Today is National Black Dog Day. It’s a sad fact that black dogs sit in rescue centres twice as long 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.
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, today is a good day for 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.
Placing Bailey in an evenly-lit shaded area made it easier to get a good exposure because there were no areas of extreme dark shadows or bright light.
Try and take the photo on a cloudy day. The light will be softer and your subject will be evenly lit.
Shaded areas can also be out in the open when it’s nice and cloudy. Clouds act as a giant light diffuser in the sky.
Choose the right time of day
When you’re photographing your black dog in direct sunlight, there are two ideal times of day: early morning or early evening. Generally speaking, the “golden hour” is 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.
Everything looks better during the golden light. This picture of Bruce was taken about half an hour before sunset when the sun was very low in the sky, but not too low for it to be too dark.
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.
Colours in the middle of the colours spectrum work particularly well with black dogs: yellows, greens, blues, reds.
Using the sky as a background provides a colour that complements and contrasts well to a dog’s black fur.
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.
The best 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.
Tashi has thick jet black fur which goes over her eyes. Getting the fur wet made it ‘stick’ together in wet chunks, which came away from her face more easily as she moved.
Another tip is to take the picture from above. Because your dog is looking up at you, the fur falls back from the face.
Taking a photo from above can often make it easier to see the dog’s eyes which is particularly helpful if the dog has long fur that goes over their face.
Take the picture with a person
Taking the photograph with a person is a great tip for rescue centres. For reasons which escape us, people often think of black dogs as being unsociable, even dangerous.
A great photo of the dog having fun with a human helps people understand that black dogs are just as friendly as their more photogenic counterparts.
Showing the dog interacting nicely with a person can inspire a potential adopter as they can see the dog likes people.
If it’s a little too dark, 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.
Soft and even fill-in flash can really help bring a sparkle to the dog’s eyes. Make sure not to have the flash too bright or you will have the same problems as with bright direct sunlight.
If you’re using fill-in flash, you’ll get the best results if the sun is behind your dog or just to one side. That way, you benefit from two sources of equally balanced light.
I tend to use fill-in flash either with the sun behind the subject or off to the side so that the sun and flash provide two sources of balanced light on to the subject.
And if all else fails…
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. You shouldn’t actually be able to see the sun, just your dog.
If all else fails make a virtue of your dog’s black colour and take a silhouette shot. Best taken when the sun is very low and behind your subject.
I hope you have enjoyed my blog on how to photograph black dogs and have found it useful.
Still having trouble photographing your black dog? If you are based in the UK you can come along to one of my dog photo shoots.
Want to know more? Come on one of my dog photography workshops.