Beginning Editing Challenge: Pitrie

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This Editing Challenge is perfect for beginners! The edit was made using Lightroom only, so you don’t need any fancy Photoshop knowledge to work with this RAW file.

Below, you’ll find the different radials I used, as well as screenshots of the global adjustments I made… HOWEVER! Simply copying my settings will likely NOT help you learn…. it will help you learn how to copy settings, and that’s about all. If you see that I’ve used the HSL panel, have a go at adjusting the settings yourself first. If you get stuck or you’re not achieving the results you want, then check back in on my settings, and use them to guide you.

Instead, ask yourself: “What effects can I see in the before/after? What colours? What is the contrast like? What tools/options might I need to use to achieve these same results?’

Here’s what I did:

Global Adjustments:

I actually adjusted the tone curve at the end of this one to bring a bit more vibrance and contrast into the image.

HSL Panel adjustments

Selective Edits

As you can see in the screenshots above, there were multiple masks and selective edits. You can do these in whatever order makes sense for you – it doesn’t really matter.

Essentially, I:

  • Raised whites, texture and clarity on the whole face
  • Desaturated the chest
  • Lowered highlights in the background and on the tree
  • More lowering highlights
  • Created an open vignette
  • Worked on the eye in three separate parts: catchlights, iris and pupil.
  • Removed some blue from his nose
  • Made a spotlight
  • Added some dehaze behind him, balanced out by raising saturation a bit so it didn’t go grey
  • Raised whites and contrast on the whole dog
  • Added some blue and cyan to the right hand side as it was a funny colour compared to the rest of the image.

Ear Party: Lightroom Mobile Edit

Some of you may use your phone or an iPad or similar to edit your photos.

I wanted to show you that it IS possible to do a full edit using LR mobile, although I was a bit slower and way less precise than normal – and I think that’s the main point to note. With a stylus or similar, you could likely be very precise, but with your finger, it’s much more difficult.

I did this edit on the JPEG version of the photo as my computer and phone didn’t want to cooperate. You can download the RAW file here but if you can’t get it onto your phone you can download the JPEG version, or if it’s only JPEG version showing up, don’t stress.

Also… I was apparently feeling especially “unmasked” while filming this (I think being on my phone dropped the professionalism a little!) so enjoy this more quirky version of me, including laughing at my own jokes, singing about radial filters and more. 

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As always, our goal with the photo remained the same:

Draw attention to the dog. Remove distractions.

To do this we:

  • Fix the White Balance
  • Add clarity and texture to the face
  • Lower highlights in the snow
  • Adjust the colour of the background to make it more Christmassy
  • Remove colours from Alfie’s legs and chest
  • Bring detail, colour and light to his eyes.
  • Spotlight effect! Darkening the outside, lightening the inside
  • Slight tunnel effect, dehaze behind Alfie.
  • Some dodge & burn for a 3D effect.

Beginning Loki: Editing Challenge

Woo hoo! Time for your first editing challenge!

No pressure here, this is just a safe opportunity to practise some new techniques with a nice, uncomplicated photo. 

Keep your photography goal in mind (draw attention to our subject and keep our audience in our image!) and at stage 1 & 2, work on creating a nice, balanced image. There’s plenty of time for special effects and more extreme edits in later stages.

For this edit, these are some steps you might want to take. Of course at the end of the day, the method and style you choose is up to you.

  • Fix the white balance: make sure Loki is black, not blue, and not too yellow!
  • Small global/basic adjustments on highlights and shadows
  • Slight changes to yellows & greens in the HSL panel
  • Radial filters/selective edits including:
    • adding clarity & texture to the face
    • adding clarity & whites to the eyes
    • brightening & desaturating the catchlights
    • adding whites to the face – but be careful of the stripe! We don’t want it to get too bright!
    • removing yellow/desaturating the chest and chin
    • adding a subtle vignette around the dog
    • lowering highlights just a bit on the bright spots
    • Crop if you want!
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Challenge: See the world with a new perspective!

A change of perspective can mean a world of difference in how we see things, both in photography and in life.

Taking photos from higher or lower can completely change the feeling of a photo.

Approaching photography like a sprint, wanting to dive into the “sexy stuff” and missing out on foundations can lead to frustration later on. Looking it as a way to build your relationship with your dog, explore your creativity, and begin seeing more beauty in the world… well, that’s an entirely new perspective!

