Cue Fergie’s song Glamorous for these photos taken by one of our shelter’s volunteer dog walker and photographers, Virgil Ocampo. We set up shop in the shelter Sunday night with the full shabang – backdrop, lights, things-whose-functions-I-don’t-know – and captured these fabulous shots with the help of many people, sausages and squeaky toys. This was the first of many photo shoots with Virgil (thank you thank you thank you), and we are absolutely LOVING spreading around these glamour shots!

More photos to come in the next few months, I’m sure – but for now, enjoy!


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Photography Week: Intro & Basics

After a year and a half of messing around with my Canon EOS 40D camera, I can finally say I am in full blown I-love-you-and-can’t-live-without-you mode with photography.  I find myself not only working every day to improve my own photos, but also studying every aspect of photos I see in my every day life, from advertisements to the portfolios of professional photographers, and noting what I like or dislike about them.

I am still amateur, and most of the time I feel like I’m the most amateur of all the amateurs, but the truth is that I’ve learned a TON over the last year about how to work your camera and capture a good photograph.  This week on the blog will be dedicated to photography. I will cover many aspects of photographing animals, starting with the basics to post-processing and end results.

I would never have gotten anywhere without starting with the basics when photographing my foster dogs.  I think it was Love & a Six-Foot Leash that first turned me on to some of the best petography tips I’ve learned, and they’ve stuck with me ever since.  It doesn’t matter what camera you use at this point – a point & shoot or a DSLR – these tips are mostly about controlling aspects besides your camera.

My top tips for photographing pets are as follows (and a lot of them you’ve probably heard before, like on Kate with a Camera, whose awesome blog is much more photography-based than mine):

1. Turn your flash OFF!  Everyone’s gotten a picture of their pups (or cat or bunny) looking like a demon with bright, reflective eyes. Not only does the flash screw with the light in an animal’s eyes, it often reflects off their fur and, in my opinion, creates an unnatural shiny look.  To make sure your photos still turn out well without a flash, move either outdoors or into a spot in your home by a window with lots of natural light.

With a flash: Zee’s fur is shiny and if she looked at the camera she’d have reflective eyes.


Without a flash: Zee is much more natural looking, and you can see more of the soft details or her eyes and fur.


2. Use lots of treats! Or squeaky toys, or tennis balls – whatever your dog will fixate on while you quickly capture the shot. In general, I put the treat in front of their nose with my left hand so they know I have it and then bring it up directly above the lens so that they are looking right at the camera.  The bait has to be pretty high value so that it keeps their attention long enough for you to get a few good photos.  This is how we catch those dreamy “I could stare into your eyes forever” pictures – you know, the ones that really draw adopters in ;-).

In addition to treats, I often use very high-pitched, odd noises to get the animal’s attention. You look like an absolute lunatic screeching and squealing at your subject, but it really gets good results. In the same vein, I try to avoid using their name – I’ve heard and noticed that they’re more inclined to ignore their name quicker than a noise they’re not used to hearing.


3. Be aware of your background – and try to make it as distraction free as possible.  Sometimes you don’t have control over your background, but if you do, see if you can take photos somewhere with a solid backdrop (which is tough to do) or at least a clean and clutter free location.  If I’m outside I really like to shoot against the green grass or even fallen leaves because it makes most dogs pop out of the photo. If I’m inside, I try to avoid areas of my house that are very messy. The shot below of Baxter is cute, but I find the background very distracting. The one following it of Sinclair is an example of how you can use a natural backdrop for your photos.

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Sinclair is still waiting for his forever home! See how perfect of a dog he is in my posts about when he stayed with my family for a few days.

While those three tips are simple, they can make all the difference!  Tomorrow I’ll discuss some advanced adjustments for a DSLR camera.  Many people shoot in auto because they don’t understand manual options, but once you learn about how the settings work and how they can improve your photos, you won’t ever want to go back to automatic!

Why I <3 Instagram

I love social media. Ask my boyfriend (who happens to absolutely hate it) how much I Facebook, Tweet and Instagram, and he will say way too much. Having a smart phone means we are instantly connected to all these social media platforms and between my job and this blog, I have real reasons to be on each of them. Sure, I probably use them in excess like most other twenty-somethings who grew up with all of these sites, but I also know that they can hold serious value for helping the missions of non-profits and advocacy groups (and even for-profits).

My latest and possibly favorite social media find – and by latest I mean about a year ago – is Instagram (follow me! @julianajean). Instagram is similar to Twitter, except in photo form. You upload photos and can use filters to enhance them, and then you share them with whoever follows you. Most of my photos are of my fosters, and you see a lot of them because they end up on this blog. Similar to Twitter, you use a “hashtag” to tag your photos using different subjects. My most often used hashtags are probably #fosterdog, #pitbull, #socute, #silly, #adoptable, and #lovebug. If you click on a photo’s hashtag, it brings you to all the other photos on Instagram that have been tagged with the same phrase. My favorite is clicking on the #pitbull tag – talk about examples of every day dogs and every day people! I love it! (More gushing about that on a later post.)

As an amateur photographer, it’s pretty clear why Instagram and I are a good fit. Instagram can instantly make photos taken on your phone into something better, something more creative. One of my favorite parts of photography is composition (even though it might not seem that way on this blog, ha), and I’ve learned to love that all of Instagram’s photos require a clean, square crop. I also love post-processing, and Instagram gives you a quick and easy option to apply image enhancing filters.

Working at a shelter, I often need a quick photo of an animal for a variety of reasons, including to put on our social media sites, to send out to rescue groups or to document for future marketing. Instagram makes it so that the photos I take of shelter animals on my phone are actually presentable, and much more eye catching. Here are a few “before and after” shots of different animals that I’ve done through Instagram (the afters are the square cropped ones).

