Augmenting ambient light with a fill flash is the easiest way to get a beautiful image without a lot of equipment. In this example, a pair of glass doors provided the main light, but the shadows on the subject were too dark and hard. To soften the shadows, we used a fill flash. The fill flash was just a simple Canon 550EX flash set to manual mode, shooting through a small Photoflex Octobox. You may be wondering why we didn't just use a reflector? The reflector just didn't give enough light in the shadows for the look we were after, and the flash has more range and is a bit easier to control.
We positioned the subject for a nice loop-light pattern on her face and set the flash to control the shadows. If you have a light meter, set the flash power to about 1-1/2 stops less than the main light. If not, start at 1/4 power and adjust up or down from there. Remember to put your flash on manual mode so you'll have complete control of it. In this case, we just adjusted the flash power until it looked the way we wanted it to.
A bare flash would have also worked well, but the octobox made the light softer for smoother transitions between shadows and highlights. Possible alternatives would have been a diffuser (scrim) or an umbrella.
Here's the setup:
A large window on the right and a small Photoflex Octobox on the left with a Canon 550EX flash.
Getting the dog in on the act
Our dog, Lucky loves Natalie and kept wanting to get in the shot so we decided to go with it. Photographing animals can be challenging and here are a few tips we used to control (somewhat) what the dog did. First, make sure only one person is interacting with the dog. If multiple people are talking to the dog all at once, the dog will get confused and just do what it wants. The dog will usually do what it wants anyway, so be very patient and just shoot and wait. What kept Lucky's interest in this shot was the fact that Natalie had a dog treat in her lap and Lucky knows he has to sit to get a treat. A lot of it is just luck though, sometimes a dog will eventually do what you want, sometimes they won't. Know when to say when, if the dog is done, don't try to extend the session, it will just lead to frustration and a frazzled pet. If you have to get the shot and it includes a dog, consider hiring a trained dog for the part. Otherwise, just do your best and maybe you'll get a winner. Try not to get too obsessed with what you want, his would have been a nice image with or without the dog. Incidentally, if you're interested in a pet photography class, there's a great one-day workshop in St. Petersburg, Florida January 19th, 2013 click here for information.