This month’s challenge is all about perspective, and how changing your perspective can give us more variety, more story, and more interest in our photos.

Depending on your learning stage, you may want to adapt this challenge to make it more… well, challenging for you!

The challenge

This month’s challenge is to play with perspective in your photography! 

Create at least one (or more!) photos where you have thought about, and tried a new perspective.

If you’re in the Beginning Stage, do you normally take photos like this?

Then now is the time to really get low. Crouch or lie on the ground and focus on getting some foreground elements to add depth to your photos. Play with this! What happens if your camera is literally just off the ground? Is that too much foreground? 

What happens if you tilt the lens more upwards compared to straight? Perspective isn’t just about our body and where we hold the camera, but about the angle of our lens as well!

If you're further along in your journey and up for more of a challenge....

There are plenty of ways to adapt this challenge, or to return to it in the future! Don’t worry if this section is too much for you right now, and don’t attempt to do everything all at once!

For example…

Those in Stages 3 or 4 could find a backlit location. Place the dog in a ray of sun. Play with the angle of your lens. What happens if you get some lens flare? Do you like the photos with this flare, or not? How does it change the feeling of the photo?

Photos from above

Taking photos from above is a favourite, as it’s a perspective we have most often when looking down at our dogs. This is a great way to adapt the challenge for Stage 2.

These photos usually work best with a slightly wider lens than a portrait lens (unless you can stand on a log or chair and get high enough! Or you have a small dog!) with the ground being something interesting (leaves, flowers, moss etc). Again, play with the angle to find one where the it isn’t too extreme

Photos from down low

You could put the dog on a log or rock, and shoot from right underneath looking up. This could be a great option for those in Stage 3, as it’s a bit more challenging!

This will probably work best with a wider angle lens, and either a flash (if you’re looking up at open sky) or reflector (if the sky is shaded by tree cover), as there’s no light coming from the ground onto the dog’s face, and lots of light above, so you’re going to want to make sure the face gets some light!. 

This was taken with a 24mm f/2.8 lens on a stump, with Loki looking down. I had a reflector on the ground bouncing light up onto his face and into his eyes. The sun star was added in editing (though I believe the light WAS behind him to a degree).
Action Task: Challenge 1

Get off Auto Mode: Mastering Manual Exposure


On this lesson page you will find:

  • the .pdf workbook
  • the zoom link for the live workshop
  • the workshop recording
  • any other materials, information or resources 

Here is a diagram of the exposure triangle. If you find it helpful, use it, if not… don’t!

The problem for me with the triangle diagram is that it feels misleading. Eg,. if you have your shutter speed at 1/2000 you’ll need your ISO at 1600? Or why are they at the same end of the triangle? Does 1/30 go together with f/22? For me, the triangle as a visual doesn’t work so well.

I therefore made these diagrams as an alternative way to try and show how the 3 parts of the triangle go together, representing one side of the scale as making the image darker, and one side of the scale as making it lighter.

Therefore, if you adjust one setting toward the dark end, another setting will need to go toward the light end in order to keep your exposure where it was. 

Similarly, if you want to make your photo lighter, you would need to adjust one or two sliders toward the “lighter” side of the scale.

Below the first “scale” are some hypothetical scenarios where you would need to change the settings of your camera. I will put answers beneath each shortly.

You have two options here.

One could be to slow the shutter speed to 1/400 sec. I wouldn’t go any slower than this or I begin to notice a lot more unusable photos due to motion blur. So going slower than 1/400, while it WOULD make the photo brighter, may result in less sharp photo, or fewer useable photos.

If the photo is STILL too dark, the only other option is to raise my ISO, since my aperture is already as wide as it can be – letting in as much light as it can.

ISO 200 isn’t very high, so even if I had to go up to ISO 400, 640, or 800, for a lot of newer cameras this isn’t a big deal. Of course, it depends on your equipment!

First, I would lower my shutter speed. It doesn’t need to be this fast any more as my subject isn’t going to be moving around. I could lower it all the way to 1/400 or 1/500 of a second. This is going to make the photo a lot brighter

I could also widen my aperture. It must have been at f/2.8 to give myself a better chance of getting the dog in focus while it was running, by having a slightly wider depth of field. But now that it’s standing still, I might want to have a softer background. Of course if my lens is soft when “wide open” I might not want to go all the way to f/1.8 but find the “sweet spot” where it’s sharpest.

