Black dogs are just stunning, however, they're not as easy to photograph well as other colours. You'll be capturing gorgeous shots of black dogs in no time with these ten handy tips, focusing on lighting, choosing backgrounds and dealing with colour casts.
1. Minimise those shadows
Being aware of your lighting is so important when photographing black dogs. I can’t emphasise this enough! Shooting on a sunny day in full sun is one foolproof lighting method for black dogs as it floods them with high contrast light. The hard light of the direct sun picks up all the detail and shine in their coat. Ensure the sun is low in the sky and nearly directly at your back, fully illuminating the dog.
When photographing black dogs in full sun with a long focal length, you'll need to get down to a very low angle to minimise the shadow you cast. However, if your shadow is still visible on the ground in the foreground, it's usually easy enough to edit it out afterwards - just as long as the shadow isn't on the dog itself.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 125mm, ISO 100, 1/1250 sec, f2.8
2. Black and White Dogs
We’ve talked about black dogs and white dogs, but what about black AND white dogs? Since black and white fur presents so much contrast, it’s even more important to keep the lighting even - which means keeping the main light source directly behind you as you shoot. Side lighting will only increase the contrast further and make it impossible to maintain detail in both the white and black areas. Full sun will work, as will backlight, or shade/cloud - just as long as you keep the source of light at your back. Underexposing slightly to maintain details in the highlights then editing to pull details back into the darker areas works well for black and white dogs.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 135mm f2L, ISO 320, 1/1000 sec, f2
3. Blast that backlight
One of the benefits of photographing furry black dogs is you can blast them with backlight. With white or light coloured dogs, especially furry ones, you really need to filter the sunshine through some bushes or low trees to reduce the amount of light falling on the back of them. But black dogs can take quite a bit more light on their black fur before blowing out, so providing it's fairly late in the day and the light is coming from a low angle, you might not need to filter the backlight at all.
It is still important however to make sure you’re counterbalancing the backlight with enough light on the shaded side of the dog - ambient light from a big open sky is perfect - just make sure there are no sources of shade behind you.
In this image, you can see the big wide blue open sky behind me reflected in the dog's eyes!
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EOS 24-70mm f/2.8L II @ 61mm, ISO 500, 1/500 sec, f/2.8
4. Avoid Side Light
Full sun in late afternoon can really make black dogs shine! The hard light brings out the contrast between the shadows and the specular highlights of a shiny coat. Shoot with the sun behind you or face the dog’s head towards the light so you don’t end up with very dark areas.
Side light on black dogs in full sun is not a good look!
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EOS 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS, ISO 200, 1/1000 sec, f/2.8
5. Black dogs should look black!
From the archives - I’m digging up some old work to share! This photo is from February 2010 and has been re-edited.
Looking through the archives I found my original edits of this session, where this gorgeous black Lab’s glossy black fur had a yucky blue colour cast in every shot! It was a good reminder about how much I now focus on white balance and dealing with unnatural colour casts. Black dogs should not be completely devoid of all colour casts as they naturally pick up some colours from their surroundings and the temperature of the light source - but they should appear predominantly black - as they do in real life!
Here in the re-edit, Harley still looks a little cool, but this is in keeping with the lighting - open shade late in the day.
Canon EOS 5D, Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, ISO 1250, 1/100 sec, f/2
6. Wide angle shadows
Shooting using full sun is great for bringing out shine and contrast in a black dog's coat, however if you're shooting late (or very early) in the day while up close to the dog with a wide angle lens, your shadow will need careful management to ensure it doesn't fall directly on the dog - not a good look!
To overcome this, change your angle slightly so the sun is not directly behind you so that your shadow is cast off to the side of the dog. This may mean one side of the dog's face might be a little darker since the light is coming at a slight angle from one side - you can address this by trying to angle the dog's face more towards the light - or just pay careful attention when editing to lift the shadows in the dark side of the dog's face.
You can also address shadowing issues by shooting from a very low angle looking upwards, which nearly completely eliminates casting your shadow on the dog.
This is Charge the Great Dane shot for my Tails of Brisbane project.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS @ 19mm, ISO 320, 1/1250 sec, f/4
7. Dark eye catchlights
Black dogs often have very dark eyes that without good lighting, can tend to disappear into fathomless dark blobs with no detail. Catchlights are essential. To ensure you get catchlights in the dog’s eyes, make sure they are facing towards a light source. This can be full sun, or an area of wide open sky if you are shooting in cloudy weather or in the shade. Having them sit and look upwards is a surefire way to get great catchlights!
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II @ 47mm, ISO 640, 1/500 sec, f/2.8
8. Balance the backlight
Whatever your surroundings, when backlighting black dogs it is so important to balance the light coming from behind them, with the light falling onto the front of them.
To make sure enough light is falling on their shaded side (the side you are shooting), avoid having them under trees or even near shaded areas as this can drastically cut down the light that illuminates their face, head and the front of their body. Instead, make sure the sun is low in the sky behind them and place them out under an area where there is open sky above. The open sky acts as a giant light source that bathes them in soft light and helps bring out the detail in their black fur.
This is Ollie the Labrador Retriever, photographed for my Tails of Brisbane project.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II @ 50mm, ISO 800, 1/800 sec, f/2.8
9. Watch for colour casts
Watch for colour casts! Black fur is very good at picking up colours casts from its surroundings.
The most common issue I see with black dogs is when they’ve been photographed in the shade and end up looking very blue.
Warming the whole image up helps, but in some cases too much warmth makes the entire image look wrong. Don’t be afraid to apply tonal and white balance adjustments to the dog separately.
If you use Lightroom, you can do this using the Adjustment Brush. Using the Auto Mask feature is really helpful here, providing the dog is very distinct from the background. Once you’ve brushed over the dog, play around with the white balance, contrast and saturation until the dog looks black with fewer colour casts.
Don’t remove ALL the colour from the dog as this looks strange as well! It’s natural for a black dog to pick up some colours from their surroundings, but it shouldn’t be overly noticeable. The dog should still look black, but retain lots of textural detail in their fur.
Here’s a good mantra for you to remember - “black dogs should look black!”
You can check out the before and after here and also in the blog post to see the difference the Adjustment Brush has made to remove the blue cast from Odin’s fur.
This is Odin the Great Dane shot for my Tails of Brisbane project.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II @ 80mm, ISO 800, 1/800 sec, f/2.8
10. Embrace the black
Embrace the black - black dogs are absolutely perfect for silhouettes! Because they are already so dark, there is a greater exposure difference between them and the sky already so there isn’t as much need to underexpose the shot to make them truly black.
Short haired black dogs (as opposed to long haired light dogs) are SO much easier when it comes to silhouetting - give it a try! Just make sure the dog is completely outlined against something MUCH brighter. Usually the sky, but in the case of this shot, the sky and reflective still water.
This is Logan photographed for my Tails of Brisbane project.
Canon EOS 1D X, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II @ 70mm, ISO 100, 1/1000 sec, f/4
Tips include working with light, obtaining expression, camera setting tips, composition, using the location, dog handling tricks – and so much more. Sign up below to receive the tips, delivered daily for free so you can read and absorb straight away (no homework required). The series includes three months worth of assorted pet photography tips, delivered direct to your inbox!