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Position Lights Just Right for Studio-Style Dog Portraits

Being in control of your light source’s direction means that you can get some drastically different looks by simply repositioning your lights during your dog photography sessions. The most basic lighting setup involves only one light and a reflector, which adds fill light to the shadows. To mimic this lighting setup, follow these steps:

  1. Create a background by hanging a roll of seamless background paper from the crossbar of your background stand.

  2. Position your light stand so it sits at about a 45-degree angle from the front of your subject.

  3. Attach your flash head to the light stand and point it away from your subject.

  4. Attach a reflective umbrella or softbox to your flash head to soften the light.

  5. Plug in your flash head to your power pack (or your flash head to your AC power source if you’re using a monolight) and plug in your power pack to your AC power source.

  6. Attach a radio transmitter to your camera’s hot shoe and a radio receiver to your power pack. Turn them both on and make sure they’re set to the same channel so they can communicate with each other.

    If you’re mimicking this setup with lower-powered external flash units (instead of strobes), you can also use the master/slave setup we discuss earlier instead of a radio transmitter.

  7. Use a reflector holder arm to connect your reflector to another light stand, or simply have someone hold the reflector for you.

  8. Position your reflector at about a 90-degree angle from the front of your subject on the opposite side of where your light is positioned so that when your strobe flashes, it also hits your reflector, adding fill light to the shadowed side of your subject.

  9. Set your camera to manual mode and choose a shutter speed of 1/250 second to start with. Set your aperture to f/8 as a starting point.

  10. Compose your shot and take a photo.

    If your image is too bright, you can either stop down your aperture to a higher f-stop number to reduce the amount of light hitting your camera’s sensor or increase the distance between your light stand and your subject, which decreases the light’s intensity.

    If your image is too dark, you can either open up your aperture to a lower f-stop number to let in more light or decrease the distance between your light stand and your subject, which increases the light’s intensity.

    [Credit: Diagram courtesy of Strobox.com]
    Credit: Diagram courtesy of Strobox.com

Setting up studio lights takes some time, so don’t bore Max with that part of the job. Instead, use a friend or family member as a fill-in while you adjust the lights. Get your light just right and then insert Max when you’re ready.

After you master the art of a single-light setup, feel free to experiment with an additional light. Here is a simple two-light setup that keeps the amount of shadows on your subject to a minimum.

[Credit: Diagram courtesy of Strobox.com]
Credit: Diagram courtesy of Strobox.com

This is a great setup to use when you want your pooch to be the focal point of the shot because it creates an even light that doesn’t distract the viewer. If you’re more interested in setting a mood and getting all artsy, stick to the one-light setup and experiment with different angles and reflective materials for your fill light.

Studio-style lighting is an art, not a science. Play around with the position of your lights and/or your reflectors until you stumble upon the result you’re striving for. Use the lighting diagrams shown here as starting points, but experiment with alternate light positions as well. Learning how to light your subject is all about trial and error, so don’t worry about making mistakes!

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