Finally, because I know the photo is going to be much, much brighter due to the slower shutter speed letting more light in to the sensor, I know I would need to lower my ISO. Here is actually a handy calculator to figure out how much you’d need to lower it by. You’re trying to match up the EV since the calculator obviously doesn’t know what the lighting conditions are.

On mirrorless this is much easier as you can just adjust the ISO and see how the photo will look. 

Assuming the photo was correctly exposed with the above settings (eg., not underexposed for highlights), then dropping the shutter speed to 1/500 and the aperture to f/1.8 would mean our ISO would be around ISO 200.

There are two possible options but only one of them makes sense.

If I had been doing action photos and wanted to CONTINUE shooting action, I wouldn’t want to touch my shutter speed (ok, MAYBE it could go to 1/1250 but let’s say it’s fast for a speedy boi). In this case, the only option for more light is to raise the iSO. Lowering the shutter speed will result in blurry action photos. 

On the other hand if you were doing portraits and had the shutter speed up because of the previous bright sunshine, then it would make more sense to keep your ISO as low as possible, and instead drop the shutter speed. If the dog isn’t zooming around, you could safely go down to 1/400 or 1/500 second – you may not even need to go this slow. It depends on how dark it got!

The answer to this greatly depends on your camera and its dynamic range (eg., how much detail it can store in the darkest areas). It also depends on how confident you are with underexposing and editing, and whether you can be bothered dealing with blown highlights or not. 

For me, in this situation, I would opt to underexpose, at least a little bit, to save SOME of the highlights – if it’s not possible to save them all. See the lessons on underexposing for more. 

This means making the photo darker.

So if we assume that the settings above were the correct exposure, there are only two options, and only one of them really makes sense.

On one hand, we could theoretically make the shutter speed faster. That WOULD make the photo darker. But then we have ISO 500 for no particular reason, and a fast shutter speed for no particular reason.

Instead, it would be better to lower the ISO to get the best image quality with the lowest amount of noise (especially when underexposing!) and keep the shutter speed where it is.

I wouldn’t do anything.

Trick question, sorry!

While you COULD underexpose more, at ISO 4000, you’re potentially (and probably) going to notice a lot more noise if you need to brighten up your underexposed photo, than you would at a lower ISO.

By about ISO 2000+ I stop underexposing much, and by ISO 4000 I’m not underexposing at all – even if that means blowing the highlights. Because if my dog is underexposed at ISO 4000 and I need to brighten him up, there’s going to be a LOT of noise, and a large loss of image quality. 

Learn Your Camera’s Capabilities

Whether you’re new to photography or more advanced, or maybe you recently updated your camera, this lesson will be useful to you.

Many of my students say: “I don’t want to shoot in low light because of the noise” or “whenever I under-expose, I get a lot of noise”, or they wonder why I shoot at a reasonably high shutter speed for a still subject. 

So in this challenge, I’m going to encourage you to explore the limits of your camera. Because if we know what the camera can handle, we’ll know how far we can push it on a shoot. You will find the appropriate challenge for your stage in the Learning jJourney below, so I recommend that as you gain skill and confidence, you return to this challenge and have a go at the next level.



I was booked to do a photoshoot of a senior dog. He was very unwell and we weren’t sure how much longer he had left. We took photos for an hour and a half of him, and he did so amazingly, but then got a bit tired. At that time, I switched to taking photos of the owner and her other dogs, while Dusty lay down and had a break.

We shot until the sun was down and we were left with the very last light from a clear sky, with a large field area at our backs providing just enough ambient light for these last photos. 

As I was wrapping up with the owner and her other dogs, I looked over and saw Dusty lying like this, watching us, just quiet and relaxed. I dialed in my settings. I knew that at such a high ISO, it would be a bad idea to underexpose at all, as lightening up in editing would cause way more noise than if I’d just increased the ISO a bit more. Even then, I still took them slightly darker than is perfect.

I knew the photo would have some loss of detail, but the way Dusty was looking, and knowing these would be the last photos I would take, I fired off about 30, changing my angle slightly. I knew my camera could handle ISO8000 reasonably well. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be perfectly fine. I could add a bit of denoise in Lightroom or Topaz Denoise AI, and having this photo would be better than not having it at all. 

