HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH A BLACK ANIMAL IN 9 TIPS
Black animals are beautiful! You find a great class, beautiful light reflections in their hair… But that’s thanks to your eyes! Your camera doesn’t see quite the same thing as you do… Photographing a black animal is a real challenge ! There are two big traps to avoid.
The first trap is that your animal appears as a big black spot with eyes… The dress of your animal is then blocked, that is to say completely black. In this case, you would lose all the details of the hair and it is irratractable in post-treatment!
The second trap is to have a correctly exposed coat with details in the hair, but the background is overexposed or even burnt ! Which is also irratractable in post-treatment…
At a time when we share all the photos of our loulous on the networks, there is no reason why our wonderful black hairy guys shouldn’t have their moment of glory! So how to make a success of its photos with a black animal? I give you 9 tricks to avoid any more failures!
Table of Contents
Tip 1 – Choosing good natural light
Tip 2 – Use a reflector or cobra flash in low light conditions
Tip 3 – Using a grazing light
Tip 4 – Have a smooth, medium-bright background
Tip 5 – When using a white background…
Tip 6 – When using a black background…
Tip 7 – Photographing in close-up
Tip 8 – Blur the background
Tip 9 – Playing with silhouettes
Tip 1 - Choose good natural light
For the photo to be successful, you must be able to distinguish the small whiskers, the small nose and the beautiful fur of your animal. If you don’t have details in these strategic places, it’s a shame!
For that you need a nice diffused light. You can use the light of a window indoors which will give beautiful reflections to the hair, or a light in the shade of an undergrowth. You must avoid a hard light that is too direct, which will fade the colors and make your animal “gray”.
Tip 2 - Use a reflector or cobra flash in low light conditions
If you are not lucky enough to have a nice light, you can compensate by using a reflector or a cobra flash.
GODOX 5 in 1 reflector 150 x 200
I advise you to favour the reflector when you can. The bigger it is, the more light you will bring and the softer the light will be! If you don’t have a reflector, you can have fun making one by wrapping a cardboard box with aluminum foil or using a mirror.
In general, avoid using the flash as much as possible. It can disturb and stress your furry friend. If you really have to use the flash :
DO NOT use it directly on your subject!
GODOX cobra E-TTL V860II-C flash kit for Canon housing
Already you would get a much too hard light, and you have to think about the poor little eyes of your loulou. I advise you to bounce the light against a wall or a ceiling, or to put the flash in a softbox to get a softer and less aggressive light for your loulou!
Another “detail”, do not use BUT the built-in flash of your camera. The size of the flash is very small and the light too powerful. You will never get a nice light with the built-in flash of your camera. If you have to use a flash, use a cobra flash. There are some at more or less affordable prices depending on the power and burst capacity for example. I am preparing a more complete article on flashes!
Tip 3 - Using a grazing light
As a general rule, never use strong light directly on the subject. It breaks the colors, it removes all the relief. In short, it gives a picture all flattened without interest!
Choose instead to place the light sideways to give beautiful reflections to the hairs and give relief. To make captivating photos, you have to give it depth. You can have fun varying the angle of the light to vary the shadows and the depth of the black.
This trick is valid in natural light but also if you use a reflector or a flash!
Tip 4 - Have a smooth, medium-bright background
To make it easier, especially if you are a beginner in photography and if you don’t master the manual mode, I advise you to take your picture on a plain background with a medium brightness. It can be a large grass area, a red wall, a blue sky, …
The idea is to reduce the contrast between the background and your animal. The more contrast you have on your scene, the more technically difficult it is to make the picture. You might as well simplify your life and have a rather plain background and avoid black and white.
Tip 5 - When using a white background...
Black dog on white background
That doesn’t mean you can’t use a white background to photograph a black animal! But it requires a little more technique. The advantage of white is that you are sure to easily bring out your subject.
To control the exposure, it is absolutely necessary to put yourself in manual mode and calculate the right settings to have a beautiful white while having textured blacks.
You’ll have to find the settings that allow you to handle two extreme colors and brightness. Some photographers recommend using a light meter. I personally never use one (maybe wrongly?) because I find the light meter built into the camera accurate enough to get away with it. But it’s up to you to test what you prefer !
Tip 6 - When using a black background...
Photographing a black subject on a black background is called Low Key. It’s a technique that gives exceptional results, very classy, but it’s a difficult technique to master.
Exposure on the left
The idea is to play with a very subtle light to bring out details: the eyes, the muzzle, the whiskers, and some well-lit hairs. The rest can blend into the background.
It is then necessary to slightly under-expose the image to obtain deep blacks. You can place yourself at -1 stop or even -2 stops. When you look at the histogram, it should mostly swing to the left.
I advise you to use a stronger light on your loulou than on your background. This will allow you to detach your subject. You can even have fun lighting your loulou from behind to cut it out with a nice halo of light.
Tip 7 - Photographing in close-up
Another trick is to try to fill the frame. This technique has several advantages.
First, you get closer to your subject and can show small details. His small whiskers, his beautiful eyes, his little nose, nothing could be easier then to highlight them.
Then, it allows you to better capture an emotion. You enter the intimacy of the animal. The photo can quickly become powerful if you manage to capture the look of your animal!
Tip 8 - Blur the background
Here’s a trick you probably know because I’ve already talked about it on this blog, it’s to blur the background. I refer you to my article on my tips to have a nice background blur.
You will also hear about bokeh to talk about the beautiful background blur. This technique is very used in portrait to detach the subject and highlight it. However, you will need a good lens!
Tip 9 - Playing with silhouettes
If the conditions are difficult, you can also choose to photograph a silhouette. For this, you need a rather bright background that will give you a strong contrast between your animal and the background.
And I’ll even give you a bonus tip: use a white background so that the light reflects on your animal and subtly draws its contours. You’ll see, the effect is hot!