Unless the ambient light levels are very good a bit of additional light provided by a speed light or studio strobe will enhance a photo, and provided you use the flash with a light touch and don’t over-cook it no-one will even tell that artificial light was used.
When photographing dogs and pets a flash can be a useful tool, although you can’t use it in all situations of course. I mean, when I am out in the park or at the beach photographing dogs running around, playing and goofing about they are often so far away from me that the flash light won’t even reach them, and even when I use my powerful Godox Witstro AD360 portable strobe or gang three speed lights together the light simply won’t reach the dog so it is a waste of time (and battery power) to even bother trying. In these situations you have to rely on the ambient light to get the shot.
Whilst the above applies most of the time out on location there are times when I can get up close and personal to the dog and get close enough for the flash to illuminate the dog and lift the shadows, resulting in a more pleasing photo. I have found from experience that how close I can get varies from dog to dog, they are all unique and have their own personalities of course, and also how well trained they are. If I can get close enough for the flash to illuminate the dog I will use it, even in bright sunlight.
When I use the flash to take photos of dogs I always use it in ETTL mode. People you can direct and ask them to stand around and wait whilst you manually set flash power, however dogs you can’t. Okay, I appreciate there are some highly trained dogs out there who will sit and stay when their owners tell them to however even the most trained dogs will be a bit naughty when they have a camera put in front of them. Setting the flash power manually in these situations is a nightmare and will end up in so many flash exposure problems it isn’t worth the hassle.
When the subject to flash distance keeps changing, like it will do when photographing dogs, it is best to use the flash in ETTL mode and tweak the power using flash exposure compensation as necessary. When I use my Godox Ving speed lights the results using ETTL are very good and quite consistent, so only the smallest amount of flash exposure is needed.
If I am taking photos of dogs by myself, which is generally the case I use the flash on camera as it allows me to move around and not have to worry about moving an off camera flash as well. That said, I will take the speed light off camera too although I will keep it connected to the camera’s hot shoe (so I can retain ETTL without having to use radio triggers – even more equipment to set up) via a short off camera flash cable. With this set up I can hand hold the flash and move it in various positions for a bit of creative lighting, however most of the time the dog owner simply wants standard even portrait style lighting. I know it’s not very adventurous but the dog owner is the customer at the end of the day so they get what they want and not what I tell them.
There are times when I do have an assistant with me, i.e. when my wife will assist or the dog owner is keen to lend a hand to the shoot, and when I do have an extra pair of hands I revert to using a speed light off camera and one on camera as a fill.
Having an assistant to move the off camera flash and put it in position allows me to use more powerful lights, such as 3 speed lights ganged together or the Wistro AD. Even when I use this lighting set up I still use the lights in ETTL mode and tweak the power using flash exposure compensation. In all honesty, using ETTL in these situations is best because I would have to not only focus on getting the dog to behave but also direct the assistant exactly where to place the light to get the right flash exposure.
When I photograph dogs using flash I don’t bother with any type of light modifier because I simply don’t need one. Okay, flash light is harsh and it can cause hot spots and the like but this only seems to happen to people and not dogs. When photographing dogs with bare flash you will not get the same hot spots so don’t bother with a light modifier or diffuser. Besides, using a light modifier decreases the intensity of the light, and this may be the light you need to get the right exposure.
If you have the opportunity to use flash when photographing dogs I suggest you grab it with both hands since it will enhance your dog photos no end. When you use the flash just remember to keep it in ETTL mode and shoot away, tweaking the power using flash exposure compensation as necessary.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.
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