Black Dog
January 12, 2011 12:02 PM   Subscribe

In almost every picture #9 This book deals with one family’s attempt to solve one of the great mysteries of photography: how to shoot a black dog.
posted by puny human (42 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
You just have to lead them a little.
posted by inigo2 at 12:04 PM on January 12, 2011 [18 favorites]

It would have helped if whoever took the pictures hadn't habitually under-exposed them by at least a stop.
posted by unSane at 12:06 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Next time on Sarah Palin's Alaska...
posted by bicyclefish at 12:11 PM on January 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

This made me laugh.
posted by Electrius at 12:12 PM on January 12, 2011

Looks like that family has the Grim.
posted by Gator at 12:13 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Alas! My long-hair, all-black cat may yet become a LOLcat.
posted by parhamr at 12:13 PM on January 12, 2011

That dog is awesome. He's like Zelig.
posted by blucevalo at 12:14 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Aw, who's a good dog of mystery, at one with the night? You are! Yes!
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:14 PM on January 12, 2011 [36 favorites]

Clearly, somebody never heard the old rule of 'shoot for the shadows, print for the highlights.'

I used to habitually overexpose my film by 1-1.5 stops just to avoid this problem.

When I worked at a photofinisher, we ran proof prints for local "professional" photographers. (They were 'professionals' in the sense that they got paid, not, frequently, because they were any good.) I could have done an entire book of people with dark skin in white wedding dresses, whose faces were inevitably so thin on the neg that they were unprintable. I always wondered how those look-over-the-proofs sessions with the clients must have gone.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:16 PM on January 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

I have home movies of me as a child playing with, laying on, and chattering away with an amorphous black blob that wanders in and out of the frame. Man I loved our Newfoundland Lab named Shadow, but I cant really remember what he looked like.
posted by sweetmarie at 12:16 PM on January 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

Didn't take too long 'fore I found out,
What people mean by down and out.
Spent my money, took my car
Started takin' pictures in HDR.
posted by bitslayer at 12:22 PM on January 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

I love my black English lab, Obi. But I want to punch myself in the face every time I take a photo of him. The worst was when I snapped my son napping on Obi on a dark green couch. My son looks like he's possessed and levitating.

Awesome dog, though. Like a giant furry speed bump that snores enough to inhale the curtains.
posted by FunkyHelix at 12:25 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Loved the text that went with these, as well as the "reveal".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:27 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

The whole 'In Almost Every Picture' series looks neat. Plus, #8 was about Oolong, and he's practically MetaFilter's mascot!
posted by jacquilynne at 12:37 PM on January 12, 2011

It's a real problem. Even worse: we got a pair of cats, one black, the other orange. So most photos of them together, one's lost to underexposure or the other's lost to overexposure from the flash.

posted by Who_Am_I at 12:41 PM on January 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Speaking as a former Newfoundland lab owner myself, they look like amorphous black blobs. With drool.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:41 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

there are interesting similarities shared by cameras and guns. mechanical extensions of the arm, the mind, the eye. an obviously rabid cat turned up in my farmyard during a heavy wisconsin snowstorm. it stopped to rest from it's uncontrollable spasms, a very black cat in a bank of very white snow. i shot it with a 12 guage shotgun. the effect was absolutely stunning.
posted by kitchenrat at 12:43 PM on January 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

I love this. This dog is like the no-thing.

Even in the last (way overexposed) picture, the mystery deepens because it looks like they photoed him in the spirit world.
posted by poe at 12:49 PM on January 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Weird. I've never had any trouble shooting my black dog. Highlights on the fur always produce lots of detail.
posted by rusty at 12:51 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, they think they've got it tough but we've been trying for years to get a shot of our little terrier Fuligin. Now where is that damn dog?
posted by The Bellman at 12:58 PM on January 12, 2011

This is an amazing photo, Who_Am_I.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:59 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

My childhood favorite cat had a final litter in her declining days: two males, one short-haired, outgoing, delicate, friendly, and pure black (Pollux), and the other long-haired, shy, big, strong, and pure white (Castor).

Teenage me could not possibly manage to get both in one photo, without making a blob of one or the other.

Adult me would have provided pin lighting on the black cat, perhaps from a hand-held LED flashlight, and underexposed the white one.

This family is fairly ordinary in their poor understanding of photographic techniques; news at eleven.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:15 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

there are interesting similarities shared by cameras and guns.

In Almost Every Picture #7
posted by muddgirl at 1:20 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Black animals require AF Assist. The only way you can get ol' man River to be in any kind of focus.

Try taking a picture of your television screen when it's off. Cameras HATE that.
posted by basicchannel at 1:22 PM on January 12, 2011

It might be a problem for a point-and-shoot, but if you have exposure control (and don't use flash) it's not that hard. For example, here are my two kitties wrestling on a white blanket (Louie's all black and Dizzy is the tabby) -- I think that was +2 1/3, and looking at the image now, +2 might have been enough.

