Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Here in Idaho we do a lot of portraits ( www.TheStorytellersUsa.com ) of people with their animals.  By far the most technically difficult are black horses, dogs and cats WITH their owners—especially if their humans are fair conplextionecd caucasians.  The issue then is lighting for the wide dynamic range of the white skin versus the jet black of the animal.

How do we as professionals handle this?  It’s no different than our film days. We place our subjects in open shade one or two hours before sunset, which brings the light levels in the background down to a recordable level.  Exposure is measured with a hand-held INCIDENT Light Meter—thus measuring only the light falling ON our subject (not what’s in the background).

Your camera’s meter is a reflectance meter that sees your subject (the incident meter dos not see the subject—only the light falling on it), and its designed to average the world to 18% gray. So, if you “zero” the meter on white snow or a black lab it will render both as gray. 

These methods takes care of exposure and dynamic range at the same time…

f5.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800; lens @ 135mm
The background has some nice colors—even some bokeh with the aperture at f5.0 — and the dog has great detail through out.

Using these techniques, with the dog’s humans in place, creates the balance necessary for our digital camera to record this much dynamic range…

f6.3 @ 1/200 sec,m ISO 400; Lens @ 200mm
Some photographers may say why not photograph the dog in direct sunlight to really show it’s detail? I have done that on occasion—but, I would Never put people in such harsh light!

So, let’s compare direct sunlight with open shade on this black lab…

f5.6 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400
With direct sunlight we have the dogs shinny black coat creating a lot of specular high lights—and that alone can play havoc with many digital camera’s ability to record those highlights without clipping. (My Canon 5D MKII did handled it well). However, my biggest complaint here is with the dog and background in the same hard light there is little separation of the dog with it’s background; the dog is merging into the background. In addition the dog is actually squinting it’s eyes in the harsh light.  

Now compare it with open shade…
f5.0 @ 1/160 sec., ISO 800
The dog looks more relaxed; it’s eyes are open wide.  There’s nice detail without all the specular highlights and we have dramatic separation of the dog and the background because of the DIFFERENT light sources.

Ask your questions or leave a comment…’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site:  http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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