We walked back in the pitch dark. Dusty passed away 4 days later, and these were the last photos of him. 

The point of the story is: I knew how my camera would handle ISO8000 as long as I didn’t underexpose too much or at all. I knew that 1/320 for shutter speed would be enough if I was careful with my hands. I knew that Lightroom or Topaz could fix whatever noise showed up. So I got the photo. By knowing what my camera is capable of, I captured this last image of Dusty.


Below: SOOC. Settings: 1/320, f/1.8, ISO 8000. — After/edited version.

Table of Contents

The Challenge

I want to make it clear that this isn’t a “how high can your ISO go” challenge. 

This is a challenge for you to be prepared to take some photos that you’ll never use, that will never see the light of day, that might be a complete disaster… so that you can learn under what conditions your camera still retains data and detail, and under what conditions it doesn’t. 

This challenge is also not about who has the fanciest best camera for low light conditions. It’s about you discovering what your camera is capable of and then confidently working within those limits. 

Stage 1: Beginning

Shutter Speed Challenge

During a private lesson with a student of mine the other day, she asked why I have my shutter speed so fast even if the dog is lying down.

My answer was, that by observing the tens of thousands of photos that I’ve taken, I notice a significant increase in motion blur or slightly blurry dogs when my shutter speed is 1/320 or slower. At 1/500 I don’t notice these issues at all, unless the dog is moving in some way.

I don’t know if this is because I am constantly in motion, if my hands move, or what, but I do know that photographers of people often recommend a shutter speed of 1/125 for still portraits, and 1/500 only when the person is moving! 

If I listened to this advice, I suspect I would lose 80% of my photos to motion blur, based on my observations. 

So your next challenge is to:

  • take your dog, or a practise dog, out on a mini photoshoot with reasonable lighting conditions (nothing too bright!).
  • Use your favourite/normal/go-to lens as focal length CAN make a difference to camera shake/motion blur.
  • Start by taking some photos at 1/500 sec, then drop it down. 1/400, 1/320, 1/200, 1/125.
    • Remember to adjust your other settings as necessary. If your ISO hits 100, then you may need to make your aperture more narrow. Don’t worry, this is just an experiment. 
  • Take a few photos in a couple of locations, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy or overly involved. Just so you get into the “flow” of a shoot, and you’re moving how you normally move. Each time go through the different shutter speeds. 
  • Go home, import the photos, and make some observations on the focus/blur. What percentage of your photos are affected by some kind of motion blur at each speed? Is there a noticeable difference between one speed and another? What percentage of blurry shots vs. focused shots is acceptable to you?

Note: If you’re not sure what motion blur looks like, I usually check the eyes first. Depending how extreme the blur is, you might see a slight “drag”. 

As well, the eyes or photo might feel soft, as if it’s out of focus, but there will be no clear area that is IN focus. With normal focus issues, some part of the nose, snout, or fur on the head will be very detailed, showing that something was focused on, just not the thing you wanted. Motion blur/camera shake etc will show everything slightly blurry.

Left: Motion blur. Right: Slightly missed focus.

Both were taken at 1/400 sec, f/1.8, ISO 500. Even at 1/400 sec on this day I experienced an unexpectedly high amount of photos with some motion blur, and he wasn’t the fastest-moving dog around!

Stage 2: Creating

ISO Challenge

So far, we’ve tested the dynamic range of your camera, as well as how steady you can hold your hands to get a good hit-rate!

Lastly, we want to check what your camera can handle in terms of ISO. 

  • Get your dog or a practise dog. Find a location that isn’t too bright. 
  • Set your aperture wide open, and your shutter speed as normal. Ideally you want to start with your ISO around 200-400, so find a location where your aperture + shutter speed + ISO are creating a correctly exposed photo. Eg., NOT underexposing. 
  • Take a photo.
  • Raise the ISO to ~500. You may want to adjust your shutter speed to compensate for the extra light (eg., make it faster!) Take a photo.
  • Raise the ISO to ~800. Adjust shutter speed as necessary.
  • Keep going. Go all the way until you have no more ISO if you want. If you have a look at the top banner for this lesson you’ll see I did exactly this experiment recently. I knew how my photos looked at ISO20,000 but I’d never pushed it further. I wanted to see how much of a dumpster fire they would be at ISO 204,800
    • No, I would never go this high for clients or even myself (it was literally dark for these photos!) but at least I know.
  • Go home, import the photos, play with denoise in Lightroom if needed. Make note of your observations. How much noise is there? When does it become “unacceptable”? (eg., for me, 20,000 is looking pretty yuck unless it’s something really special and only for Instagram!). What happens if you lighten that photo up at all? 

