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10-07-2012, 08:07 AM   #1
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How to take photos of a black dog/cat.

I have a black dog, and a black cat. Both are very difficult to get photos of, as metering is always off -- if I use spot, everything else totally blows out, but if I use multi segment, the animal is always just a black blob. Flash always washes things out, too, so it's no use.

Anybody have any tips on how to properly expose a black animal (generally in good light, not even talking poor lighting). It would be greatly appreciated.

10-07-2012, 08:31 AM   #2
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I have a black girl cat. I always find I get the best shots of her in natural light, near a window. You can use a flash or studio lights but usually with a flash her fur will come out dull even with proper exposure. The studio lights are better. But natural sun is best. Most black animals aren't all black. Their fur actually has several colors in it. Usually there's a blue undertone or a red one. It's like the highlights in someone's hair. You want to key light over the animal somehow if you're not going to use the sun to get those highlights. The more light over them, the more contrast, the more you can see the hairs. Flash light is aimed at them. Sunlight comes in at an angle over them. Think of it as being like a stage spot coming from one side or the other and slightly above them. When you light like that you get this pool of light and the hair just glows. Light directly to the front or on top of them will wash their fur out. You want soft side lighting and a bit towards the back of the animal.
10-07-2012, 08:39 AM   #3
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You will probably want the animal to be standing in light or something, so it will be already brighter than the surroundings. Or you can put a light source behind it to create a bit of a halo and give it definition.
Or, if it stands still for long enough, you can try HDR, that could be very interesting, but it would probably take some time to get the technique right.
10-07-2012, 09:05 AM   #4
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Expose for the ground where the cat will stand or similar and lock it, then take the photo. It's worth a try!

10-07-2012, 09:09 AM   #5
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Have you tried setting the flash power to the lowest level (-2) and maybe get a diffuser for the flash ... J
10-07-2012, 09:16 AM - 1 Like   #6
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You have a couple of different options:

Determine exposure using a gray card (M mode is your friend here)

--or--

Use a hand-held incident light meter (essentially the same as a gray card)

--or--

Meter close-in on your pet, lock exposure (or use M mode), and apply -3 stops exposure compensation

--or--

Use the spot meter, lock exposure (or use M mode), and apply -3 stops exposure compensation

For all of the above, M mode is your best friend. Center-weighted or spot metering is your second best friend. The best way to avoid bad exposure due to a fooled meter is to:
  • Dump the fancy matrix metering if it is not working for you
  • Think for the camera instead of letting the camera think for you
  • Remember that the light generally does not change regardless of how you frame the subject
  • Be familiar with the basics of exposure


Steve


(...had to bite tongue and not mention the Zone System...)
10-07-2012, 09:24 AM   #7
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Oh, one more thing, you can try that shadow compensation mode and bump it up. But I think that only works if you are shooting in jpeg. If you shoot raw, you will have to do something like "fill light" or play with curves.
10-07-2012, 09:31 AM   #8
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I take it your not using a Pentax K-5?

10-07-2012, 09:40 AM   #9
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First, teach the animal to stay, because you could be taking a lot of shots.

The meter is off because it is giving you an exposure for a nice middle tone. Most of the time that's fine or covered by the camera's dynamic range, the difference between the darkest tones and the lightest ones in a scene. If the scene was entirely black fur, the meter would suggest an exposure that would make it look gray. It would also make a white dog look gray too.

Now there's three meter settings in every Pentax DSLR. Multi-segment metering sees the scene and applies some complex algorithm to it. I think it tries to preserve the brightest parts first since those are difficult/impossible to recover for digital. Center-weighted sees the scene and applies more importance to the center parts of it, suggesting a value that will expose that part the best. If you had a dark room lit by one lamp, with the lamp in the center of the frame, the meter would expose the lamp OK but the room would look dark. Put the lamp on the side of the shot and the meter exposes for the room, so the shot looks brighter.

Spot metering needs its own paragraph. You'll see advice like "spot-meter on X for a better exposure". That's OK but spot-metering is just what it says, it completely ignores everrything except the spot. Since all this stuff is still in the photo, you can't rely on luck to have it work out correctly. Also, spot-metering is still going to give you a gray dog if it's pointed at black fur. Spot-metering is at least a two-step process, even if the second step is guessing at the rest of the exposure yourself based on experience. It can give you great results if used properly, but terrible if it's treated like a whole-scene tool.