Pictured below is Pooh Bear. She was given up at fifteen years old (don’t get me started). As you can imagine, a fifteen year old dog can be very difficult to locate a foster or forever home for. Often times an adopter is found after rescuers share a dog in need’s photo far and wide, so the photos needed to be attention grabbing. I am happy to report that Pooh Bear is heading to her forever home this weekend thanks to LOTS of networking!





Cropping, an element of composition, is something I try to be very aware of and use to my advantage. I do my best to cut out as many unnecessary background images as possible without chopping off key parts of an animal. In the photos of Pooh Bear I cropped out my coworkers legs and made sure to still keep Pooh’s paws in the frame.

My next before and after subject is an adorable Miniature Pinscher that was given up to us (ding ding ding, purebred alert!). My coworker wanted to send her out to rescue groups, and needed a decent photo. I again used cropping and filters to make the photo a little nicer than just an out-of-camera shot. She’s pretty adorable to begin with, so it wasn’t too difficult.



Last but not least is this cutie patootie named Priscilla who has the best underbite I’ve ever seen. She’s got some pretty serious skin issues that we’re in the process of clearing up, and that unfortunately prevent her from photographing well. Nothing a little backdrop improvising can’t help! This is another tip for low-quality photos, especially of adoptable animals: try to control your background. Instagram helps with this because you can blur out the background, but choosing a solid backdrop over a cage or cluttered background can really make a difference. For Priscilla we grabbed a few towels and a Santa pillow, and voila – an adorable makeshift photo session!



All three of these dogs have been spoken for by rescue groups for either a foster or forever home (yay!). I’m definitely not saying it’s because of the pictures, but we all know what a difference a good photo can make. Because I can’t bring my big camera in every day and take the time editing camera-quality photos, Instagram is the perfect solution. And even when I’m not photographing shelter animals, my Instagram feed is a really fun peek into the lives of some of my blog friends!

There’s More Than Fun to Adventures

How much do we love adventures? So much. We like hiking, going on road trips and exploring new places with our foster dogs.  It’s not only fun, but it’s a great way to get them out and about for adoption exposure.

Mark and I knew we just had to take Charlie somewhere fun while he was with us.   Strutting him around in his Adopt Me vest would get him tons of attention simply because of how cute he is.  Since we’ve been to all the good walking spots in our area, and we’ve already done the DC thing with Bax, we were sort of at a loss for what exciting new place to venture to. Then I remembered a fun trip our friends at Pittieful Love went on to historical Baltimore landmark Fort McHenry (where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner”). Just like Pittieful Love wrote about in their post, we tend to take for granted how close we live to National Monuments! I’d only been once a long time ago and Mark had never been, so we knew it was just the place to take little Charles on that chilly Thanksgiving weekend.


We had a blast! Because we had a dog we couldn’t actually go into the Fort area, but we were allowed around the perimeter and by the surrounding water. It still meant for lots of exploration and good photo ops:




That is another thing I love about taking my foster dogs on adventures: the photos. Yes it is good for adoption exposure because of the people we meet out and about, but it is also a great way to get photos showing adopters how the dog can fit into their life.  Photos from walks, out on the town, or meeting new people are all situations that adopters might imagine themselves in if they were to adopt the dog — which is all the better to help convince them this might be the dog for them!  Look at these photos. . . don’t they give you an idea of what the day would be like if you took Charlie out with you (and therefore you want to adopt him, right!)?





Not to mention that a photo like the one below might stand out among all the other adoption photos, bringing some extra attention to your pup from potential adopters.


(Yes, we took this photo idea directly from Pittieful Love – thanks guys!)

A fabulous outing resulting in attention-grabbing photos? Don’t mind if we do!

Pink Piggy: Just Dog Gone Cute

Joanie might be gone (stay updated on her new blog!), but you better believe I’m not done writing about her just yet. I’ve still got some stuff to share, starting with this beautiful pink collar she rocked all week:

You might have noticed it in our photo from visiting Chocko from Pittieful Love. I tried to put it on her any time we went out in public because, unfortunately, she’s um. . . not exactly the most inviting looking to someone who may be afraid of dogs. Yes, I know I know – how dare anyone be afraid of adorable miss Joanie – but let’s get real, she’s a black dog and she’s got cropped ears and big scars and some people might think that looks scary. So instead of saying *how dare they* and huffing at their preferences, I throw this on her and instantly make her silly to encourage interactions.

We actually never encountered anyone who was visibly afraid of Joanie’s appearance without the collar, most people didn’t take a second look, but when she had her collar on people would drive past us slowly, grinning from ear to ear at this dog who looked like a clown. I put it on her when we would walk by the playground at the elementary school, and the kids would squeal and say, “Look at that cute doggy!” Now if they would have said that without the collar, who knows – but as with all things having to do with my foster dogs. . . I like to set them up for success :-).

I bought this collar and three others like it in different colors from this great site called Just Dog Gone Cute. I’ve been wanting to get something like this – something easy, colorful, and bright to put on both my fosters and the shelter dogs I was photographing – for a long time, but my lack of artistic and creative skills were holding me back. When I finally stumbled across Just Dog Gone Cute, I immediately ordered a bunch! At a reasonable $12 a pop, these collars were a no brainer – and a portion of each sale even goes to rescue! Win-win. Can you tell I went a little online shopping happy for dog stuff?

I can’t wait to parade whatever dog I get next around in any/all of these collars. I would definitely recommend them or something similar to anyone who fosters or volunteers at a shelter and wants to add a little something extra to their adoptable dogs. A little color can go a long way in an adoption photo thumbnail!

For more information about adopting Joanie, email me at peacelovefoster@gmail.com or fill out an application on the Jasmine’s House website.