One of my Photo Academy members contacted me earlier today asking if I had any tips for taking photos of a black dog? Great question.
And yes, I know the above dog and most of the others featured below aren’t entirely black. Believe me, I have spend ages looking back through my galleries and not one fully black dog to be found! That will have to rectified very soon …
You would think it should be pretty straight forward but the results can sometimes be disappointing. Taking shots of animals is challenging at the best of times as they tend to move around a lot so nailing your focus proves hard. Add in the black coat and you are met with further challenges. Metering issues, coat can look dull, can’t see the eyes if you dog has a longer coat or a lot of fur around the head.
With this in mind, I’ve pulled together my top 10 tips for taking photos of a black dog to help point you in the right direction ….
The time of day that you take your image can have a definite impact on your image. Also the direction of the light. If you have nice reflective light on your dog, it can add catchlights to the eyes and a sheen to it’s coat. More even light also makes it easier for your camera to meter – it’s less harsh and won’t make the contrast between your dog and the background as extreme. The hour before sunset (if you get the right sort of weather) can produce some glorious soft light. Perfect for your pet portrait and also for some cracking silhouette shots too.
To add those catchlights in the eyes, introduce a reflector. This may mean requiring an assistant to hold the reflector for you particularly if it’s a little windy outside.
Fill the frame
Try cropping in closer to the dog – fill the frame with a close up of your dog’s face. That way the camera will find it easier to meter the light, particularly if you are shooting in harsher light which proves more challenging. Get the crop right though and ensure the eyes are the key focus point.
Use of metering modes
If you are still struggling, perhaps consider choosing a different metering mode. Depending on the size of the subject in your frame, Spot or Centre-weighted metering modes might work better than the Evaluative (Canon) / Matrix (Nikon) option. This will ensure that you get an accurate meter reading of your subject.
If you try shooting in AV (Canon) / A (Nikon) Aperture Priority mode, you may find it difficult to get an accurate metering reading of a black dog. In this mode, you are setting your aperture value and the camera is calculating your shutter speed. If the dog is relatively small in your frame against a brighter background, then the camera will meter for the larger brighter area and your dog will loose all detail in it’s coat. However, if the dog is larger in your frame then the camera might try to overbrighten the image.
If you are encountering this issue, another alternative would be to dial in some exposure compensation. If you find your image is too dark or bright and not turning out how you want it to look, use your exposure compensation setting to get a better exposure of your dog and maintain detail in it’s coat. This method won’t work in every situation but it’s worth a try.
Boost your ISO
I know increasing your camera’s ISO can introduce noise and grain to your image but most modern cameras can handle it pretty well without ruining your image quality. I would suggest this option over introducing flash where possible. We can live with a little grain if we find that the animal is unnerved by the use of flash.
If you are shooting indoors during the day, try to get your dog closer to the window which will avoid the need for flash and introduce nice catchlights in their eyes. Get a reflector or white sheet on the opposite side of your doggie (facing the window) and this will soften the shadows giving a more even light across your pet portrait
If you are taking a photograph indoors later in the day and must use flash, ensure that you do a few test shots to see how your dog reacts. They may settle ok and not be concerned but some animals just don’t like it. Where possible, if your camera and accessories permit, bounce the flash instead of having it point directly at the dog. This probably won’t be possible if you camera has a built in flash but if your flash does allow you to point it towards e.g a white ceiling, this is great. The light will be softened, more diffuse and bring out detail in the dog’s coat. Be careful though if the ceiling isn’t white. The light will absorb the colour of the surface it is being reflected off and add this to your images.
Taking outdoor photos in harsh sunlight, around mid-day for example, can also prove challenging. On this occasion you might consider using some fill-flash to eliminate shadows and add a little pop to your image. We can’t always control where our pooch is going to be so we have to go with the flow and grab the best shot we can.
Freeze action and find focus
This tip is more of a general one but it’s important all the same. To help capture your dog whilst it is moving, there are a few things you can do to assist your camera. This won’t guarantee you the perfect shot every time but it’s giving you the best possible chance to get it right. There will always be the element of luck involved but I find that’s the same across all genres of photography. The wind might blow at the right time to lift a veil, a person might laugh at just the right moment or a person might walk into your frame JUST as you are about to take the perfect shot *inwardly screams*
So what can you do to help get it right: –
1. Set a faster shutter speed – this will help freeze action. Depending on the speed of the subject and their direction through the frame, you could try anything from 1/500 upwards until you are happy with the result.
2. Switch your autofocus mode to AI Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon) – this will allow your camera to track the subject’s movement and achieve a sharper image.
3. Consider using a small group of auto focus points instead of just a single one to help improve your chances of getting focus spot on.
If you are able to use an editing software programme such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, there are ways of manually brightening / darkening parts of your images. In the old days of the darkroom (prior to digital photography) you had to ‘dodge & burn’ parts of your image to get the overall exposure spot on. In today’s digital world, the same concept is applied in the editing software. The tools used in the software are actually called dodge & burn, a fitting reminder of the darkroom skills one needed to possess. God, I sound old ….
If your dog does have a lot of hair/fur around it’s face, a good idea to help see their eyes more clearly is to get them to look up towards the camera. That way the hair falls back and you can do a better job of focusing on their eyes. If you can get someone to hold their favourite ball or toy above the camera/your head it helps as well.
My final words of advice – have patience and practice! Nothing comes easy in life and you may have to take a few hundred images of your pooch to get that one cracking shot. It’s not all bad though. You get to spend hours with your best friend doing what you love – taking pictures. Sure what else would you be at on a Sunday ….
I hope you found this useful and I would love to hear how you get on. Feel free to leave a comment below or send me some of your favourite pet snaps via my facebook page The Photo Academy.