Stage 3: Exploring

Under-expose challenge

The first challenge is to see how your camera retains detail in the shadows and blacks. 

  • Find a situation where you would need to underexpose the image and where you would have a relatively low ISO. Check this lesson if you’re not sure about when to underexpose. An open space with lots of ambient light, and some very soft filtered backlight would work well in this case.
  • Take at least 3 photos. 1 where your exposure would normally be if you were just shooting, 1 photo darker, and one photo darker still.
    • To do this, you may need to lower your ISO bit by bit, or if it’s already on 100, try raising the shutter speed bit by bit instead.
    • You can take more photos! If you want to really see what your camera can do. 
    • As an alternative, you can also take one photo a bit brighter, to see how your camera handles the highlights as well!
    • go home and do very rough, fast edits on each of them, attempting to bring out detail on the dog. How much detail is there still? How much noise? Are there areas of “clipped blacks”? (Don’t trust Lightroom’s clipping tool! Just because you’ve made something turn grey doesn’t mean your camera has captured the detail and data in that area!)

SOOC vs when I pulled exposure right up. Note the area I circled in blue has no data. The black there got too black and is now just black pixels. Even if I kept lightening it up, I wouldn’t get any more detail out of that area, it would just get more and more pixelated. 

Settings: 1/320, f/1.8, ISO 3200. This shot wasn’t planned, or I definitely would not have underexposed so much!

Under-expose challenge part 2

Now let’s see how your camera handles under-exposing at a higher ISO.

  • As above, find somewhere that would require you to under-expose the image to preserve the highlights but which requires a higher ISO – for your camera! For mine, this is ISO 4000. For yours, it might be ISO 500. If you’re not sure, take a guess! This is what we’re here to learn! Somewhere with less ambient light (eg., in the woods with backlight) would work in this situation.
  •  Choose your settings for how you would “normally” expose the photo. Then change them so it’s darker, then darker again. Take at least 3 photos.
    • Again, you can take more if you want! Or try one that’s lighter than you would normally go and see how it handles the highlights!
  • Do a quick, rough edit. How is the noise now? Did you lose any detail? Could you even try again with a higher ISO, or is it completely destroyed?
The goal here is to find the intersecting point between ISO, Underexposing, and having to brighten the image in editing. You can perform these experiments as many times as you want, with different ISOs, different amounts of editing, different amounts of underexposing needed and so on. I would personally be making notes on my subjective observations!

End Note

Hopefully by the end of this challenge you’ll have a much better understanding of your camera and what it is capable of!

If it didn’t “perform well” in any of the experiments, don’t be discouraged or feel like you need to go buy a new camera. That isn’t the point here. It means you need to be extra aware of the setting you’re using, and the lighting conditions you’re taking photos in. It may mean you need to be extra careful when under-exposing, or that you may need to stick to more open areas with lots of ambient light. Knowing these things will give you more confidence in how, when and where you shoot, what settings you use, and when you need to stop for the evening!

Workshop: Natural Light

Knowing how to read, understand and use light is one of the most important things we can do as photographers.

In this workshop, we’re going to look at:

  • light quality
  • light temperature
  • light direction

Have ready some photos where you had really good, or really tricky lighting conditions so we can discuss what could be done differently in future (or what worked really well!!). This is a case where the more example we see, the better!

Edit Together: Keeping it Simple

In this edit together we’re going to work on one or two pretty simple photos, to show that you don’t have to spend hours editing, and you don’t need ten thousand layers, to create a good photo. Some photos, because of the location, mood, or whatever, don’t need much.
Often we feel like these photos are “boring” or that we need to do more to them… but then we can end up overdoing it. 

So, let’s Keep It Simple.

Apologies for the awful recording quality. Zoom records in really low quality, and my computer can’t handle editing + screen share + separate screen recording right now. I’m going to look into a solution but at the moment it is what it is.

Light Challenge!

As photographers, our job is all about light

Without understanding how light works, we are severely limited in the kinds of photos we can create, both behind the camera, and in editing. So, this month’s challenge and mini-challenges are going to be all about light. 

