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It’s all about the light! – photographing black dogs

November 22, 2010

Yesterday, I photographed sweet Lindsay – a black lab mix. And once again I realized the challenge of photographing a black dog. So here are some basic “ideas, tips and tricks” on how to photograph a dark colored dog or cat.

Puppy - Santa / CT pet photographer

When photographing a black dog it really is about the light! Taking a dark dog’s picture in front of a white or very light background, will result in one of two things: Either the dog ends up as a big black spot with no definition or your dog comes out fine but the background will end up totally washed out. While a washed out background can be  a nice effect – depending on what you are looking to do – a big black blob is usually not desirable. So as far as a background goes you should look for a medium light background – as for example a medium blue or beige wall or some grass or similar. It should have a good contrast to your dog but not be to light. Also, try to keep the background as simple as possible. Especially black dogs tend to get “lost” in a busy backgrounds with lots of shadows.

Now set the focus on the dog while putting the background out of focus. This helps to separate your dog from the background and adds depth to the picture.

Taking a photograph of a black dog in bright sunlight will most likely create strong shadows across the dogs face – and again you might end up with an undefined black blob. It is a lot easier to take a picture on an overcast day or in soft afternoon light. You can also position your dog in a shaded spot to avoid this problem. If you do work with light and shadow (which can create some special atmosphere when done right) make sure you do not have a “wild” pattern of shadows but rather just have one part of the dog in the shade and the other one in the light. Again, this will be difficult to achieve in the middle of the day but in the evening – when the light gets softer – this technique can return great results.

Now meet black lab mix puppy Lindsay. In this shot we placed her in a big box lined with a red blanket – to add some color. It was slightly overcast that day so the shadows in her face are soft and the details in her fur come out nicely. Also, the color of her eyes have been captured well. The wood log is dark enough to not wash out yet creates a nice contrast to the puppies color – so that the dog is nicely separated from the background. The ocean is completely out of focus and therefore does not distract the viewer.

Puppy in box / CT pet photographer

It gets even more tricky when adding a lighter colored pet to the mix – as an additional component. Yet, in the same setting as described above, both dogs are evenly lit. This picture clearly shows that it is much easier to work out details in a lighter colored dog than in a black one. And now look at these cuddle bugs :)

black and white puppies  / CT pet photographer

As described above, grass makes a great background for a black dog. If you would do more of a close up, the background would end up even more out of focus. However, little Lindsay had no interest in sitting still or in waiting for me to get closer – that is the pleasure with puppies – they love to run and move and jump – and therefore I had to work with a fast shutter speed along with a somewhat high f-stop (this picture was taken with f 8.0). A lawn would make for an even more homogeneous background, but on the beach, sea grass was all we had.

black puppy in gras / CT pet photographer

The next photo was taken in the afternoon – around 4:00 pm. At this time, the sun was fairly low and provided a very warm and soft light. I placed Lindsay facing the sun – and made sure her whole face and both eyes were getting enough light. With the water puddle left at low tide, I got a great reflection (one of my favorite elements as you will find out shortly). The light is still strong enough to reflect every little detail – including her beautiful big brown eyes. Again – the background is medium light, very simple in structure (just sand and shells) and a little out of focus.

Afternoon reflection of puppy / dog photographer CT

Even a plain road can provide a nice underground. And look, there is a shadow on the wall… . This photograph was taken in the sunlight – about 1/3 of the puppies face is in the shade. However, I made sure that both her ears and eyes got enough light. In this picture the background – a light wall – is washing out a little bit – but thanks to the bird and it’s shadow the background is still defined enough and the shadow adds a little “fun”. Once more, the background is out of focus.

Puppy and bird / CT pet photographer

I am a big fan of details and close ups – so voila – Lindsay’s little paw prints in the sand. In this case, the shadows help a lot to define the prints and create enough depth.

paw print close up / ct dog photography

And now we are getting to the more creative part of Saturday’s photo shoot. The following three photographs are black in front of white – and they are taken with f 4.0 – to set the focus on some details while the rest of the picture (and the puppy) is out of focus. The pictures were taken in low light so I had to use ISO 1600 – resulting in a rather grainy look of the pictures.

In this photograph, the paws holding the lamella are in  focus as is the puppies nose – but ears and eyes are out of focus as is the white blanket that the puppy was sitting on.

Lametta Puppy  / dog photographer CT

In the next picture, I shifted the focus from the paws to the eye and parts of the lamella – what a look :)

hiding - wasn't me / pet photographer in New Haven

And last but not least the focus is completely on the lamella – yet you can see the puppy’s face and expression.

Puppy playing with christmas lamella / pet photographer Connecticut

So who needs a christmas tree if you can have a christmas puppy??

Ps: Puppy Lindsay was rescued from a high kill shelter in Tennessee by Critter Cavalry Rescue and she has now found a great new home in New England. She will be summering on the beach – what a dog life!!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Candace Simpson-Giles permalink
    November 22, 2010 7:16 am

    Steffi!
    What an unbelievable BLOG this was! I am just sitting here reading and looking at all these
    fabulous pictures and I just cannot imagine what you have done and what you can do
    in the future with this! My sweet foster girl Lindsey looks so beautiful in these pictures
    and what a life she will now have with her new family…..and summers on the beach could
    not be a better life!!!
    Thank you for your love and your help and your wonderful photographs that capture the essence
    of these precious puppies who once were tossed aside in a kill shelter and now have a wonderful life
    ahead of them in New England with great families!

    • November 22, 2010 10:24 pm

      Thank you Candace. Lindsay really is a sweet girl!! It was a lot of fun taking her pictures – even though it was a little challenging – and I agree – they came out great! :) She is going to get very spoiled from her new family! Lucky her – summers on the beach :) Yay.

  2. November 22, 2010 10:08 pm

    The puppy is darling!!! You are so talented and knowledgeable. Thank you for sharing. :)

  3. keroome permalink
    November 23, 2010 6:42 pm

    These are awesome. Thanks for the tutorial prose and shots. The “dog in grass” and “reflective dog” were my favs, but great blog offering over all.

    thanks, ken

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