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Shooting the small fry

From Animal Sheltering magazine March/April 2012

The little guys have personalities, too! Make sure your photos of them show it.

It’s a shame when online adoption listings for cats and dogs show animals who don’t look appealing. Black cats set against dark backgrounds, their sweet faces lost in a blur. Dogs whose unholy green or red glowing eyes suggest adoption listings reading: Hellhound mix; prefers to be only pet. May eat smaller children.

Overall, though, most shelters and rescues are getting smarter about their adoption photos, making sure that the pictures they post show animals people would want to take home, not animals who seem to require an exorcist.

One area of imagery where some groups still fall short, though, is in photos of small animals—the mice, the rats, the hamsters and gerbils and guinea pigs. Far too often, online pictures of these guys are missing, consist of a blurry shot of a cage with some hairy lumps in it, or perhaps just ambiguous bedding material.

These little dudes have enough problems without being made to look like Tribbles. These days, a decent digital camera can take a good close-up shot of Mickey, one that captures his personality in a way that’ll help him find a home. Here are some basic tips:

Learn your camera settings. The “macro” setting on a digital camera is usually designed for close-ups, and some require the user to hold the button down to focus before clicking. If you know your machine, it’ll help you end up with a shot of a gerbil rather than a tannish blob.

Focus on their faces. It’s more difficult for people to connect with an animal when they can’t see her facial expression. The more big brown eyes, adorable pink noses, and fat, seed-filled cheeks you can show, the better.

Color their world. As with any pet, make sure there’s enough contrast in the surroundings that your little guy shows up. If you have the space, set up photo shoots against cheerful colors of cloth.

Team up. If you don’t have a safe space to allow the animals to sit and pose, have someone who’s comfortable with small critters hold them for photos. If you do this, try to show the person (smiling, please!) and the pet, rather than just the pet sitting in an anonymous set of hands. Showing these little guys interacting with a person will emphasize their people-friendly qualities to potential adopters. If you have to shoot them in their cages …

… Show some action. Catch your little dudes when they’re up and about, running on their wheels, nom-nom-nom-ing on a snack, or exploring their cages. (It may mean staying late one day, as some rodents are nocturnal party animals.)

About the Author

Animal Sheltering is for everyone who cares about the animals in their community—from shelter directors and animal care and control officers to kennel staff, volunteers, and private individuals working as activists, breed rescuers, wildlife rehabbers, veterinarians and more.