How To: Dogs in Landscapes

I will preface this lesson by saying that my speciality is not landscapes, nor dogs in landscapes – if you’re here, you are hopefully familiar with my photography style already! But hopefully this lesson will give you some information about getting the most out of epic landscapes, next time you find yourself in one! 

About Dogs in Landscapes

Finding a balance between showing off a landscape scene, and not losing your dog within it can be a challenge. Unlike our normal portrait photography, where all the focus is on the dog, his expression, his pose, with a smaller emphasis placed on the scene around him (usually), dogs in landscapes seek to show us both the place, and the subject within it, often in equal parts. 

Some landscapes can be smaller or more intimate: think waterfalls, ferny glades or glens, a foggy mossy forest. 

Others are huge, and we want to strive to show the magnitude of the mountains, or the far reaching distance of an endless horizon, or the stretching white sands and blue sea. In this case, playing with the size of our subject within the scene can help to alter our perception of the size of the landscape. Mountains can dwarf our subject and make them feel small beneath them, or our dogs can be conquerors of them. It all depends on how we show the scene.

These two photos above were taken at the same place, and are very similar in terms of pose, weather, etc… however in one, we get the feeling of the magnitude of the scene, the grandness of the valley and Journey’s insignificance within it. The photo on the left may have been interesting taken from a lower perspective so he wasn’t getting so lost against the background but he stood himself there and this was a split second candid shot. 

The photo on the right still feels large,  but the emphasis has shifted (in my opinion) to Journey. Neither of these are right or wrong necessarily, it is just worth considering as you’re setting up your own landscape photos.

Both are only very lightly edited, so it’s possible with working the light a bit, that I could draw more attention to Journey particularly in the photo on the left.

Almost any outdoor space can become a landscape. The difference to our normal portraiture is our focus. As mentioned above, our normal portraiture aims for compressed backgrounds, pretty soft bokeh, and a very narrow depth of field, blurring out most of the scene.

Landscapes will aim to show much more of the space the dog is occupying, probably (though not always) with more detail, a wider depth of field, and a smaller emphasis on the dog alone. That being said, as you can’t make a photo of a dog sitting on an empty field particularly exciting, you probably can’t take a photo of a normal, relatively unexciting landscape and expect to make it epic. There is a reason we have to climb mountains for the best views.

Also, keep in mind that simply using a wider lens, or narrower aperture in order to capture more of the “landscape” when in a heavily wooded forest, probably isn’t going to get you the results you’re after (except in some specific circumstances!) as all that extra detail, all those criss-crossing branches, bushy undergrowth, tangled weeds, and tree trunks will suddenly make your scene much busier, rather than more epic. Dead straight trees with less “busy” undergrowth (I’m thinking redwood forests or pine woods with pretty ferns) will work better…. but will still probably be best when straddling the line between “landscape” and portraiture.

I would argue that this photo ALMOST begins to work like a landscape photo.... but the scene isn't quite big enough, and he is still very much 90% of the focus of the image.

If you’re in the Learning Journey, make sure you check out Exploring > Editing Tutorials, for a full editing tutorial of a landscape photo

How to: Fix your composition on location (and in LR & PS)

This is a technique I use very often, especially when photographing Journey, or any dog who has a tendency to look all around. 

Rather than try and continually move my focus point, or just hope that Animal Eye-AF will actually work, I minimally move my focus point and instead concentrate on just getting the shot. 

I want to get THE photo, where the dog is engaged, ears up, expression soft but alert. If I’m constantly trying to recompose the shot with my focus point, I’ll likely miss dozens of great expressions and possibly the perfect moment.

