Lifesaving Cat Pictures

Top pet photographer Seth Casteel and cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy help shelters take better pictures to get cats adopted.

In 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 cat’s life.

With many adoptions these days beginning with online searches, a captivating photograph showing the personality of a cat 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.

See dog pictures from Catsteel’s book “Underwater Dogs” >>

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 cats and dogs, or those who are afraid of cameras.

Why are better photos so important?

Check out CAT FANCY’s cat photography tips >>

“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 cat may hurt, instead of help, a cat’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.

Hear about cats that pose very well >>

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.

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

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

Casteel was joined at this workshop by Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and supporter of One Picture Saves A Life. The host of The Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell” and author of the bestselling book Cat Daddy, Galaxy discussed cat behavior in relationship to photography and especially the importance of “challenging’’ cats to help them become more adoptable.

Find out other cat outreach efforts Galaxy has made >>

“My part of this is to get the cat to that place where Seth or whoever the photographer is coming in, they are already in this mode, the ‘uncaged mode,’ and that’s what your job as a cat volunteer is, engagement, it is not just comfort,’’ Galaxy says. “Comfort is a very deceptive concept in the shelter environment. What you are allowing them to be is small. And if you allow a cat in a shelter environment to be small they will not go home. And that is a stone guarantee.’’

Galaxy talked about simple training tools, such as clicker training, to get cats to become more adoptable.

“Imagine a cat at the front of the cage, soliciting a little bit of attention, or if they are out, roaming around, playing with something, batting at something, they go home. Because then the potential adopter can sort of imagine that cat in their home. When they are in a cage like this [cringing and afraid] it’s hard for you to place them on your couch, in your head. So that’s the biggest thing we can do.’’

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

To find out the location of upcoming workshops, visit

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.
is so inspired by the One PIcture Saves a Life initiative, that it has donated 60,000 meals of Halo Spot’s Stew to shelters participating in the program.

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