There are of course all the lessons on light in both the “Improve” course if you’re new to photography, or the “Next Level” course if you want to take your understanding a bit further. 

In this lesson, to help you with the challenge, I’m going to also cover some smaller topics relating to light and how we use it. 

The challenge this month will be to Step outside your comfort zone when using light.

This could be taken in so many directions! For example:

  • you’ve just recently joined, had a look through the light lessons, and realised that full sun isn’t the best lighting for our work… but aren’t sure about shooting in overcast conditions. That could be your challenge!
  • you’ve been here a while but haven’t been brave enough to try backlight. Now’s your chance!
  • you’ve got the basics down but want to start getting more creative. Why not try using side light in a creative way?
  • you’re pretty comfortable with lighting quality, direction, and temperature. How about playing with some lens flare? Or off-camera lighting? Or creative shapes and shadows?
  • you could play with the idea of the absence of light…
  • or how light in small areas can make really interesting effects, when there’s a lack of light elsewhere.
  • you could even really focus on the editing side of things, considering the shape of light, the direction, the perception of light. What do you have to do to edit your photo so the light looks believable (or not…? If that’s what you’re going for)

The important thing to remember with this work is that we still want to create a photo that showcases our subject/tells a story/shows something about their personality. Don’t go just taking a super dark, underexposed photo to showcase the absence of light… for no reason. 😂

These challenges are to give you a way to have a focus for the month, to step out of your comfort zone, and to try new things.

Important Things to Consider

  1. Get enough light on the dog's face

Whether you’re working with shade, overcast conditions, or (especially!) backlight, you need to make sure there is a good amount of ambient light on the dog’s face.

While it is possible to edit photos where the face was shadowed, this becomes much more difficult if:

  • There was a lot of light behind and you had to underexpose a lot, especially if your camera’s dynamic range isn’t that good
  • You’re photographing black dogs
  • There is a bright area behind the dog

Just in general, you will find it more of a challenge to work on a face/subject where the light is dull or lacking, and in my opinion, the results are never quite as nice as when there was some ambient light from the open sky or a gap between the trees, as when it’s covered-over canopy. To me, there’s always something a bit “off” about the colours and details in an edit where the face just wasn’t getting enough ambient light to begin with. I find them much more difficult to edit as well.


2. Be careful of unintentional side light

Some side light is easy. You’re standing there, the sun is hitting the dog from the side, and you’re asking yourself: why am I taking photos in the sun? and also, how can I make half my dog’s face less shadowed?

Now, not all side light is bad. In fact it can make some really interesting effects if used properly, or if you’re aware of it and making sure to point the dog’s face toward the light… but one of the trickiest things is when you’re unaware that the light direction is side light. 

You can see some examples of this in the side light lesson (here) where the ambient light was very soft – not strong enough to even cast a shadow – but because of where the dog was positioned, there was no light at all on one side of them.

Here are two photos with the dog looking in a slightly different direction. I have edited them very slightly in Lightroom, not favouring one or the other.

While both have a “dark side of the face” there is one where the light falloff is quite pretty, as it brushes the top of the face and the eye, before the fall-off, where are the other one has the whole half side completely in shadow. 

One of these photos would be significantly easier to edit, because you could use the natural shape, direction and light that already exists, to “shape the light” further and really give a spotlight impression. The other would require a lot of work to “even up” the light on the face in order for it to feel balanced and make sense.

Here, I’ve added some lines to show the light falloff (from where the light is touching, to where it fades to shadow). Can you spot the light falloff in the original images?

Where would you want to position yourself (or the dog) if you’d wanted to use this location but have the dog looking directly at the camera?

Why was one side of the face dark?

Being aware of even these very subtle variations in light on location can help you create better photos and save you some headache in editing, can help you shape the light more naturally, and tell more dynamic stories.

Sometimes, it’s a really good idea to counteract some side light with a reflector if you have one. Here are two photos, straight out of camera. The photo on the left has a reflector to camera right, bouncing light onto the side of Loki’s face closest to the ground.

The photo on the left has no reflector. Even that tiny tiny bit of extra light made this photo much easier to work with, saved some detail in the very dark areas of his coat, and got a tiny bit of light in his eye – enough for a small catchlight! 

3. Understand how light works to edit more naturally

Developing a solid understanding of the way light works is really important when it comes to editing naturally. 

