Shelter Me Pet Photography

Sunday, March 5th
12:00 Noon to 6:00 PM


More and more shelters are recognizing the power of photography and how a great picture can compel a viewer to visit a shelter and a bad picture can scare them away. Shelters are also realizing that higher quality pictures give the impression that the shelter posting them has better pets, a better facility or just plain cares more about their animals than shelters that don’t. Through a special grant made possible by Purina, Shelter Me Photography (SMP) will be at Second Chance Center for Animals on Thursday, March 2nd to provide professional photography training for shelter staff and volunteers to take better pictures of our adoptable pets.

All volunteers and staff are invited to participate in this half day workshop – free of charge – and then work with the professional photographers hands-on with our shelter pets!

SMP has been photographing shelter pets longer than any other shelter-photography organization in the United States.

 SMP’s Executive Director and Co-founder, Nanette Martin. With Ryleigh and Oedi

SMP’s Executive Director and Co-founder, Nanette Martin. With Ryleigh and Oedi

 Attendees get a chance to photograph pets under Nanette′s supervision during the afternoon session

Attendees get a chance to photograph pets under Nanette′s supervision during the afternoon session


12:00 Noon to 1:00 pm – Meet and Greet Nanette martin – Founder of Shelter Me Photography (Lunch Provided)

1:00 PM to 4:00 PM – Classroom presentation and audience participation. Discuss photography basics and challenges specific to shelter photography.

4:00 PM to 6:00 PM – Photography stations and break up into groups to photograph dogs and cats with leadership from Shelter Me Photography.

Please continue reading for more information about this great initiative.

Shelter Me Pet Photography Overview

So why is the Internet littered with so many bad pictures of adoptable pets? Because producing great shelter portraits is incredibly difficult, even for professional photographers. Fortunately, there are organizations like Shelter Me Photography (SMP) that provide professional photography assistance to the animal welfare community. An organic byproduct of Hurricane Katrina, SMP has been photographing shelter pets longer than any other shelter-photography organization in the United States.

Workshop Details

SMP’s Executive Director and co-founder, Nanette Martin, is a formally-trained professional photographer with more than 20 years of experience. Nanette designed SMP’s Shelter-Photography Workshop for attendees of all skill levels, from those with no experience to seasoned professionals. It lasts one full day and is divided into morning and afternoon sessions. The morning session takes place in a classroom setting and typically lasts three to four hours. Nanette uses a slide presentation and live demonstrations to teach basic photography principles and tips, tricks and techniques that simplify the challenges unique to photographing shelter pets. Specifically, attendees will learn:

 Nanette uses demonstrations during the morning classroom session

Nanette uses demonstrations during the morning classroom session

  • What makes a great picture great;
  • How to recognize and control light;
  • How to determine the best location for a studio;
  • What to use for a background and foreground and why;
  • How to build studios for dogs and cats;
  • How to control facility traffic and minimize distractions;
  • How to choose and use digital camera equipment;
  • Where to position the photographer, handler and helpers;
  • How to check and adjust exposure;
  • How to frame and crop the subject;
  • How to connect with the subject;
  • What camera data to record and how;
  • An introduction to basic image processing;
  • And more…

The afternoon session gives attendees an opportunity to apply what they learned in the morning session and lasts until the shelter closes for the day. Attendees will identify the best locations for cat and dog studios, build them and then photograph some of each. If requested, Nanette will stay additional days to photograph adoptable pets and/or work with attendees one-on-one at the host and other shelters represented at the workshop.


SMP recognizes that shelters have limited budgets so we strive to keep our fee as low as possible. We ask each attendee to pay only $25 for this unique and valuable learning experience. If they cannot afford $25 then we ask them to pay whatever they can; no one will be turned away. We also ask the host and any attending shelters/rescues to contribute by simply promoting our two ongoing fundraisers: our 2017 Crowdfunding Campaign and the sale of our “Shelter Me Photography Color Me Home” custom shelter-pet coloring books. The money raised will help get us to the next shelter. This pay-it-forward platform is designed to encourage participation and reinforce the interconnectedness of the national animal-welfare community. Any money raised that exceeds our projected needs will be used to purchase studio materials and equipment for the host shelter. We have found that attendees are more likely to implement the proven techniques they learn when they have the tools and space necessary to do so. The images they produce will not only affect adoption rates but also change the face of your facility to online viewers and provide a source of in-house marketing material.

Seriously, How Hard Can It Be?

It’s just pictures of dogs and cats, right? How hard can it be? Actually, plenty hard. In fact, it may just be the most difficult discipline of photography there is. Your “studio” doubles as a hallway, storage room, loading dock, closet, bathroom or so-and-so’s office whenever so-and-so is out. Your subjects don’t talk and are often scared, confused, hyper, depressed, distressed or anxious and in need of a bath. Sometimes you know nothing more about them than their species, breed (or best guess), gender and approximate age of their teeth. Yet to do them justice, you must capture their spirit in a picture that ignites interest and triggers connections that leave viewers wanting more. Depending on the situation, your picture might even make the difference between the life or death of your subject!

