Playing with off-camera flash for great dog photos

maremma sheepdog in the middle of a suburban street

There is no hike to tell you about this week.

Womp womp.

As you read this Friday morning, however, Bella and I may be in search of a quiet hill somewhere.

All week, I’ve been working on lighting. Off-camera flash, to be specific.

Last summer, I invested in a Godox AD200 strobe and started to learn the lighting. I use to fill in shadows for client dog photos and I cart it along on hikes with Bella so I can create light in any setting.

This was last Friday at Saltese Uplands Conservation Area in Liberty Lake, one of my favorite locations for dog photos:

Bella on a rock at Saltese Uplands Conservation Area

Not her best pose

Aye, there’s the rub.

Create light in any setting.

With off-camera flash in my bag of tricks, I don’t have to schedule sessions around the sun’s clock. I can meet you any time of day and find or make the perfect light to celebrate the love you have for your dog.

Bella and off-camera flash

You have to understand one thing: Bella has less patience than I do.

Or a shorter attention span.

Not sure which but neither one of us likes to sit still for very long. I at least can hold a good sit for longer than a couple of seconds. Thus, several takes of the same Bella image can be a challenge.

When you see a good shot of Bella, it means I nailed it in five seconds or less. It’s teaching me more patience with client sessions, for sure, and my husband even complimented me on it when he came out to the backyard this morning as my lighting assistant.

My inspiration

I met this guy at a natural light workshop last summer, working on how to use reflectors to add light to your subject.

Lo and behold, I ended up working at the same newspaper, The Spokesman-Review a few months later. This ink-stained wretch of old is a part-time copy editor, three days a week making sure all the commas are snuggled in their proper little places.

Colin Mulvaney is an incredbile photojournalist, now ranking among some of the most amazing photographers with whom I’ve had the privilege of working (ahem … Brendan Halper, Jason Payne, Stuart Dryden, Mike Drew, Jim Wells … OMG, I can’t name them all).

As I plugged away at my shift last Saturday, I had the honor to ensure the copy on a photo essay was solid.

“Pandemic Portraits” is a double-truck spread of “life behind the mask,” Spokanites out shopping for essentials with masks covering their faces and protecting society from the spread of the novel coronavirus.

No, really. Go look.

Colin conveys all the fear, intensity, optimism and confusion that we’re all feeling these days waiting to go back to normal. Or rather, waiting to find out what our new normal is.

I was moved.

And I was struck by the lighting he used. I reached out and asked questions.

How can I achieve this with my dog photography?

He said do this, this and this. And I thought, man, if he can do it as a one-man show on a regular shift at the Spokesman, I should be able to figure this out as a one-woman show doing dog photos in Spokane.

That’s what I set out to do.

I have a concept in mind for the image at the tippy top of this blog post but it isn’t quite there yet. Bella’s pose is a bit off. Mother Nature sure as heck cooperated with moody clouds, though, didn’t she?

And I love Bella’s intensity in this headshot:

headshot of a Maremma sheepdog in Spokane Valley

Serious face

Husband is holding a reflector camera left, while my Godox AD200 is camera right in a 3-x-2-foot softbox.

I pulled back a bit and made this happen:

Bella poses for dog photos with off-camera flash in Spokane Valley

Pretty girl

It isn’t quite there yet.

I may even be starting to hate our fence.

I still have some work to do on positioning the flash and reflector but, hey, it looks like I have plenty of time to figure that out, right?

All around the circle

This week’s theme for the worldwide dog photographers blog circle was Let There Be Light. So of course I was going to whip out my off-camera flash and ramble on about how I’m trying to figure out off-camera flash for dog photos.

I’m often inspired by the off-camera flash work by Kaylee Greer and Natasha Saltes but only to be inspired. The goal is always to showcase your dog among the incredible landscapes of Spokane and North Idaho.

(I’m also inspired by the gorgeous landscape work Paul Zizka does. You guys, his images are amazing, especially the Banff-based stuff.

Now, let’s see how my pet photographer friends tackled Let There Be Light. Start by going all the way to Australia with Jo Lyons Photography, the down-to-earth dog-loving photographer for cherished dogs of the Great Lakes NSW.

Click the link at the bottom of her post to get to the next photographer, and so on until you find yourself back here.


Right where you belong.

Share the love

If you think off-camera flash is the kind of style you want for your dog photography session, let’s get together!

