How to Change a Shelter Pet’s Life with your Camera

When an animal is brought into a shelter, they are quickly given a medical and behavioral work up and a photo is taken for their profile. These are often quick photos with a staff member’s cell phone, and the dog often looks confused or stressed. Countless volunteers across the country go into shelters with cameras determined to give the pet a better photo, and another chance to be seen by adopters that may have passed them over.


PetInsider had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Prince Fishler from HeARTs Speak, a global non profit founded in 2010 that works to ensure no shelter animal goes unseen. All of their programs are set up to ensure shelter animals are Seen, and ultimately, Saved. They have a program made up of over 600 photographers across the globe, another that donates equipment and teaches workshops to shelter staff and volunteers, another that provides free resources to help market animals online, as well as stock photography library from which 100% of the proceeds go directly back to helping shelter animals!



How much of a difference does a better photo of an animal make?

Nowadays, homeless animals have a split second to capture the viewer’s attention online. Therefore, bright, sharp, clean, photos that communicate their personalities and show their physical characteristics play a crucial role in ensuring they are both seen, and ultimately, saved. Great photos can shorten the time a pet spends in a shelter by 60%.


Our Perfect Exposure Project partner shelters have reported up to a 60% decrease in the length of time that pets are waiting for their homes thanks to better photos and marketing.


One member of our Artists Helping Animals program, Mary Wood, wrote her Master’s thesis on the value of photographs. According to Mary, 64% of adopters said online photos were “extremely or very important” to their decision to adopt a dog, furthering the idea that a great photo has the power to influence adoption and ultimately, lifesaving.



Why do shelters need help taking better photos, and how does HeartsSpeak assist?

Many shelters that we work with are also the city or county municipal shelters or have the animal services contract for their area, meaning that they help every single animal that comes to them. As a result, some of these shelters have a high population of animals seeking new homes, sometimes as many as 15,000-40,000 animals per year. For these shelters, visibility is a key component in making sure all their animals get seen, simply because of the volume of animals looking for homes at any given time. Shelters are strapped for time and resources, often operating in triage mode. HeARTs Speak and its programs assist in multiple ways.


Artists Helping Animals: A global network of artists, primarily photographers, provide more than 15,000 hours of creative service each month to shelters and rescues in their own communities.


Despite having members working with shelters and rescues across the globe, there are still countless shelters and rescues without an artist member’s help. With this in mind, 6 years ago the Perfect Exposure Project (PEP) was developed.


The PEP is a hands-on, collaborative program that brings photography training, equipment, and marketing education directly to shelter staff and volunteers through 2-day workshops. Since 2013, more than 1100+ people across 42 shelter locations have participated in the workshops across the US, learning new skills in everything from how to get great adoption portraits in a shelter environment, to bio writing and social media promotion.



In an effort to disseminate much of what we teach via the PEP, our newest program, HeARTs Speak EDU was launched in 2018. EDU is an e-learning platform that aims to make shelter marketing and pet promotion easier, no matter the user’s skill level or current role in animal sheltering. Using a multimedia approach that includes downloadable guides, video tutorials, templates, and creative designs, EDU is a one-stop platform for any organization in need of inspiration and turn-key tools to increase their creative workforce and save lives through more creative promotion. In 2018 alone, EDU had 11,578 downloads of free tools and materials.



What are some tips you would have for someone looking to help out at their local shelter?

Attend a volunteer orientation and get to know the people and the needs of the shelter. The best relationships are those build on mutual respect, where everybody wins, but don’t assume you know what they need and bestow it on them, rather, ask them what you can do to help, and let them know what your strengths and interests are.


If you are an artist and have photography, videography, writing, marketing, graphic design, painting (and so on) skills, consider joining HeARTs Speak! We have member exclusive resource, and a helpful and supportive community that shares openly as we understand that collaboration is key, as, while we all help animals in our respective communities, together, we are elevating the image of ALL shelter animals.



HeARTs Speak also manages a stock image library for good called Images with Heart. If you need stock images for your work, consider checking out their library here.


Make sure to follow HeARTs Speak on Instagram to keep up with their work. Thank you, Lisa, for chatting with PetInsider!



Become an Insider

Steph Wasser

Steph has lived in NYC for 7 years, and knows all the best neighborhoods for dog watching. Currently, she's a mom to 15 plants and one sweet dog. She firmly believes there is nothing better in life than a wet snout.

Your inbox could be cuter.