My process is usually: 

  • pose the dog with an intention for where/how I want him to look, and with that composition planned (eg., have my focus point where I want it)
This is how I intended the composition to be, so it's how I set up the shot, with my focus point over to the right, over his eye.
  • Journey will then usually immediately look somewhere else. Possibly in the opposite direction, possibly up. I DO NOT move my focus point (or maybe only very slightly) but if he’s looking alert, I continue taking photos!! I want to get THE MOMENT. 
  • When he stops being alert, relaxes, or disengages, I remove my thumb from the back button* (this is important!!!) and take photos of the surrounding area, AS NEEDED.
  • Below, you’ll see the when he looked around and the composition I had for those photos, as well as the extra photos I took. Because he looked to the right, and above, and because I felt like I’d chopped his legs off, I took photos to the right, above him, and below him.
  • If your dog leaves the scene or changes position, IT DOES NOT MATTER. You already have your photo of the dog in the perfect moment. All you need now are parts of the scene without dog! As long as the dog doesn’t take three steps to the right when you need to take photos of the scene to the right, then you’ll be fine. Just keep them out of the parts of the scene you’re building.
*You MUST make sure your plane of focus does not change. If your camera will refocus when you press the shutter, you must either: change to Back Button Focus, turn the focus mode to Manual, or flick the switch on the lens from AF to MF (if it has a switch). Otherwise, as soon as you press the shutter, the camera will focus on the background, and you  will not be able to make a panorama from your images, as the focus area will be completely different.

Keep in mind when looking at these photos, there might be 10 photos of just the dog looking all around first… and when he relaxes, THEN I take the photos of the surroundings.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t really hurt to have extra photos of the surroundings and it can be a good habit to get into if you are often cutting off toes, tails or ears. Unless you have a super tiny SD card (why) then when you import the photos, if you find you don’t actually need them, just delete them. I would always much rather HAVE these photos and the real image data from the location, than to ask Photoshop to create pixels using AI.

From there, it’s relatively simple in either Photoshop or Lightroom to combine the images. 

In Lightroom, simply select the photos you want to use in your panorama, right click, and select Photo Merge >  Panorama

This is the panorama Lightroom created for me using the above images. I could obviously crop this to wherever makes sense! I don't need all that space behind him!

Note! Sometimes LR will choose the “wrong head” if you have two or three photos which feature the dog’s head, so keep a careful eye out for that. You don’t want it to choose an out of focus version.

  • Otherwise, do your normal base edits (mine are in Lightroom)
  • Open all the layers in Photoshop (however is most convenient for you. I usually open all as smart objects).
  • Bring each layer into a single file (I use the “main dog image” as the base layer)
  • Crop to expand the canvas
  • Mask each layer in.
You’ll see this process in the video above.

Photoshop also has a “Merge as panorama” tool but I don’t believe it works with Smart Objects so I don’t use it. 

More examples of this technique in use!

Here, you’ll see I had planned for Journey to look to the left again, but he started by looking forward. No big deal.

THEN he looked to the left, which I was ready for…. until he looked UP.

Knowing I love photos of him looking up, but that I would need more space for him to look into if I wanted to edit the photo, I took 3 extras: one slightly up, then higher, and higher off to the side (probably to the left). 

At the end, you’ll see the combined & edited photo.

SUPER typical Journey sequence here. Straight forward, right, left, less left, straight, left, up!

So, I just took a whole series of photos basically around Journey: to the right, to the left, above and below, so I could build a canvas in basically any direction I wanted, if I decided there was one worth editing. 

Very simple one of these two howling wolfdogs. 

When I took the photo, I thought I would probably want to change this into a portrait-orientation photo, since they were pointing upward, and didn’t have a lot of space above them – plus I wanted that pretty golden bokeh in the shot, so I took a photo just above and merged them together in Lightroom.

This is an interesting sequence, especially since I never shoot portrait orientation but was here. 

We started with Fawkes in the middle, looking at me. He changed to look to the right, so I took those photos and started to “build the panorama”…. but then he looked at me so alert and so serious that I took the photo quickly! Of course, the composition was COMPLETELY off, I don’t even know how I managed to get that photo…

I grabbed another couple of shots of the scene: one above and one below… and ended up needing to merge a few together because the one I wanted to use was the one with the worst composition 😂

Same location as above. I think I’d been aiming for a similar photo as Fawkes from before – looking straight at me, but of course Journey had to do his own thing and looked to the right.

I grabbed two more photos to the right, thinking I would need quite a bit of extra space (I didn’t need QUITE that much, but it really never hurts to have more!) and I took some above as well, which I didn’t end up using, as the photo worked better as a landscape photo in the end. 

