Use Artificial Light in Dog Photography - dummies

Use Artificial Light in Dog Photography

By Kim Rodgers, Sarah Sypniewski

You’ll likely take a lot of your dog photos indoors under man-made light sources. When you’re inside, you have more control over the light, which is good because indoor light isn’t always quality light.

Though you probably won’t notice it while you’re behind the camera, traditional fluorescent lights and CFL light bulbs can cast an odd color in a room; you may realize this when you start to color-correct your photos during the postprocessing phase. However, thanks to (or maybe in spite of) Thomas Edison, you have many ways to correct for poor or inadequate light indoors.

Built-in flash and dog photography

Most digital SLR cameras, as well as CDCs, come with a small built-in flash that pops up from the camera when you don’t have enough light. Unfortunately, these built-in flashes leave a lot to be desired.

One problem is that they blast light at your subject from directly above the lens, which happens to be a very unnatural angle for light to come from and leaves your subject looking pretty unflattering. Another drawback is that sometimes the lens gets in the way of the flash, which casts a horribly ugly shadow (or cloaks your entire subject in darkness).

Here is a good example of what happens when you use your pop-up flash. Suddenly, your cute dog develops glowing alien eyes. When shooting in low light, avoid using your built-in flash at all costs.


17mm, 1/60 sec., f/8.0, 80

External flash and dog photography

An external flash is a separate, battery-operated unit that connects to the hot shoe (that little metal connector that sits above your viewfinder) on your digital SLR camera. If you’re shooting with a CDC, you’re out of luck in this department.

The main advantage of an external flash is the ability to control the direction and intensity of the flash. Here’s a brief introduction to two external flash techniques.

  • Bouncing your flash: Even with an external flash on your camera, you still shouldn’t point it directly at your subject. Often, photographers use an external flash as a bounce flash to create a soft and dispersed light.

    To create a bounce flash, simply point your flash head at the ceiling instead of directly at your subject. When the flash is triggered, it shoots straight up, hits the ceiling, and reflects back down onto your subject.

    You can also bounce your flash off of a wall if the ceilings are too high; just remember to find a white wall or ceiling so you don’t end up with a strange color cast in your photo.

  • Using fill flash: Your external flash can be a surprisingly great tool for outdoor photography as well, especially if shooting in direct midday sunlight is the only option. Adding a small amount of fill flash to your photo can lighten up the contrast of a midday shot.

    You may feel funny at first throwing on a big external flash on a perfectly sunny day, but the result speaks for itself. The trick to using fill flash is finding the right balance: Use too little and it doesn’t do anything; use too much and the artificial light becomes too obvious.

    Experiment with your external flash at different angles. Start at 45 degrees so the flash shoots slightly up and away from your subject. If your subject is still too shadowy, try pointing the flash directly at your subject, but be sure to dial back its intensity.

    Just like the power of a regular flashlight is less intense in bright daylight than in a dark room, so too is your external flash, so when using it outdoors, it’s sometimes okay to point it directly at your subject.

Studio strobes and dog photography

Studio strobes are powerful, off-camera flashes that you typically see in a portrait photographer’s studio. Essentially, they’re external flash units on steroids. Some flash heads connect to a separate power pack, whereas monolights have power built right into the flash heads.

They offer an even wider range of control than external flash units, but they aren’t the most portable type of artificial light options. They’re also more expensive than an external flash unit.

[Credit: Photo courtesy of Speedotron]
Credit: Photo courtesy of Speedotron

If you’re looking for a studio-style portrait of Buck on a solid-colored background, studio strobes may be for you, but remember that they are an investment!