Tips for Photographing Black Animals

HeARTsSpeakThere’s nothing wrong with working what your mama gave you. In fact, here at HeARTs Speak, we encourage it of our furry and feathery subjects! Alas, despite their best modeling efforts, this task presents some challenges for animals of the raven-coated persuasion.

At any shelter or rescue you’ll occasionally hear murmurs that black pets sometimes seem overlooked or less popular. But a 2013 study found that a pet’s coat color had no effect on their length of stay. However, black-coated pets do often present a challenge in photos, especially without good lighting that helps their features pop.

HeARTsSpeakAnyone who has picked up a camera and pointed it in the general direction of their beloved black companion is familiar with the feeling of frustration that accompanies attempts to capture their true beauty. Regardless of the caliber of your attention-getting chirps and frantic treat-waving, you’re left with a blurry, featureless streak failing to connect through the frame. So here’s another theory for the ‘why black pets are slow to find homes’ file, courtesy of the HeARTs Speak camp: the inherent difficulties of photographing them may serve to further fuel ‘black pet syndrome’.

So, let’s take a leaf out of Mr. Roosevelt’s book and, as camera-wielding volunteers, do what we can, with what we have, where we are. Next time you find yourself confronted with a shiny black coat and a pair of glowing eyes asking for a new profile pic, keep these tips in mind. You’ll be combating the plight of black pets with each calculated click of your shutter, no matter the setting you’re presented with.

HeARTsSpeakSet Yourself Up For Success

– Choose a spot with an uncluttered background, or plan on using a shallow depth of field to blur objects out of your control.

Color Outside the Lines

– What looks good with black? Everything! Let your imagination loose with props and backdrops, adding thoughtful pops of eye-catching color where you can. Bandanas, blankets, collars, accessories, and even the wall in the background have the potential transform your black-coated subject into a bright spark.

HeARTsSpeakFind the Right Light

– If you’re shooting indoors, position your subject with a large window behind you. This will illuminate the details of their facial features; something poorly lit areas will quickly relegate to black blob status.

– Choose a room that is flooded with diffused light and is bright, but not in direct sunlight.

– Avoid using your on-camera flash. This creates a harsh, yellow-tinged light that won’t do that black coat justice.

Seek Shade

– Contrary to the popular misconception that black animals are best photographed in direct sunlight, shade is actually your best friend for outdoor shoots. Choose an area of open shade, such as under a covered patio, and position your subject so the source of the light shines in from behind you. As with the aforementioned indoor window, this will make your subjects eyes sing. And that’s a feature you definitely want to accentuate for black animals!

HeARTsSpeakShooting in the Studio 

– If you’re studio savvy, think quality over quantity for lighting. Keep your setup simple with one diffused light source such as a large umbrella or soft-box. Less is more and that one good source of light is all you’ll need to illuminate black animals.

– Worry less about your exposure, and more about moving your main light to be level with your camera. This will increase the shine reflected off your subject’s coat, while handily helping to fill in those pesky shadows black pets quickly fall victim to.

Other Considerations

Thanks to the absence of their natural furry highlights, black pets can lack immediately visible facial expressions and character. However, with a well-lit, thoughtfully composed photo, they’ll enjoy the same expressive portraits of their brighter pack-mates. To achieve this:

– Avoid highly contrasted images

– Steer clear of deep shadows

– Make the most of the feature that will always be ready to work the camera: their eyes. Highlight them, focus on them, and consider including props or accessories that compliment their color.


With these tips under your belt, you’ll be prepared to turn the lights on for black animals and do that shiny black coat justice. Because everything goes with black!


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HeARTs Speak

HeARTs Speak

HeARTs Speak's goal is to increase the visibility of shelter pets by uniting creativity and advocacy. Through programs based in partnership, training, resource-sharing, and innovation they are proud to be the only organization of their kind uniquely focused on the portrayal and marketing of animal services and pet adoption. A tiny but mighty organization with over a decade of work under their belt, they're passionate about ensuring that no animals go unseen, and that creative marketing for shelters and rescues is fast, easy, and fun.