With the instant feedback that digital cameras give you, there's really no excuse for exposure problems.
posted by phliar at 1:31 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always have to make sure I get Harry's eyes in shot, otherwise he just looks like a mass of black fluff.
posted by robotot at 1:35 PM on January 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

okay, shorthaired shiny black animals are usually decently easy enough these days for AF meters / assist lamps to detect and properly meter for, but a thick, soft shaggy coat of long black fur on a pet (especially curly long thick fur with a very matte surface / low to no gloss) will still gives you lot of headaches unless you *really* know wtf you're doing.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:45 PM on January 12, 2011

I always have to make sure I get Harry's eyes in shot, otherwise he just looks like a mass of black fluff.

I like Harry.
posted by not that girl at 2:14 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or you could y'know try sunlight, which worked pretty well for my fat black kitty. My very favorite photo of him is this one, where he wandered up to me in the yard and I just shot from the hip without looking. Poor Petey. He was only 9 when he died last year. I still miss him.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:19 PM on January 12, 2011

Just use the Zone system and this is a piece of cake. Your exposure meter will try and make everything neutral gray: so middle gray is 0. Figure about 6 stops of total tonal range in your average camera. That's ~3.0 stops above to ~3.0 stops below. So:
  1. aim camera at black thing
  2. adjust exposure until camera says black thing is 3 stops under-exposed
  3. snap picture
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:31 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is a problem I thought about a lot, last year, when we had a black foster kitty. The photo for the rescue site's web site and for flyers is an important (probably) step in the whole fostering process. Once I figured out that lots and lots of light helped get body definition, there was still the problem of making the eyes not look demonic. Lots of light makes the irises close, which makes the eyes really glow golden. If the eyes are partially closed, they look a little angry or evil, and if they're fully open, they tend to just look weird.

One of my better efforts. Note that this kitty became rather shy, but ultimately learned to play the piano before going to live with his adoptive musicologist.
posted by amtho at 3:21 PM on January 12, 2011

Photos hell, my late kitty, Laszlo, was so black you couldn't even see dimensionality from more than 10 feet or so away with the naked eye. Unless he was looking at you with those piercing green eyes, he actually looked like a cat-shaped hole in spacetime.
posted by Naberius at 3:28 PM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

Rule-of-thumb good starting place:

Lotsa snow and white : + 2 stops
Lotsa black or dark subject: - 2 stops
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:06 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think we're missing a point with the piece when we talk about how to take the black dog photo now with digitals. Back with film, it was much harder until you learned photographic tricks of the trade. Without practice you really had to shoot the photo and then hope it came out, keeping in mind that film cost money, developing cost more, and boy, don't even get started with the time to compose and take a shot.

I used to shoot with a Pentax Spotmatic II - still have two in working condition. The nice thing with this camera was the simplicity. It has a built in light meter with a little needle that moves up and down in the view. That's it. Light is measured in one location - the spot in the middle. Simply point the camera's spot in the middle at doggy, maybe by walking up close to make sure that's what you meter, set your lens, and then walk back to compose. So long as the amount of light remained fairly constant, you'd be fine. Also, you could fidget a bit in the dark room to make a good print. I couldn't stand digital SLRs until they started having spot metering.

What I suspect was happening in those various photos was the use of a point and shoot where almost none of them had a specific spot in the lens for light metering that was reading just the dog. Even the last picture is NOT how you shoot a black dog - it's either over exposed on the film or during printing - looks to be the printing.

Two tricks to shooting a black dog (with a DSLR) beyond just proper exposure with ambient light - first, you can use a flash, but make it soft and indirect as a subtle fill light. More than a touch of flash will just create unnaturally shiny fur. Second, get up close and use a shallow depth of field. Shallow depths of field with all but the subject fuzzed out are more forgiving if the background is over exposed in shooting a dark object. For a point and shoot, you may laugh, but actually try making the room really dark or waiting until dusk outside - try with and without flash. In dark settings, make sure the dog is still. The photos should be in focus so long as the camera uses a focus assisting light.
posted by Muddler at 4:32 PM on January 12, 2011

This photo is actually quite good.

I like these. It's like they're haunted by a thing with no face and are trying to produce a convincing body of evidence.
posted by regicide is good for you at 5:45 PM on January 12, 2011

Hm. Sorry - this photo.
posted by regicide is good for you at 5:46 PM on January 12, 2011

I like Harry.

I bet you're just wild about him. And that he's just wild about you, too.
posted by JHarris at 6:51 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Aw. That made me miss my dear departed black dog. For some reason, she hated having a camera pointed at her, so almost all the pictures I have of her are of a wild eyed black blob, usually part way out of the frame.
posted by smartyboots at 7:01 PM on January 12, 2011

Thanks for that earworm, JHarris.

Goddamn frog will be singing in my head all night. ;-)
posted by IAmBroom at 7:30 PM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I usually have a very hard time trying to get a good picture of my black cat, since he loves to sleep on my black sofa and always starts moving around as soon as he sees a camera. This is one of the few good pictures I took of him, and I was still using a point & shoot camera here.
posted by mike3k at 8:58 PM on January 12, 2011

@Muddler - even with spot metering, you still have to bias the exposure a stop or two up or down to get the correct tonal value unless the thing you're spot metering off is 18% gray.
posted by kcds at 9:33 AM on January 13, 2011

This is why I, along with cinematographers and studio photogs, use an incident meter to take light readings, or a spot meter and some version of the Zone system.
posted by unSane at 8:46 PM on January 13, 2011

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