The pet you're trying to find a home for may be the greatest companion in the world, possess a wonderful personality, be well-behaved, and have a compelling story. However, if you're trying to get them adopted through social media, none of that's going to matter very much if you don't have a good photo to share.
Now, before you get scared because you're not a professional photographer, relax. "A great photo in social media terms, and a great photo in professional photography terms, are not the same thing," advises social media consultant Christie Keith, who is social media manager for the Shelter Pet Project.
"Yes, the photo should have some of the same elements as a pro shot, such as being well-lit, reasonably well-composed and in focus," she says. "But you don't need advanced skill with a camera to take a photo that will 'sell' that pet on social media. In fact, you don't even need a camera; your cell phone shots will be fine if you follow some basic tips."
In fact, she says, sometimes professional photographs miss the mark. "In managing the Shelter Pet Project's social media, I've seen tens of thousands of pet photos. Those shot by pros are always great images, and would be wonderful portraits of someone's pet. And naturally, we love to see professionals putting their skills to work helping homeless pets.
"But in terms of inspiring social sharing or adoptions, they're often too busy, taken from too far away, and focus on something other than the pet's eyes and face, such as a costume or the pet doing something like jumping or swimming." Those images, technically excellent as they are, don't perform as well on social media as a simple close-up on a pet's face.
Keith also warns that a great story can't overcome the problems of a bad photo. "The reality is, words are less important on social media and online adoption sites, and photos are more so," she says. "If you want to catch the attention of adopters, a photo that drives the viewer to feel a connection with that pet is more valuable than all the words in the dictionary."
What characterizes a good pet adoption photo? Here are her tips:
1. The eyes have it. In a great pet adoption photo, you can clearly see the expression on the pet's face, as well as his or her eyes, which should be looking directly into the camera. "On the Shelter Pet Project Facebook page, photos that are a tight close-up on a pet's face, with the pet appearing to look right at the viewer, almost always get more shares and engagement than photos that don't -- even if those other images are technically 'better' photos," Keith says.
2. Get on their level. "I know pets are shorter than we are, but we have to stop taking photos from above, looking down on them," Keith says. "Get on your knees or belly, stand downhill of them, put them on a bed, cat tree or table, do whatever you need to do to get these shots from the same level as the pet's face!"
3. Skip the text. "At least on Facebook, photos with text on them will usually be shown to fewer of your followers than those without text," Keith says, adding that a small photographer's watermark doesn't appear to hurt reach or engagement. Other social platforms such as Instagram or Pinterest don't penalize reach for images with text, but distracting from the power of the image itself is not a great idea.