It’s hard to photograph a black dog!
If you’ve ever photographed an all black dog, you know the problem. It is almost impossible to capture the texture of fur or to see clearly the interior contours of shape and body. Black is made of all colors and it absorbs light very efficiently. As a result it’s often easier to paint a portrait than to take a quality photograph.
Black dog Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel
Here we have dear Janey, an English Cocker Spaniel whose mission in life is to love Mark and Mary. And in return they love her abundantly. So how can you take a photograph of your black dog? So, how do you polish a black dog?
Strategies to photograph something furry and black
If you have a studio full of equipment, speed lights, beauty lights, and reflectors you already know what to do. But if your photos of an all-black animal (dog, cat, horse, rabbit or whatever) are indistinct, if the eyes blend seamlessly with the ears, if the fur is flat and you cannot tell if it’s curly or straight, front end from rear, take heart. Simple tools at hand and simple strategies give a much better result.
It’s about the light, beautiful light
Light is key and, in the case of an all-black animal, more is better than less. Plain natural light is more pleasing than onboard camera flash which tends to look harsh and often produces the animal-equivalent of red-eye, fixable but a nuisance. Black guard hairs can be made to shine in sunlight if the angle of light is right. In this case Janey faced into the setting sun seated at a glass table top and beside a broad expanse of lake shore. So the natural sun at late-day and low angle shown directly into Janey’s face at the same time that it reflected up from lake and table top. It was a beautiful light! And Janey’s eyes glisten with lovely catch-lights! Look closely at them and you see the bright western horizon.
Get it right: tips and tricks to photograph a black dog
Newer consumer-level cameras have many features that once were available only on professional models. Prices for these specialized features are now reasonable and competitive. If your camera has selectable modes, choose higher contrast. Use a higher dynamic range. Increase vibrancy to better distinguish blue-black from brown-black from grey-black. Ensure sharp focus with a tripod or set the camera on a level, solid surface. If all else fails, hold your elbows tight into your waist, take a deep breath and hold it while you squeeze the trigger–don’t push or punch.
Polish the black!
Once last thought: I often prefer shallow depth of field–lower f-stop/larger aperture–because an out-of-focus background contributes more abstract color and interesting patterns without distraction. Here the effect isn’t pushed toward a strong bokeh, a Japanese term for blurry background circles. Even if you don’t know the term, you will recognize the technique. It’s popular because it’s a beautifully creative use of light. Show your black animal to advantage. Polish the black!
To see how I solved a similar problem in a different way with two black Labs: see Best Dogs Ever for their painted portrait..