Not only is the meter continually trying to make your pet gray, it also is considering the foreground and background. Its suggestions are influenced by how much of the scene is black fur. If the scene is all fur, the three metering types should produce a similar result. As you back up and include different tones, the reading will change. In multi-segment and center-weighted metering, if the pet doesn't take up that much of the scene, the metering is much more accurate. The closer you get, the more you need to adjust the camera to underexpose. (That's just telling the meter your pet is black, not gray.) With mostly the fur in the shot, underexpose by say 2 Ev.

Since metering is not really geared towards black fur, I often skip it and just do trial and error. It can be quicker to do that than force the meter to provide the right information. You can set the camera to bracket exposures too, sort of automating the trial and error.

Magkelly mentions black not really being black, which is true. In fact, the different colors can sometimes look just like noise on my dog. I was frustrated with noise at ISO 100 in sunlight for a while until I realized this.
10-07-2012, 09:56 AM   #10
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Thank you Dave for giving the long explanation. I suspect that you have the main text saved somewhere to paste into comments as needed. (Dave has given this explanation many times before.) Good work.


Steve
10-07-2012, 10:43 AM   #11
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If one would have available two different flash units - but also ensuring that they both work properly with a digital camera...

It would be possible to find two inexpensive flash uits that have both the slave function and also incrimental power. Add to that - either color filter gels or even a very inexpensive substitute - yet something that would also leave "breathing room" between the flash and the material used if not gels.

A version of two of these would actually work...

Vivitar SF-3000 Digital Slave Flash B&H Photo Video

But again, cannot stress the importance of having material not contacting the front of the flash, and also still excersicing caution. I've actually seen flash units that start issues such as: burning, melting, etc...

This would even work IF it was variable power, but also (I'm) not sure if this very inexpensive flash is "capable" on digital cameras.

Holga 12S Flash for 135TIM (Yellow) 285120 B&H Photo Video

Btw, it does have version of gels "somewhat included", plus the price just cannot be beat. Did I also menton it almost (exactly) matches the K-01 yellow bee? It also literally matches the Guide Number of the built in K-01 color enhancing fill flash. I have one on display (under glass) in my studio right next to two Metz units I regularly use.
10-07-2012, 11:02 AM   #12
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I read of a system that I use in tricky lighting. It is an application of Ansel Adams' zone system that takes advantage of the in camera spot meter. Spot meter the cat with -2 stops exposure compensation. For waterfalls spot meter the whites with +2 stops exposure compensation. The idea is to expose the brightest white you want to keep detail while still making it bright white by adding 2 stops exposure, and for dark subjects, the same idea but underexposing two stops. Steve above has modified this to +/- 3 stops, but I find that is too far for my taste. Experiment. You may find that you prefer +2.3 and -1.7 or some other value.
10-07-2012, 11:31 AM - 1 Like   #13
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Plenty of SUN light.
M or AV mode.
Center-weighted metering.
-1 EV.
High/low -2.
Contrast +2.
Contrast highlight +1.
Sharpness +1.

I have a black/white dog.
10-07-2012, 12:44 PM   #14
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Zone system

I think your problem is an excelent example of what this guy talks about. Check it out:


In spot metering, M mode:
1- Select aperture
2- meter your cat, right speed down
3- Meter whitest thing in your frame, right down speed
4- Use the speed that is half way between (2) an (3).

Make sure to use the camera in 1/2 stops.

Last edited by carrrlangas; 10-07-2012 at 12:51 PM.
10-07-2012, 04:29 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
You have a couple of different options:

Determine exposure using a gray card (M mode is your friend here)

--or--

Use a hand-held incident light meter (essentially the same as a gray card)

--or--

Meter close-in on your pet, lock exposure (or use M mode), and apply -3 stops exposure compensation

--or--

Use the spot meter, lock exposure (or use M mode), and apply -3 stops exposure compensation

Do you think -3

For all of the above, M mode is your best friend. Center-weighted or spot metering is your second best friend. The best way to avoid bad exposure due to a fooled meter is to:
  • Dump the fancy matrix metering if it is not working for you
  • Think for the camera instead of letting the camera think for you
  • Remember that the light generally does not change regardless of how you frame the subject
  • Be familiar with the basics of exposure


Steve


(...had to bite tongue and not mention the Zone System...)
Do you think -3 exposure compensation is too much? I usually spot meter off my black dog and dial in -2 or -2.3.
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