When should something be lightened up? When should it be shadowed?

This depends on a few things: the location, the natural light in the situation, and how good at editing you are 😉

This concept is one of the main issues I have when I see people putting fake sun haze or fake backlight in their images… especially when the original light direction was very obvious (I’ve seen photos with shadows cast from the midday sun to the left… and a fake sun behind the dog), or they don’t consider how light works.

When you’re editing your images and you want to manipulate the perception of light in some way (and I do this very often, particularly when the dog is looking to one side), ask yourself:

  • where was the light source? (this could be everywhere, or it could be directional) 
  • was there a secondary light source (eg., in backlit images there are clearly going to be 2 light sources – the sun, and the ambient light)
  • where do I want to show the light is coming from?
  • does this make sense with the rest of the image? (eg., is the dog going to be looking into light? Does it mean giving my viewer a path out of my image?)
  • what will be getting touched by the light if it’s coming from there? What will be in shadow? Consider elements in your scene like tree-trunks, roots, stumps, leaves, grasses, etc.

Consider this before and after. In the bfore image, there was no real lighting direction, at all. 

This is a rather extreme edit for me, and I wanted to give the impression of him standing in a shaft of soft daylight that had broken through a gap in the trees.

So, I needed to consider:

  • His standing direction (it works! His face is already 1/2 lit by ambient light from above)
  • what elements in the scene would be getting hit by that shaft of light or any “light leakage” from where the light was fading out, eg.,
    • how much of his stomach would be shadowed?
    • how about his shoulder camera-right? 
    • logs on the ground?
    • tree trunk in the background?
    • where would the light stop on the ground in front of him?
    • how would he cast a shadow, and where would the light his again behind him, if at all?

Here’s another very extreme example. But in this image I had to consider:

  • what would those bokeh spots really look like if it was golden hour? 
    • colour?
    • strength of light actually shining
  • if this was backlit, what parts of him would be receiving that light? 
    • chest fur
    • face
    • sides of the legs camera right
    • side of the log
  • which parts should be in shadow? (the white neck is still bothering me, it’s too bright)
  • how to show the light shimmering through those leaves?
  • how bright would the rest of the background or scene be? (probably a bit brighter than this, with those seedy grasses sparkling in the light, but I was going for drama. So that was a conscious decision to really darken the rest of it)
  • how can I add rim-light to his fur to make him glow?

I run through a checklist like this with basically every photo I create. 

Light will always fall-off, or fade, from where it is hitting. The rate and strength at which it does this depends on a lot of scientific principles that we’re not going to go into here, but it comes down to: the strength of the light, and the distance of the light source. 

This is why, often when you start editing to “shape the light more” I may tell you to soften or blend the edges of your “light tunnel” – because light scatters as it gets further from its source. It doesn’t travel in a direct beam (unless its a laser). It hits things as it journeys to its destination so gets dispersed. In the dark photo of Journey above, there is a very clear “light tunnel” because I wanted it to be a shaft of light. Even then, I’ve interrupted the journey of the light here and there to make it more natural. The edges of those effects that I’ve edited in are usually broken up, or removed, or added elsewhere, as needed.

4. Telling your stories with light

There is so much that can change in an image based on how much or how little visible light is in the scene. More light tends to be brighter, airier, happier photos. Photos without visible light? Darker, more pensive, more mysterious, more secretive. 


4. Getting creative with light

If you are somebody at the very beginning of your photography journey, it is enough for you to focus right now on getting soft, ambient light on your dog, and paying close attention to the light direction, quality and temperature.

If you’ve been doing this a while, then I challenge you to see how you can creatively use light.

As pet photographers, I feel like the majority of images I see are either: lit with ambient light, and some effects added… or lit with backlight, and some effects added. We are not, in general, an overly experimental group.

Now, this does not mean that you should rush out and try and take experimental photos in the full sun. But I do think that there is a lot more we could be doing with light. I’ve listed a few things you could consider at the very beginning of this lesson. I also had great fun recently experimenting by using found objects – bits of plastic, crystals and so on, and using them in the photos. The way the light is bent, changed, moved, or altered by them was so fun to play with – even if they aren’t received as well as my “normal” stuff on social media (hence keeping them mostly to myself. 

Some examples below – a lot of them are totally unedited, or were exepriments in using different materials in my photos. 🙂