Photographing Black Dogs

A better title might be, “Can you find the dog in this picture?” You would be amazed at how many times we can wind up with a photo of a black dog where the bushes or shadows behind him cause him to magically disappear just as you try to get that shot of him looking absolutely adorable.

You are convinced that you could see a black dog separate and apart from the background and yet when you look at your photo, the dog is largely NOT part of the picture.

It’s an easy enough remedy, you just need to be aware that it will be an issue ‘before’ you take the shot, not after you’ve lost it. It’s all about lighting. Funny how most things dealing with photography always wind up being about the light! If you are shooting indoors and can manipulate lights you will have to check your background to make sure it’s not too ‘busy’ or too similar to the dark coloring of the dog.

In the studio I would have a ‘hair light’ at the ready. This is also called a key light and would be directed toward the hair of the dog from one or both sides of the frame and situated behind the dog facing toward the dog from behind. I would set them so they are directed toward the center of the dogs back and higher than the dog so that the light highlights the hair from behind “off-stage” so to speak. Obviously you set them out of camera range and check the viewfinder to make sure they pick up the highlights on the hair.

Try to look for situations in nature when you are outdoors that mimic this process if you need or want to use a natural setting. A reflection from a white wall or white vehicle can add needed light but do not expect it to have the same intensity that a key light would have in a controlled setting.

Now you will notice that I have included two images of the same black dog in this post. The first one I would like you to refer to is the photo of a black dog laying down in front of a show jumping field. This would be the WRONG way to set up an image of a black dog. There is far to much going on in the background and the shadows are to extreme across the dog. The subject gets lost in the image.

The next image for you to look at is the close up of the black dog with the green background. This is the proper way to photograph a black dog. Keep in mind when photographing black animals that not every hair has to be in perfect focus and light. In fact having some shadow can help an image show depth and create character in your image. In this image here you see just that, a heavy shadows across part of the dog and yet all the detail and dog and his character shine through the image.

The easiest method for outdoor shots is to be aware of the background relative to your subject at any given time. If you are setting up a shot in a specific area for a pet that will be brought in at a later time, you can always use the old stand-by, the faithful dark-haired stuffed toy dog, pony, cat, or monkey and light you setting for that. It’s quick, easy, usually inexpensive and pretty efficient. When Fido shows up with his owner, you are good to go!

About The Author

My name is Colby Gwyn-Williams; I am a professional photographer specializing in Pet and Action photography. Photography is not only my passion, it defines my life. I have been an animal enthusiast since my early years on our family farm and photographing since I was strong enough to hold my Mother’s old Nikon F2S Photomic camera. The earth and the creatures that inhabit it have become the visual playmates of my own personal “rabbit hole,” and, like Alice in Wonderland, I would like to invite you on an adventure by going through my site and seeing the world as I see it through the “looking glass” of my lens.

Wrong way to photograph a black dog

Right way to photograph a black dog