Using Reflectors for Stunning Pet Portraits

Final Image A


When photographing dogs, they don’t usually pose for you. You have to be flexible, and ready to move with them at any moment. A reflector is the perfect tool to control the light in what can be a constantly changing scene. I don’t like to see flash catch lights reflected in an animal’s eyes, and some pets can be fearful when a flash fires. These are the main reasons my reflector is always with me when I’m taking pet portraits. I can handle most any lighting challenge that arises, and the dogs remain calm and comfortable during our session. The Photoflex 32” 9-in-1 MultiDisc Reflector is the perfect size for photographing one or two dogs, and isn’t too big to handle if I have to be the one to hold it at the same time I’m taking the portraits.

This lesson will include some easy tips for using a reflector with your pet portraits that will make a big difference in your end results.

I love to photograph dogs with the sun behind them, glowing through the edges of their fur. Without a reflector, though, I may not get that beautiful sparkle in their eyes, and their fur can seem dull. This little guy is Fischer. With the sun to his back, I hold the reflector facing him to bounce light back in his eyes. The frame of the 9-in-1 MultiDisc is incredibly sturdy, so it easily keeps its shape for me so I can concentrate on taking photos.

In these first examples, we can definitely see the difference in Fischer’s coat once the reflector is used. I personally prefer to use the Soft Gold side to add overall warmth to my pet portraits. This can also help balance out some of the blue tint that can sometimes occur in dogs with black fur, too.

When you’re shooting in an area with dappled sunlight, you want to be careful to not blow out any of the highlights, especially on white fur. For this portrait of Sadie, I just unzipped the reflector’s cover and used the translucent center disc to diffuse the sunlight. My assistant moved the diffusion disc around until she was able to block all of the dappled light from Sadie’s body, focusing on her face.

As you can see below, the diffuser helps soften that direct sunlight on the white fur that would have resulted in harsh highlights.

For the final example, I wanted to get a shot of Sadie with the setting sun shining on the fall trees behind her, but this meant she would only be lit from my left side. Here, my assistant stood with the reflector on the right, and bounced the warm light back onto Sadie’s other side.

Using the reflector to bounce light back into the shot lit the dark area underneath her, as well as the right side of her face that might have been in the shadows.

I hope this gives you some motivation to experiment with pet portraits. Grab some toys and treats, put your dog on a leash, and get out there to take some great images! My main rule for pet photography is to keep the dog’s eyes nice and sharp. Add in a reflector to get that sparkle, and you’ll take your pet portraits to the next level.

Written and photographed by Amiee Stubbs.

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