15 Minute Techniques: From Grey Winter to Golden Backlight

A very (very) quick lesson on changing this boring white/grey bokeh into something else.

This is not a full editing tutorial, I don’t do my basic edits or mask the dog out properly. You’re going to need a decent understanding of photoshop – I move through the techniques here fast

I just wanted to give you a variety of ways that you could create a fake backlight effect if you were working with this kind of image that has a lot of white bokeh.

This probably won’t work on photos with large areas of open sky, or potentially with difficulty on images with blown out areas in the background. 

You don’t need to use all of the techniques shown. Pick and choose what works for you.

And of course, you might not want to go for the golden look. Most of these techniques can be used simply to add some colour to the background in some way, so you could make it more of a blue or grey – though blue would require more careful masking of the white areas, since blue sky doesn’t spill out into the whole background and change the light temperature the way golden light does.

As always, try to keep it natural. The more you learn about how light works, the better you’ll be abl to fake it.

How To: Use Overlays

Using overlays, eg., bringing in an outside image element to your photos, can be a way to make them feel a bit more complete, to add to the story, or to create a special effect. 

There are many kinds of overlays you can find both free online (be very conscious of copyrights if you’re using the photos for commercial purposes, eg., to advertise your business or to sell to clients), or on websites like Etsy.

Some of the most common overlays include:

Once you start using overlays, they can become a bit addictive, because they are a very obvious way to “fill space” in your image, and to really hit your viewer over the head with the story you’re showing, and in my opinion, once you “feel” that, it’s hard to create more empty, less obvious photos again.

For example: it’s autumn.  You create a beautiful autumn photo of your dog amongst the colours and fallen leaves. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this photo, it’s beautiful. You add a falling leaf overlay, and BAM it’s like someone has punched you in the face with the autumn-ness of it, and suddenly every single photo following feels empty and incomplete, so you have to add falling leaf overlays to them too.

Same with sun flares/lens flares. You add this one time, and the photo feels warm and magical. Suddenly every photo following feels a bit cold and empty, so you end up adding an overlay to every photo whether the sun makes sense or not. 

And maybe there’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s your style to really punch your audience in the face with “the scene”, or maybe you use overlays to complement your style and fill in space. My main advice is to not use them as a crutch or in place of good photography skills or taking a good photo in the first place. 

Generally, with my photos, I am considering if I’ll need to use an overlay as I’m taking the photo.

Is the scene/location a bit empty in the foreground, but the background, light, location otherwise is absolutely perfect? Ok, then I might need to use a blurry foreground overlay to just “fill in” the lower part of the scene.

DSC03669 DSC03669-Edit

In the photo above, I loved this moment looking out on a favourite lake/pond that these two used to go to all the time… but the actual spot was pretty “blah”. I’d never been to the location before and had no opportunity to scout it out beforehand so had to roll with what I could find. This spot in particular allowed Dusty to have a little break, and for me to capture some moments of them together (he was very sick and old)… but I knew the scene would be too “open” in the foreground for me, especially once I saw the photos.

I wanted this to feel like a very intimate moment. If the two had been facing the camera and smiling, I don’t think it would have needed the foreground to be “closed in” with an overlay.

As always, whether you use an overlay or not can go back to the kind of mood/feeling/story you’re aiming to create, including some of the things we covered in the pose/expression workshop.

My point here is… be mindful and purposeful when using overlays. Don’t just use them because they’re trendy, or because you “should”… use them to enhance your photo – and sometimes, that means to only use them carefully and subtly. 

Downloading & Bringing them to PS

Most overlays are simply image files, usually .png files. They might have a transparent background, or maybe a black background (in the case of sun/light flares). 

When you download them, you may need to unzip them. I usually just keep them in an “overlay” folder.

When it comes time to use them, I go to the folder, find the overlay I want, and drag and drop it into PS. 

PS will put it as a new layer on top of your image, and it will be a smart object. You will be able to resize it. Hit enter/return when you’re happy with the size & rotation.


Here, I've dragged & dropped the overlay onto my image. There are handles around the outside of it to resize it.

