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How Shelter Photographers Save Lives, One Portrait At A Time

A beautiful photograph can mean the difference between a dog languishing in the shelter or being adopted by a loving family. Shelter photographers volunteer their time and talent to create stunning images that capture the hearts of potential pet parents.

With just one photo, they are able to bring families into shelters to meet (and hopefully adopt) the pet that caught their eye.


The photos above are of two of my own dogs, Finch and Rosana. These are the images I saw online that prompted me to adopt them. In Finch’s case it was his shiny brown lip and the proud way he rocked that bandanna. With Rosie, it was her grey muzzle and bright, soulful eyes – I’m a sucker for a senior pooch!

Both portraits just drew me in right away and made me want to learn more about the dogs.

Image Source: Casey Elise Photography

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Professional shutterbug Casey Elise uses her artistic eye and affinity for animals to capture the true nature of the dogs and cats she photographs. She lends her skills to shelters throughout Los Angeles.

Casey recently had a session with some very special adoptable pups at the West LA Animal Shelter. To demonstrate just how powerful a high-quality portrait can be, she also provided “regular” images for comparison.

Image Source: Rocky’s Adoption Page


The handsome fella above is named Rocky. He looks a little sad in this shot, right? Also the grey, cracked concrete in the background gives off a gloomy vibe.

Image Source: Casey Elise Photography


Now here’s Rocky hamming it up and grinning like a goof for Casey. The bright green grass is cheerful and offsets Rocky’s gorgeous eyes. What a difference!

To create a successful session, Casey takes each dog out of the shelter for a romp before bringing out her camera. After they are worn out and feeling good, she is able to capture their true personalities.

Image Source: Casey Elise Photography

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The beefy boy above is King. It’s hard to tell much about his personality from this candid photo. He looks aloof, maybe even a bit intimidating; and with Bully breeds like King, it is especially important to show off their friendly sides.

Image Source: Casey Elise Photography


Take a look at King after his play session with Casey! His relaxed smile and alert, eager-to-please eyes paint the portrait of a playful, obedient boy just looking for someone to love. According to Casey the trick is simple:

“Most dogs will sit politely and show you a big smile if you are holding something they want.  Hold the treat or toy above the lens and the pup will look right into the camera with a giant smile.”
Image Source: Cena’s Adoption Page


Sweet senior gal Cena looks painfully shy and sad in her photo above; but after some one-on-one time with Casey you can see that she is actually a spunky old gal with a twinkle of mischief in her eye.

Image Source: Casey Elise Photography


Look at that bright, intelligent face!

The best part about shelter photography is that you don’t have to be an award-winning pro to volunteer your skills. Even hobbyists can learn to become amazing pet photographers and greatly increase the adoption rates at their local shelters.

Image Source: Casey Elise Photography


Plenty of resources are available to help you get started. Focus on Rescue offers tips on finding a shelter in need and taking amazing shots. One Picture Saves teaches how grooming and photography services help shelter pets put their best paw forward.

All of the dogs above – except Finch and Rosana, of course! – are available for adoption at the West LA Animal Shelter.

Has a shelter pet’s picture ever convinced you to adopt?

Do you want a healthier & happier dog? Join our email list & we'll donate 1 meal to a shelter dog in need!

Written by Dina Fantegrossi
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