It’s a sad fact that black dogs sit in rescue centres much longer as their lighter coloured counterparts. Some never get that lucky break. One of the reasons for this? Because black dogs are notoriously difficult to photograph. Many of my dog photography clients have black dogs, so it seems this is a universal issue people are having problems with.
Do you have a black dog? If so, you’re likely all too aware of the problem. No matter how hard you try, they end up looking like a black blob rather than the beautiful creature that they are in real life.
Whether you’re an owner, or you work in a rescue centre, here are some useful tips on photographing black dogs. You won’t need any expensive equipment. We’re assuming that you’re using a basic point and shoot camera with automatic settings.
Contrary to what you might expect, bright overhead sunlight isn’t great for black dogs. In very bright light your camera will be working too hard. There’ll be a battle between two extremes - the black of your dog and the white light of the sun. Your photograph will always end up on the losing side.
If you do find yourself with the sun directly overhead, bring your dog to a shaded area and take the photo there. It’s important that your chosen location is evenly shaded with a soft light covering the whole area. For example, if you take the photo under a tree, make sure that the background isn’t brightly lit.
Try and take the photo on a cloudy day. The light will be softer and your subject will be evenly lit. I find light cloud good to work with but thick, dark cloud never looks so nice and I avoid these conditions.
2. Choose the right time of day
When you're photographing your black dog in direct sunlight, there are two ideal times of day: after sunrise or before sunset (it’s different if it’s cloudy of course). Generally speaking, the “golden hour” is roughly 1 hour after sunrise or 1 hour before sunset.
These golden hours obviously vary according to the time of year and so check sunrise/sunset times before planning your shoot.
3. Background colour
The right background colour is especially important when you’re taking a photo of a black dog. Ideally, you’re looking for good contrast colours that complement black. Middle-spectrum colours work particularly well – reds, yellows, greens and blues.
As we all know, the eyes are the window to the soul. But even at the best of times, it can be hard to see a dog’s eyes, especially if they’re covered in fur and when there is little contrast between the colour of the fur and the eyes and the fur covers the face when dry.
A great way to deal with this is to use water. You don’t have to take them swimming or dunk them in the bath, just use a wet flannel to wipe around the eyes. However, if they want to splash around in the water then all the better as water shots are great fun.
Another tip to see the eyes is to take the picture from above. Because your dog is looking up at you, the fur falls back from the face.
5. Take the picture with a person
In the case of rescue dogs looking for a home, taking the photograph with a person is a great tip. For reasons which escape us, people often think of black dogs as being unsociable, even dangerous.
A great photo of the dog having fun or cuddling up with a person helps people understand that black dogs are, of course, just as friendly as any other dog.
If it’s a little too dark to bring out the dog's features, try supplementing your available light with `fill-in’ flash. Experiment a bit, but make sure the sun is either directly behind, or just off to the side. Fill-in flash helps lighten the dark areas and reveals the features of your black dog. Funnily enough, I find working with flash more effective when conditions are not too dark.
Have you thought about taking a silhouette? Black dogs suit this brilliantly. After all, they’re black.
The time to take your silhouette photo is when the sun is very low in the sky - just after sunrise or just before sunset. They work best when the sun is directly behind your subject. If it's still a little bright, you shouldn’t actually be able to see the sun, just your dog, unless the sun is very low, else it is too bright.
I hope you have enjoyed my blog on how to photograph black dogs and have found it useful.