When I worked as a pet photographer, pet owners with black pets would often come in with no real expectations of good photos. They’d often tell me that they realized their pet was black so they didn’t expect a good picture, just a picture. While volunteering with animal rescues, I’ve had several volunteers complain that black pets always end up looking the same: like unadoptable black blobs. Your beloved pet is no black blob! There are a few tips and tricks that I’ll share with you to help make black blobs a thing of the past. Lighting
The biggest problem I often see in black blob photos, is that there was insufficient lighting. While you can’t always have optimum lighting, it helps. I find bright to moderate sunlight to be best. If you can take some photos outdoors, you’ll have a great chance at getting some good highlights. The sun will help to highlight your pet’s coat and eyes. In a dark room the features of your black pets won’t be well defined. In the sunlight, you should be able to see the eyes, nose, mouth, and fur clearly. If for some reason the pet cannot go outside for a photo, professional lighting works much better than a standard flash.
Your standard flash (the inbuilt flash on your camera) isn’t generally going to give your black pets well defined features. However, don’t rule out the indoors. Usually two are more lights are sufficient to provide some decent highlighting. If you don’t have access to photography lighting equipment, those halogen lamps for construction work are fantastic for the price. Make what you have work too. Use the most brightly lit room you have available as long as it still gives your pet some highlights. You can add in extra highlights in the eyes in PhotoShop later, but the other highlights are much more difficult to add in. Backgrounds
This may seem obvious, but I see it done a lot. Don’t put a dark pet on a dark background! When I worked as a pet photographer, pet owners would often come in with two pets that they wanted to have photographed together. Let’s say someone brought in one black cat and one orange tabby. They’d often ask for the black backdrop with the tabby, but then for the photo together they’d want it to have the black backdrop as well. That’s just asking for trouble. Use a lighter backdrop for black pets so that they don’t disappear from the photo completely. A white or pastel colored backdrop would be a good choice. If you’re outside and have access to great natural backgrounds, just watch to make sure those aren’t too dark. Green grass or plants often work well as backgrounds that aren’t particularly dark. A forest in the background however, might not prove to be the best choice. Even if the background will be blurred out, the general color scheme matters.
Get in Close
Taking a headshot of a black dog is much easier than getting a good full body shot. Try starting out with some close ups of your pet. In a close up photo, you’ll see more of the details. On the face there are generally more details available to stand out as well. You’ll want to clearly see the eyes, ears, nose, and possibly the mouth if you want your pets mouth in the photo. There are less details available generally on the rest of the pet’s body. You’ll have more to work with on close up shots of your pet.
Take Several Photos
Try out different lighting settings to see what works for you and your pet. Try various backdrops and locations if possible. It’s a good idea to use your digital camera at least initially, so that you can take endless photos and see the results almost instantly. Notice the differences to see what works and what doesn’t. If you can adjust your camera’s contrast, do so. If you can’t make adjustments on your camera, you’ll just have to work with the lighting that nature gives you.
It’s All About the Eyes
For black pets especially, you want the eyes to be highlighted and expressive. Generally, the eyes are the first thing people notice on a photo of a black pet. If you have to, add some highlights to the eyes in PhotoShop. With black cats, you’ll generally always have to fix the eyes at least a bit. Getting a photo of expressive eyes can be difficult, but that’s why you’re shooting several photos. If the eyes are expressive, they’ll stand out more.
So say goodbye to your black blob, and hello to your beautiful black pet! Try going for more light and a background with good contrast. Get in closer to show more of your pet’s detail and don’t forget about the eyes. Take several photos so that you can see the effects of different lighting and so you’ll be more likely to have a good photo or two. Don’t settle for black blob photos when you can do better.