Resizing & Depth of Field

Depending on your overlay and the effect you want to achieve, and even how realistic your overlay is, you may need to do quite a lot of work to make it look like it fits in with the scene, or potentially none at all. 

Usually, you will need to stretch your overlay, as they aren’t made to fit on our larger image files.

You may also want to mirror them or flip them. To do so, go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal or Flip Vertical.  You might also want to click and drag the edges to rotate it around so it fits better. 

If your overlay has some kind of lighting (like the leaves I’m using above) consider any lighting reflecting off other objects already in your scene. You should try and get the lighting to go in more or less the same direction, unless you’re going to be significantly blurring the overlay. Same with the growth direction of leaves. Try not to have some leaves with the shiny part facing upward, and other leaves with the shiny part facing downward because you flipped them.

In the case of sun flares/lens flares, you will want to look carefully at where the light actually was, and where any lens flare would naturally go. Remember, there probably shouldn’t be two suns in your world. These overlays usually have a black background. If so, set the blend mode to “screen” to remove it.

There is no scientific formula here for what is “correct” in terms of how big or small you make your overlay. You may need it bigger or smaller depending on what you’re using it for. One leaf in the corner might be enough, or you may need to stretch it really big in order to distort the perception of the depth of field. Remember if you’re photographing something and there is a branch or fern or something directly in front of the lens, it appears BIG.

Once it’s the size you want, think carefully about where it is, and the depth of field you’re using. If your photo has a very narrow depth of field (eg., only the dogs’ eyes are in focus), then anything in front or behind the dog should be blurry. The further away the object gets from the dog, the blurrier it will be. If we are using the leaves above as an example, and we want the perception that they are extremely close to the lens, they will need to be extremely blurry. If I wanted them to look like they were closer to the dog, they would still need some blur. 

Some overlays are already blurry. Some don’t need anything added to make them look like they are very close to the lens. Again, there is no scientific formula here. You have to look at your scene, the depth of field you created, and consider where you want your overlay to be, and how blurry something in that location would be. 

Then, we’ll go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian blur.

Here, you can adjust the settings of the blur to make it blurrier, or sharper. I can’t give you a number range to use, because the settings will depend on the factors I mentioned above.


Here, I want my leaves to be a very soft, blurry foreground element. Any sharper and there’ll be too much going on. I want it to look like they were right up against the camera lens. I’ve stretched them, rotated them, and added a lot of blur to them.

Making it Natural

One thing to note is that when you add gaussian blur, all the noise will be stripped away – or there may not have been any to begin with on your overlay.

While this sounds like a great thing, you now have a part of your image that is unnaturally silky smooth, especially compared to the rest of the image. 

To keep it tied in with the rest of the image, we’re going to add some noise.

Zoom in on your photo so you can see part of the original image and how noisy it is (no judgement here. It is what it is) and part of the overlay.

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise.

You want to choose a % that matches up the overlay with your original image. It will probably only be between .5-4% at most.

Next, we need to make sure that the colour, light and so on match the rest of the scene.

Again, depending on what you’re adding to your scene, you may have a lot of work, or not much work to do here.

If you’re adding a butterfly to your very backlight scene, you’re going to have to think carefully about how the light is going to hit and frame the butterfly.

If you’re working on a scene with a lot of sparkly rain getting hit by light, you’re going to need to think about how your leaves are also reflecting light.

Unfortunately there are way too many individual scenarios you may encounter to cover them all here, but everything you need to do can be done using various adjustment layers, especially in regards to colour and light. 

To make sure that your adjustment layers don’t affect the whole image and you don’t have to mask in just the overlay, we are going to use clipping layers. This will “clip” the effect to just the overlay layer and only affect it. 

You can use as many clipping layers as you need to get the image to fit in. You need to be thinking carefully about the white balance in the scene, about how light or dark it is, where the light is coming from (you can still mask things in or out with clipping layers!), the colours of the other elements in the scene and so on. 

I would say it’s much easier to blend in a blurry foreground element than it is to colour/light/DOF match something like a butterfly, fake owl, fake branch which is in focus and so on. The less detail we can see in the overlay/addition, the less perfect our matching needs to be. 

