Sally Jane Photographic Art

Fact Sheet 2


Pet Photography - Lighting

Flash photography and animals is not a good mixture. Many animals can be upset by sudden bright flashes in their face unless they are well used to it. If the only flash you possess is one that is attached to your camera then it is not going to produce good results for pet portraits anyway. For portrait photography you would need to have one or two remote flash guns so as to get a more even spread of light around your subject and avoid hard shadows. For this reason I do not recommend you try to take any portrait shots of your pets indoors or in dull lighting conditions when a flash would be required. Aim to take all photographs outside and on a bright day.

OK so you are now outside with your pet and the sun is blazing, surely this is going to be perfect? Not quite. We 'all know' you should have your back to the sun when taking a photograph as shooting into the sun will just produce black silhouettes of your subject, right? Well if you do that with your dog the chances are he is going to have his eyes shut in all your shots as he tries to squint into the sun. Not ideal. Better would be to angle your pet so his or her face is side on to the sun but take care not to cast shadows across his body as they will look ten times worse in the photograph as they do in the pose.

Another way to tackle this, but only if the light is really strong, say in summer, is to find an area of light shade and set your pet up there. Don't use heavy shade as it will be too dark but light shade will help diffuse the light evenly over the coat of your pet and prevent squinting. Do make sure that the shade covers your pet evenly and there are not areas in full sun as this will notice far more in the resultant photo and look odd.

If you are taking the photograph in either early morning, evening or in winter, the sun light will cast a strong yellow hue in the photograph. This is because the light has traveled at a more obtuse angle through our atmosphere and has changed colour as a result. Our eyes adjust to it so we don't notice it, but the camera will show it up unless you have adjusted the white balance. This colour cast can be fixed, post production, on your PC and I will explain about that in a later fact sheet.

Evening out shadows

If you cannot position your pet up so that he is not squinting without casting strong shadows across his body or face then there is a way to help fix this. You will probably need someone to give you a hand with this. Find yourself a large piece of white cardboard or a white sheet. You can use this as a reflector. Get someone to hold this out next to you pet so as to reflect some of the light back onto the shadowed area of your pet without actually getting into the shot or, more importantly, scaring your pet off. Do not be tempted to use a mirror as this will cast too strong a reflection and will look very odd. Scrunched up and then flattened out silver foil can also be used but will need something rigid behind it for support.

Avoid hot spots. A hot spot usually refers to an area of very light colour that reflects so much it goes completely white in the camera. It can also be used to refer to the reverse where a shadow is so dark all that shows up on the photograph is a large area of black. This can be avoided by using light shade on really sunny days but your camera will probably have settings that can help with this. I'm not going to go into too much detail here about camera settings because, if you are reading this, you are likely to be the type of photographer who likes to leave the camera on 'Auto' and forget about it. That's fine, and in the majority of cases this will work beautifully but there is one 'auto' setting you should know about if your camera supports it. It will be called 'metering'. There will often be an option to have the camera set either to 'spot' meter, 'Centre Weighted metering' or 'Multi Area metering'. The first just takes a light reading in the very centre of the image and adjusts the exposure according to this. If you are taking a photograph pointing into the sun this would help prevent the subject looking like that black silhouette but would probably cause the background to completely white-out. 'Centre Weighted' is similar but takes readings across the scene but gives more precedence to readings taken towards the centre. 'Multi Area' takes readings across the scene and uses the best exposure setting to avoid hot spots anywhere as much as possible. This is my preferred setting even if I'm not going to use the background and I would recommend it to you as a one fix for all setting if you don't want to keep changing it.

If you can display a histogram on your camera it is often worth using it as it will show you if you have hot spots.  A peak at either the black end to the left or white end to the right will usually indicate lost information. Remember, hot spots cannot be fixed post production so need to be avoided right from the start.

In my next fact sheet, I will discuss backgrounds.