Not if you know how….
Black dogs, a photographer’s worst nightmare?
I’m sometimes asked by concerned clients if I’ve photographed black dogs before (yes really) and told that they’re really difficult to capture before being shown a ‘Wallace & Gromit’ esque grin. This is true to a certain extent, if you’re not sure about lighting or exposure and you try to photograph a black dog against a white background, for example, you’re going to end up with an image that closely resembles a black hole. With just a few tweaks to your technique, however, black dogs can be photographed in the full tonal range of their canine glory.
Meet Maya, Alru and Wesley. Three super well trained (thank goodness) Belgian Shepherds whose mother I coerced into getting up at the crack of dawn for a sunrise shoot recently. Black dogs are best photographed when light is shining directly onto them, this applies whether you’re in a studio or outdoor environment, so we trotted off to a field in Centurion with long grass and some big logs to see what magic we could create with the hounds.
We actually got up so early that we had to wait for the sun, which rose very slowly it seemed. Wesley waited very patiently, sitting in his best show dog position as I snapped away with the rising sun. Early morning is a lovely time to shoot, the light is very soft and there’s no-one else around which is always a bonus. Photo bombers are very frustrating.
In order to capture the facial and coat detail of black dogs, it’s imperative that they are well lit. Maya and Alru were sitting with the sun directly on them here, which is what gives their eyes a gorgeous sparkle and shows the individual strands of their fur. They did get a bit wet from the early morning dew, so Maya looked like she’d been through a crimper by the time we’d finished. The watery finish does add some nice contrast to her feathery coat though, so I think the only person who minded was her mom who had to dry her off.
Had I attempted to shoot with the sun behind the trio, the sky would have been totally over exposed in order to get the dogs to be correctly exposed which isn’t ideal. I used a reflector here to bounce a bit of light back up, but mostly the magical light is from the sun.
The other bonus to shooting with the light, is that the colour of the sky was nicely preserved to add some colour contrast to this picture. Trying to photograph a black dog indoors will always be tricky, especially with a cell phone camera. You’ll make your photography much easier and a happier experience using natural light outdoors.
Once the dogs (and our feet and legs) were thoroughly soaked and the commands of sit and stay were being ignored, we wrapped up the shoot. Maya apparently doesn’t usually get up till 10am, so I’m sure she went straight back to bed when she got home.
Like these photos? Commission your own set by contacting me, I always enjoy a good sunrise. If you’re not so keen on the idea of an early morning wake up, sunset works just as well.