Why Get Trained?

“Accomplished Photographer” is not typically on the list of required skills for a position at an animal shelter, however, no one is in a better position to capture potentially life-saving images of shelter pets than those who are around them on a daily basis. Yes, there are professional
photographers who graciously volunteer their available time to photograph shelter pets. Unfortunately, a lot can happen and lives can be lost in between their visits. Plus, “professional photographer” is a loosely used title that no longer signifies a formally trained, credentialed, published, commercially working individual. Being a professional photographer no more qualifies you to be a “successful shelter photographer” than being a doctor qualifies you to be a successful heart surgeon. Every discipline of photography poses unique challenges and requires special training to become truly proficient. Shelter photography is no exception.

Why Shelter Workers?

If shelter photography is so difficult, why train shelter personnel who often have little to no photography experience? Two words: emotional capacity. Those who work in a rescue or shelter environment are used to (and somewhat hardened by) seeing pets behind bars and in cages, pets that have been abused, pets who have departed this life and those who are not long for it. For an outsider, those realities can be burdensome and compromise the longevity of their ability to serve. To truly succeed as a shelter photographer, you must have unconditional
commitment and infinite patience for every pet you photograph plus emotional armor to cope and keep you coming back. We can teach shelter workers with emotional stamina and armored hearts how to be photographers. We cannot teach photographers how to have emotional stamina or armored hearts.

Why SMP?

What separates SMP from the pack is our leader, Nanette Martin. When Nanette started photographing shelter pets in 2005, there were no articles, books, experienced shelter photographers or other sources of guidance available to prevent her from having to reinvent the wheel; there was no wheel to reinvent. Nanette relied on her prior training and shooting experience to tackle the multitude of challenges encountered at each new shelter. Over an 8-year period, she used trial and error to separate what worked and what didn’t. The end result was an affordable, simple, yet highly efficient process grounded in sound photography principles that allowed her to capture professional quality images of nearly 100 shelter pets in a day. She incorporated her discoveries and techniques into a guide book and launched SMP’s Workshop training program. Today, Nanette continues to refine her process as technology offers new solutions to old problems and workshop attendees raise new questions. The system she uses is her own creation and no one knows it better than she does. In fact, she literally wrote the book on how to photograph shelter pets, copies of which are provided to workshop attendees.


Nanette’s credentials bring an element of professionalism to SMP that no other organization can offer. She is a summa cum laude graduate of the Art Institute of Colorado’s Photography School and has over 20 years of experience as a professional photographer. During the first decade of her career, she documented the aftermaths of hate crimes and disasters (like the murders of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, the Columbine High School Massacre, 911/Ground Zero, San Diego’s Cedar Fire and Hurricane Katrina) and photographed many editorial assignments (published in LIFE Magazine, People Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Reader’s Digest, Marie Claire and many more, as well as textbooks, coffee table books and film). Nanette left her editorial career and became a full-time shelter photographer in 2005 after some pictures she took helped save the lives of 75 Katrina dogs. Since then, she has photographed more than 10,000 homeless pets; taught hundreds of shelter workers how to capture images that touch hearts, change minds and save lives; and motivated countless trained photographers to get involved.

What You Can Expect

  • Professionalism. SMP personnel will conduct themselves in a professional, safe and courteous manner with respect for all shelter personnel, operations and safety regulations. Nanette will teach the workshop in a manner that encourages all attendees regardless of skill level to participate and seek individual attention when necessary. The workshop curriculum covers the equivalent of a semester’s worth of information, which can be overwhelming for attendees who are not familiar with photography or the use of a camera. Therefore, Nanette will remain in town for up to a week to work one-on-one with attendees at their respective shelters. It is imperative that at least one attendee fully grasp the information so others have on-site guidance after SMP leaves. SMP will provide on-going technical support and critiques via email, Skype, Facetime or other appropriate platforms.
  • In-House Photography Studios. Funding permitting, SMP will equip and build two studios at the host shelter, one for cats and one for dogs. The importance of leaving behind two fully functional studios cannot be understated, as without them there is a tendency to revert back to ineffective “old ways.”
  • Web-Ready Pictures. SMP will provide web-ready images of any adoptable pets we photograph at the host or attending shelters within 72 hours of completing all services, including one head- and one body-shot of each pet.
  • For shelters using Chameleon® tracking software, SMP will provide additional images formatted specifically to fit the program’s template to avoid stretching.
  • Increased Adoptions. Shelters that implement the practices taught in SMP’s Shelter Photography Workshop have reported increased website traffic followed by increased facility traffic and ultimately, increased adoption rates (one as high as 100%!). They have also reported boosts to the morale and motivation of their staff as members realize their ability to positively affect the destiny of the animals in their care.

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