Animal Shelter Photography 101

I recently began a wonderful partnership with a local animal shelter.

It started as a small idea in my mind that was quickly squashed by self doubt. Thoughts like, why would a shelter care about professional photography? They’ll probably think I’m some sort of art snob on a mission to play dress up with their animals. Even if they did want my services, would they be enthusiastic or merely accepting? Would they be open to my ideas and suggestions, or would I just be overstepping my meager boundaries as a volunteer?

I got up enough courage to send a Facebook message. Pathetic. But to my surprise and good fortune, they responded quickly and invited me to an upcoming volunteer orientation.

A literal foot in the door.

There were about 15 people waiting for the orientation when I arrived. A lot of young kids and their mothers, and a handful of convicts doing their community service time. The volunteer coordinator, Tammy, gave a tour of the facilities and an overview of volunteer responsibilities, including much discussion of poop protocol and cleanup. None of that was really sinking in with me. I was too busy examining the lighting, spaces, and potential photographic qualities that a particular wall or room had. I think it’s safe to say that a pet shelter is not the ideal studio space, but I would not be deterred.

I had a lot of questions for the Tammy, but apparently so did everyone else. There wasn’t much time for one on one conversation, so I went home as uncertain as had I come in. (Actually, there was a short conversation between me and Tammy, but it was interrupted by some girl asking if three drug possession charges qualified as a felony… The answer is no, but the way.)


We schedule our first session for the following week. Nikon in hand, I walk in to the shelter, now significantly calmer than my last encounter. “Uhm, Sonya Leon… here to see Tammy?” I say in a half-statement-half-question tone.

The rest, as they say, is history. It’s only been two weeks, and I already feel that a great rapport has been built with Tammy and the rest of the staff. There are some big projects in the works, such as a a holiday open house featuring the art of a certain very mysterious and sought after photographer.

I’ll give you a hint. Her name starts with S and ends in Onya.

More updates to come, including a few tips & tricks for pet photography that I’ve learned along the way. For now, I leave you with an awww-dorable picture of Shaggy, a dog currently awaiting adoption at the shelter.


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