Or, you can share the love.

I set up egift cards in my Square store to make it easy for you to give a portrait session as a gift.

Click the pic (or this text) and go right there.

spokane dog photos gift card


18 thoughts on “Playing with off-camera flash for great dog photos”

  1. Thanks for the kind words Angela. I don’t have many people get excited about off-camera flash as I do. Bella looks grand with the soft box light!

    I have been a photojournalist at The Spokesman-Review for over 32 years and have traveled through the many changes from black and white to color film. Leaning digital darkrooming and video storytelling. The one thing that frustrated me the most was photographing subjects in bad light. For years when I took a portrait for for the newspaper, I used mainly natural light. I hated having a subject with raccoon shadow eyes end up in the newspaper. As on-camera flash improved with digital cameras, I tried to use direct fill flash to mitigate the harsh shadows. Unfortunately, this only made the bad light marginally less bad.

    Around 2015, strobe lighting received a huge upgrade with the advent of built in wireless technology, which enabled me to shoot off-camera with out a cord. But the bigger upgrade was high-speed sync with the ability to shoot up to 8000th of second shutter speed to control the ambient light. By over-powering the sun with my strobes, the world became studio. Many location shooters call themselves natural light photographers. The problem is there are mostly “natural light photographers” out there competing for the same slice of the business pie. Photographers who master off-camera strobe bring a fresh, dramatic look to their work. Clean, soft–or hard- light reproduces well in large prints. It also needs less post production work. All the crazy use of presets to jazz up the natural light photos leaves me perplexed. Creamy skin tones and such look unreal to me. Off-camera flash done right–where it doesn’t look flashy–is where I am placing my creative entry now. Check out my Adventures in Off-Camera Flash blog if you are interested in how I approach location lighting.

    1. Colin, thank you! I’m so excited to dig into your website and gain even more inspiration. One of my favorite parts about off-camera flash is the reduction of post that needs to be done!

  2. Low light is the biggest enemy of good photos. Flash usually washes everything out. I’m glad you found a way to make it work for your dog photos.

    1. Oh my, flash absolutely does NOT wash everything out when you’re using it correctly. Off-camera flash is an advanced photography technique that I recommend to all my photographer friends.

  3. Bella’s headshot is beautiful! I love the Pandemic Portraits, thanks for sharing the link! Off-camera flash is such a great tool. I learned to use it when I was second shooting weddings.

  4. These are beautiful photos of Bella! She’s such a good girl. I’ve been looking into the AD200s… which softbox do you use with it Angela? I love the catchlights in Bella’s eyes. The fence actually makes a great rich backdrop with her colouring too. Thanks for the links too, I’m going to check them all out now 🙂

  5. Wow, your photos of Bella are awesome. What a beautiful girl she is. I have often considered using off-camera flash outdoors… your photos are inspiring.

    1. Thanks, Colleen! I wish I had an assistant to help me out. It’s tough being a one-woman show sometimes.

  6. Wonderful shots! Love the serious face! I totally need to up my camera game and see from your shots it’s worth it! Or I could hire you!!

  7. There are times I wish my cats went outside so I could get beautiful photos such as these. Every once in a while, I can capture the sun coming through my living room window to get a great photo of my cats.

  8. Flash is one area I have not explored yet. It looks as though a well positioned flash can make the world of difference and still allow a portrait to feel natural – right? There is no sense of anything artificial just an amazing portrait of a gorgeous dog. Wonderful!!!

  9. Colin’s images are very moving indeed! Great job with Bella, I can definitely see progress as you play around more. One simple thing that really helped me was simply setting my exposure (using the camera’s light meter) for the scene in front of me and then setting the power of the flash to light your subject. Adjust flash power up and down to taste. When someone told me that it was like a light bulb went off on the top of my head! Keep up the practice, that’s what you have to do when tackling a new technique (and bring lots of treats for Bella while you’re at it ;o).

    1. Colin has been a constant source of inspiration for me. His portraits have a depth and connection I haven’t seen in a lot of photographers.

  10. I love your photography and have a simple camera but Layla does not always sit still when I try to capture pictures, actually she sees the camera and starts moving LOL, smarty pants but am doing the best I can do. Your photos are just amazing.

    1. Ruth! Try holding one of her favorite toys over your lens … or a squeaker. Or a nip of tuna. Whatever catches her attention and makes her stare at you.

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