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Spokane winter: How to make light happen for dog photos

December 6, 2019
big white dog stands on rocks in spokane valley

We are always in for some pretty grey days during a Spokane winter.

On the one hand, they can be depressing and blah.

On the other hand, they make for a nice flat light for portrait sessions and dog photos. (If you can bear the cold and the snow, that is …)

Overcast conditions turn the clouds into a giant softbox over the sun. The light is even and its subdued nature prevents blown out highlights, especially on white fur.

On the other hand (what? you don’t have three hands?), images can be dull and lifeless.

Using natural light in dog photos

Natural light is the go-to for a lot of photographers.

It means less equipment. A lot less equipment.

It certainly is easier to worry about just the camera when you’re focused on dogs, subjects that don’t exactly have the longest attention span.

You have to think quick and act quick, keeping that shutter release on quick fire (a.k.a. AF-C, or continuous, on a Nikon).

As long as you’re in a more open space on those grey days, you can still come up with some beautiful light. Bella and I went out to Mirabeau Park in Spokane Valley on a grey Wednesday just to prove this point.

We stopped for this quick break on the path at Mirabeau Point Park because the light was so nice.

maremma sheepdog sits between two trees
All natural light in a wide open space

However, once we hit the hills and we were under the shade of incredible tall pines, it was a different story.

maremma sheepdog sitsin pine needles at mirabeau park
Natural light in shade

This is OK but it took some extra work in Photoshop to get it there.

Over-riding natural light and Spokane winter

I got you, Spokane.

I’m no stranger to grey winter days. We got plenty of them in Kelowna and Kamloops, B.C.

Not so much in Calgary, land of the great big blue sky and more sunny days than almost anywhere in North America. Which you have to trade for 40-below temperatures. (Ahem … 40-below is the same for Farenheit and Celsius. That’s where they match up on the thermometer. Did you know that?)

Photoshop is a handy tool when it comes to fixing light issues like flat, dull, lifeless. However, my job becomes easier and way more efficient when I get the image right in camera.

That’s where off-camera flash comes in.

I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago when the dog photographers’ blog circle focused on natural light. I’ve been working on it all summer, learning how to adjust the light — from power to location — and getting Bella to model, even when she didn’t want to.

In July, I finally invested in a Godox AD200, a compact, battery-powered strobe. It’s easy to pack around and I’ve even come up with a couple of different ways to use it while hiking. But that’s a story for another day.

Today, let’s check out the difference this single strobe makes on a grey day in Spokane.

Natural light

This is one of my favorite spots at Mirabeau Park. I think (think) it’s the remains of the concrete cave that was a maternity ward for goats in the old Walk in the Wild zoo.

First, Bella poses in all natural light. This image is straight out of camera.

maremma sheepdog on a grey day at mirabeau park
Bella on a grey December day

Here is the same image with a little work in Photoshop … a few curves layers, a brightening of the eyes and voila!

Maremma sheepdog sits on rocks at mirabeau park in spokane valley
No flash, all Photoshop

Better, right?

Now check this out.

I’ve added a touch of light with my Godox AD200, handheld with a 16-inch diffuser softbox.

bella the maremma sheepdog awaits spokane winter
Lit by Godox AD200

The differences are subtle, although the light seems more even in the image lit by off-camera flash. The biggest change is how little time I had to spent adjusting the image in Photoshop to get it to where I have a shareable image.

And that’s a good thing. I like efficiency. I’d much rather be out on a grey day with a camera than stuck in the office, making adjustment layers and brightening up eyes.

What do you think? Do you see a difference?

A little news to share

Good grief, when I’m writing about the technical aspects of photography, I feel like I’m talking out my arse. I’m much better at telling stories, right?

You think so?

So did the judges in the annual Dog Writers’ Association of America writing competition. It’s a pretty big deal to even be a finalist for a Maxwell award.

I’m one of those in three categories:

  • Overall blog or website
  • Single blog – rescue
  • Single photo

I know, right? I’m all blushy about it. I’m no stranger to writing awards. I won a few as a sports writer when I was kid, working for newspapers in Canada. I was taught by my older, more experienced (read: jaded) peers to regard awards with disdain.

That isn’t why we do this job, Angela.

OK.

I still cherish the opportunities I had to tell the victories, defeats and obstacles of athletes and coaches, from the minor to pro levels.

But, man, do I feel more connected to the stories I’m telling now. Dogs and dog lovers.

It’s like I’ve finally found my tribe. And it’s easy to write about, and write well.

The story I submitted to the single blog category is one you may remember. We all cried. I know you did. It’s the one of Molly, Melissa and Blake. Molly was diagnosed with terminal cancer just days before Melissa and I connected to plan a portrait session through my rescue project.

And Molly was gone a few weeks later.

It was heart-breaking and remains so even months later for Melissa and Blake, who marked what would have been Molly’s eighth birthday just last week.

It’s an incredible honor to be recognized as a finalist in this competition but it reminds me it’s even more of an honor to have dog lovers share their stories and bond with me.

That is the greatest reward of all.

All around the circle

OK, so … enough about me..

The blog circle focused on light this week. I chose to tell you all about off-camera flash and how it’s a really cool tool in my pocket. It’s going to come in handy for grey winter days around here.

Now you get to travel around the world and see how other pet photographers saw light in their dog photos.

Start with Pet Love Photography, serving Greater Cincinnati, the San Francisco Bay Area, and destinations nationwide.

When you get to the bottom of Susannah’s blog post, click the link to the next blogger and so on and so on.

When you find yourself back here, you’re back home.

Right where you belong.

    4 Comments

    Pingback:Snow day: How to stay warm for winter portrait sessions | Mirabeau Park

  • Shae Pepper
    December 7, 2019
    Reply

    Such lovely images. Congratulations!

  • Elaine
    December 6, 2019
    Reply

    Congratulations on being a finalist in three categories! Thank you for teaching me something about Fahrenheit and Celsius I did not know. Great photo examples!

  • Tracy Allard
    December 6, 2019
    Reply

    Wow, that’s a great honor, congratulations and good luck in the finals! Great images of Bella and nice retouching too!

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