Animal Shelter Photography: Prettify or Reality?
By Elisa Black-Taylor
Should animal shelter photography prettify the animals or show harsh reality? This is a continuation of an article Michael wrote a year or so back. Michael’s article basically explains how good shelter photos of cats and dogs can mean the difference between life and death.
The idea for this article came after the shelter in Greenville where my cats were all rescued from has made the decision to do their photography “in-house” instead of using a professional approach. For the record, the shelter claims they haven’t banned photographers, but it’s been upsetting to those professional, as well as semi-professional animal photographers who have been offering their services to the shelter free of charge.
If you go on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/gcpetrescue/photos_albums) now you can see the difference in the style of photography between photos taken in September versus photos taken in August and before.
Instead of posed cats and dogs against beautiful backdrops, you now see cages and concrete floors. This was very upsetting to me because I’ve been a believer that professional photos of the euthanasia list animals would help get them adopted faster than showing the real horror of their confinement.
Prettified or Reality?
I’ve always been a believer that people are more likely to identify and connect with a beautiful, happy cat or dog than with one that looks like it came off one of those late night commercials put on by the Humane Society of the United States. Those of you in the U.S. know the ones I mean, where every animal looks sad and miserable and you can hardly wait for the commercial to end.
This all turned into a little test last week, when I got into a discussion on whether potential adopters would rather see a beautiful, possibly airbrushed photo, or the truth. In other words, which style is more likely to urge a potential adopter to contact the shelter about rescuing a cat or dog? I was surprised to learn most people want to see the harsh reality. Many believe the cages and concrete floor and the heartbreaking expression on a death row animals face are more likely to motivate an adopter into getting an animal off of death row and into their home.
Another concern came up during the discussion I was having. If a photo is made by a professional and made to look exceptional using Photoshop or a similar program, it may not give a true impression on how the animal really looks. Sometimes to the point of making that animal almost totally unrecognizable.
I’m the first to admit I use a feature called “bloom” on my PhotoScape editing software. I’m not intelligent enough to use Photoshop, despite an antique degree in photography and 12 years experience as a professional photographer. It’s easy to tell that many photos taken at shelters have been softened before being put online. But does this present what many would call a half truth in how the animal really looks?
How do you feel about how shelter cats and dogs are portrayed in their photos? Do you want to see the harsh reality that shows depressed and sometimes sick animals. Or would you prefer to keep your blinders on and have professional photographers sugar-coat the situation by creating the illusion of health and happiness?