 2011 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    As the "Mom" of several adopted pets I applaud your work Rachel! What an amazing difference you are making in these animals lives! You have inspired me to looking into what I can do for our local animal shelter.

  43. Rachael Oct 05 2011 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    I am in love with this!!! I now want to do it. I will be checking out the list you provided for some shelters around my area. Im an amateur photographer and would LOVE to help out these loving animals if i can.

    Thank you for this post.

  44. Courtney Oct 21 2011 at 12:16 am - Reply

    Rachel, this is amazing! I have two rescue dogs myself and have always wondered how I could help more, without bringing them home since my hubby might kill me :O) Thanks for the inspiration!

  45. Julie Crouzat Oct 21 2011 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    These tips are great. I am already doing the pictures for my local SPCA (animal rescue and adoption centre) but I have been working only inside with my shots. I will now try and get some great outdoor ones as well!

  46. Anna Dec 06 2011 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this! Our family dog recently (and unexpectedly) passed away and while neither of us is emotionally ready for a new dog I think this sounds like a great way to "give back" and be able to share my love for the furry creatures.

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