Human/Animal Bond

Photographing Faceless Black Animals

I bet a lot of your photos of black pets look like black blobs too

Published: March 12, 2019

I'm rarely happy with the photos I take of my black pets. They tend to be blurry and ill-defined. As you can see by my photo of my old cat Blackie, his face is not defined, you cannot see his facial features, there is bright sunlight behind him, and all you can see of his face are his eyes. He had a nose, I know he did! He was a beautiful cat and I adored him, but I don’t have any really good photos of him, and he is long gone so I can't take any more.

Many of my photos are used for work, so I want to get better at this before another solid black animal comes into my life. Besides, you’ll never know when I might see the perfect photo op, such as a black stallion standing by his fence at dusk or a little black dog in a shadow.

I'm betting that a lot of your photos of black animals look a lot like mine. Of course, much of this depends on what kind of camera you have, whether you can operate the manual function of your SLR, or never use anything except your cell phone or the auto function on your point and shoot.

You don’t have to tell people you were purposely going for the blob look: you can improve the method in which you take photos of your Blackie, Pepper, and Shadow. (Pro Pun Tip: Name your next black pet Night, so every time you say good night you will simultaneously tell him he’s a good boy!)

What you want, ideally, is to have your pet's face in perfect focus rather than so lacking in detail that it looks like a tumbleweed of shadows. Avoid sharp light contrast because you'll get bright white areas and dark shadows. That contrast is brightest during the middle of a sunny day, indoors or out. Professional photographers shoot just after dawn and before sunset so that the light is diffused rather than stark.  Go for an evenly lit shaded area. You also get diffused light on overcast days, so if Pepper is romping around outside on a cloudy day, you'll get better photos than on a sunny day.

If Pepper is being utterly hilarious outside and you really want to photograph Her Goofiness mid-day in bright sunlight, use the pop flash to alter the shadows. It might be enough to let Pepper’s face show in detail rather than fuzziness.

Taking these photos inside is the easiest way to go about this. It's best not to use the pop up flash because with black animals it causes more problems, such as red eye and contrast. If you are knowledgeable enough with your camera, you can turn up the ISO.

Windows (yours, not Microsoft’s) are a great setting, and half the time your cat will be there anyway. Of course, that's when he will turn his face away from you. Get your light source - window, lamp, sun - located a little behind and off to one side of the pet taking a star turn.

Other tips:

  •  Avoid a busy background
  •  Try a black background - sounds counterintuitive, but it can work
  •  Focus on the eyes
  •  You will get better results with manual exposure than an automatic
  •  Sometimes flash works out well; sometimes it doesn't. Experiment.
  •  Have the pet's face at an angle, if they aren't running away from you. (I have some good butt shots.)
  •  Shoot at the same level as the animal's face, or a bit higher
  •  Use colorful props, like collars, leashes, bows, ribbons, or pillows.

By the way, be aware that some pets may try to eat the colorful props.  Not a good idea.

The key in all cases is to use the softest light available because you get more detail that way. Once you start thinking about how the light makes a black animal look, you’ll likely start getting more distinctive features – no more misplaced noses for the Blackies of the world!

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