Dog Photography Saves Lives

Top pet photographer Seth Casteel helps helps dogs get adopted with the click of a camera.


Photographer Set CasteelIn today’s wired world, an appealing photograph can make all the difference in launching a new dating relationship, selling a product on eBay — or saving a dog’s life.

With many adoptions these days beginning with online searches, a captivating photograph showing the personality of a dog can make a lifesaving difference, connecting that pet to a forever home.

That’s why Seth Casteel, one of the nation’s top pet photographers and author of the best-selling photo book Underwater Dogs (Little, Brown and Company, 2012), has made it his mission to empower shelters and rescue groups across the country to take great photos.

Teaming up with The Animal Rescue Site,, John Paul Pet, and the Petfinder Foundation, Casteel has launched the One Picture Saves a Life program. The organization holds workshops around the country to teach shelter staff and volunteers how to groom an animal for photography, and take pictures with the right lighting, location, and equipment. The sessions also deal with tricky issues such as photographing black or white dogs, or those who are afraid of cameras.

Why are better photos so important?

“Imagine you are a dog or cat, you are brought to a shelter in the middle of the night; you are going to be confused, and you are going to be scared,” Casteel says. “It’s not an ideal time to have your picture taken.”

A blurry, depressing photo of a scared dog may hurt, instead of help, a dog’s chance for rescue. Yet many shelters struggle just to transport, feed, and care for animals, and lack the time, knowledge, or resources to take a quality photo.

Seth Casteel workshop

Photographer Seth Casteel assists groomer Donna Owens of John Paul Pet in showing how to detangle and groom a rescue dog before taking photos.

Casteel, who has been volunteering his photographic skills at shelters around the world since 2007, is determined to change that. The award-winning photographer has come up with simple photo techniques that he says anyone can learn. “I taught my 93-year-old grandmother how to do this,” Casteel says.


At a recent workshop in Baldwin Park, Calif., Casteel walked shelter staff and volunteers through the process of getting great shots. “We’re here to come in and take some uplifting portraits of dogs and cats to help them find forever, loving homes,” Casteel says with his ever-present huge grin.  

Seth Casteel workshop

 Getting down to a dog’s eye level is one step in taking a better photo, Seth Casteel says.  

It may sound technical and boring, but Casteel makes learning his photo process fun and simple, enlisting volunteers in the workshop to serve as dog models. “Oh, this one isn’t housetrained,” he jokes as one volunteer hams up his dog imitation.

And the results are stunning, capturing beautiful expressions sure to connect dogs with potential adopters.

After the public workshop, Casteel holds VIP Sessions with select animal shelters and rescue groups, during which they receive a free digital camera, photo editing software, and grooming products provided by sponsor John Paul Pet. Then in one-on-one sessions, he teaches them how to set up and use the cameras, and get great shots, even in the most challenging circumstances.

Seth Casteel dog photo

 The dog portrait, ready for posting online.

Casteel even shares a photo trick DOG FANCY has used for years to get even a tough-looking dog to perk up: “You can take the dog on a short run before the photo shoot so that he or she will pant, which looks like a smile.”

To find out the location of upcoming workshops, click here.

Can’t make a workshop? All of the information and the entire process is also posted in videos on the site, available online for free.

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