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How I Got the Shot: Canine Noir

I love this type of image. It’s all about “just enough”: Just enough light to illuminate just enough detail to reveal the subject, while keeping just enough mystery in the shadows. I find this is particularly effective with dark subjects, such as Cleo here – her black and tan coat works really well here.

The set up

This is a very simple set up. To get this shot I’ve used a black pop-up backdrop, but any dark background
would work equally well. The light is provided by a single light in a strip softbox. The strip softbox is designed to diffuse the light over a long, thin area. This particular box is 120 x 30 cm (approx 4 x 1ft). This allows me to light the dog while avoiding any light hitting the background. I’ve placed the light at around 45 degrees behind Cleo. If you don’t have a softbox you could try using natural window light and position the dog relative to the window, or you could try bouncing a flash off of a white surface such as a wall or even a fridge-freezer!

I’ve set the camera to manual mode, 1/125th sec at f/11, ISO 100. I’ve then used a light meter to set the power of the flash to give me the right amount of light to get a correct exposure with these settings. If you don’t have a light meter you can use a bit of trial and error to get the correct exposure – take a shot, check the image and it’s histogram on the back of the camera and then adjust accordingly.

Shooting the image

Cleo is an experienced doggy model these days – she’s not upset by flashes and will actually come and strike a pose as she knows she’ll be well rewarded with gravy bones! Not all dogs are this helpful and some may take a lot more persuasion. The trick to working with dogs is to work in short bursts and to keep it fun.

To get Cleo looking the right way I’ve left a treat where I want her to look. She’s well trained in “wait” and “stay” commands so has no trouble staying in position for a few seconds while I get as many as half a dozen shots. Once I’ve completed each set of shots I’ll give her a “take it” command to let her know she can have the treat now. If your dog isn’t quite as obedient you may want to recruit a helper to handle the dog while you concentrate on the camera.

What I’m looking for when shooting this is the light in Cleo’s nearest eye. I want to make sure the angle between the light and the dog is just enough to give me a catch light and a little bit of light into the eye socket. If the angles aren’t quite right I can either move the dog (by moving the treats she’s gazing longingly at) or by moving the light.


I love printing my photos. For this image I’ve chosen to print it on Canson Edition Etching Rag 310gsm. Etching Rag has a matt finish, with a subtle texture. This gives velvety blacks that I really like in images like this.