Photographing Black Dogs

Black dogs, especially pit bulls and pit mixes, are notoriously difficult to find homes for. That's why it's so important to get great photos of them that show their sparkling eyes and happy faces. I get a lot of questions about how to photograph black dogs because their features tend to disappear in the picture when you shoot in Auto mode. Here are some simplified steps for photographing a black or very dark colored dog.

  1. Choose a well-lit (but not bright sun) location. I always go for even shade somewhere outside. You can go under a tree, a building overhang, porch, or an aisle/walkway with a cover. You want to avoid the spotty light that sometimes happens with leaves. It should be even shade with no light spots. 
  2. Position the dog so their back is towards the shade (tree, bushes, side of building, etc.) and their face is towards the open sky. This will instantly light up their eyes for the picture.
  3. If you have a colorful blanket or backdrop to put behind the dog or for them to sit on, this will give some contrast to their dark coat and they'll stand out much better.
  4. Use a treat or squeaky toy to have them raise their head towards the open sky when you're ready to snap the picture. I usually have someone holding the leash and someone else standing behind me with the treat or squeaky. Don't overuse the squeaks...do it only when ready for the picture for an nice alert expression from the dog. 
  5. If the photos are still coming out too dark, it's likely the result of shooting in Auto mode. Switching to Manual mode will allow you to expose for the dog's face instead of the bright surroundings and this will bring out their features. Your camera manual should have an easy step-by-step for shooting in Manual mode.  
We used a bright quilt to help this black pup stand out from the shady background. It was a bright sunny day, and to avoid the harsh glare of the sun, we chose a spot under the trees. He's sitting with his back against the shade and his face towards the sky. You can see how the light is reflecting in his eyes and all his features are visible. A volunteer was holding his leash, which I edited out later. Another volunteer stood behind me and squeaked a toy above my head to get the alert expression and happy open mouth. 

We used a bright quilt to help this black pup stand out from the shady background. It was a bright sunny day, and to avoid the harsh glare of the sun, we chose a spot under the trees. He's sitting with his back against the shade and his face towards the sky. You can see how the light is reflecting in his eyes and all his features are visible. A volunteer was holding his leash, which I edited out later. Another volunteer stood behind me and squeaked a toy above my head to get the alert expression and happy open mouth. 

Same rules apply for this black puppy. I used a bright red chair to help her stand out. 

Same rules apply for this black puppy. I used a bright red chair to help her stand out. 

We didn't use any bight background for this cute girl, but she still stands out. Using a shallow depth of field (in this case, f/1.8) really helps separate them from the background. You can see the sky reflecting in her eyes, helping them to pop in the photo. Again, she's in the shade, facing the light. 

We didn't use any bight background for this cute girl, but she still stands out. Using a shallow depth of field (in this case, f/1.8) really helps separate them from the background. You can see the sky reflecting in her eyes, helping them to pop in the photo. Again, she's in the shade, facing the light. 

For this pup, I used a yellow blanket to help her stand out, and I got as close as I could while using a shallow depth of field. It puts her face in sharp focus while the background blurs. This is all done in-camera and can be accomplished with pretty much any lens. Just use the lowest f-stop on your camera, and get as close to the subject as possible. This is especially useful with darker colored dogs. 

For this pup, I used a yellow blanket to help her stand out, and I got as close as I could while using a shallow depth of field. It puts her face in sharp focus while the background blurs. This is all done in-camera and can be accomplished with pretty much any lens. Just use the lowest f-stop on your camera, and get as close to the subject as possible. This is especially useful with darker colored dogs.