Here I’ve applied a selective colour adjustment layer but as you can see it’s really made my whole photo turn red. I COULD mask out the leaves at the bottom, or I could use a  clipping mask. To do this, right click on your Overlay layer, and choose “create clipping mask”.

Here you can see the selective colour layer has a little arrow down to the overlay image. This means they are clipped together.

And you can see how none of the rest of my image is affected, only those green leaves, which are now fitting in quite well with a yellow/orange tone.

The last thing I will do with this overlay, will be to reduce the opacity just slightly. Often when we shoot through some leaves or have them very close to the lens, they become hazy and a bit see-through, rather than solid like this.

Advice on Making things Realistic

I am aware that this lesson has been full of non-speciic advice. But as I said, it is impossible to cover every single situation, from leaf overlays as blurry foreground elements all the way to butterflies as a second subject.

The best advice I can offer you to be able to make your overlays realistic, is to take as many photos as you can and observe.

Observe how the light works on branches in the foreground and background. 

Observe what happens when you have leafy branches very close to the lens, a bit further away, or behind the dog. 

Observe how butterflies move and land, how the light hits them in certain ways. 

Observe how very strong light leaking into your lens creates natural flares, how strong the rim-light is, how the tops of grasses become bright and sparkly. 

Observe how you see your dog through falling snow – most people make the mistake of erasing the snow off the whole dog, but snow just doesn’t work like that. It falls everywhere, in front of the dog, on the dog, behind the dog. 

Observe the fog. Is it a grey blanket? Does it move in puffy clouds? What happens when it is closer to the camera, or far away behind the dog? Think of your depth of field.

Observe the subtle shadows thrown by a leaf close to the face,

The more you observe, the more natural you will be able to make your overlays and additions.

15 Minute Tutorial: Face Contouring

I had some questions about contouring/dodging and burning the face, knowing where to dodge/where to burn.

Below is a quick video explanation of my method of learning how to do it, which should be helpful even if you can’t see the highlights and shadows on the dog’s face due to their fur or coat colours.

If you are editing a dog with an especially fluffy face, where the fluff itself is making the face of the shape, then it’s a bit trickier to follow the bones, and better to follow the natural highlights and shadows. Imagine you’re looking at the face, and/or shining a light from above. Where would the light be hitting? What is OUTWARDS that should be lighter, and what would be in shadow, or going INWARDS?

20 Minute Tutorial: Merge Two Photos (Headswap!)

This is a very quick tutorial which shows you an easy way to combine two layers into one using masking.

I don’t go over the exact specifications for masking – we will be covering this in the April Workshop. But I do explain each step, and the keyboard shortcuts are shown on-screen, so even people quite new to photoshop should be able to follow along.

Being able to merge two photos like this is incredibly powerful:

  • We can take group photos with a narrow depth of field and merge them together so each dog is in focus, rather than having to use a narrower aperture to try and get them all in focus.
  • We can fix issues when one dog’s expression isn’t ideal (as in this situation)
  • We can take parts of the background, copy and paste it, and mask it in using the same technique
  • We can bring in the lower or upper part of a frame from another photo and mask it in using the same technique. 

Being able to mask in two different photos in this way will mean you are easily able to fix and change a ton of accidental mistakes in your images, improve composition, potentially improve expression and more. Just remember: white = show that layer. Black = hide that layer. Some people say: “White reveals black conceals” but this was too much of a rhyme and I couldn’t ever remember which way was which. Make up your own memory trick like: “You can see the light (white) but you can’t see through the dark (black)”? Or I don’t know. Whatever makes sense to you.

The main thing behind the scenes is that both photos need to be more or less the same – you’ll see in this one that Loki had moved slightly and I had completely changed my leg position, but since all we needed was Loki’s head and that was in exactly the same position, it wasn’t a problem. 

For things like adding parts to the bottom or top of the image, or merging in backgrounds, the plane of focus needs to be the same (eg., the main photo can’t have focus on the person/dog, and the one you’re masking in have focus on the background). The more similar the two photos are, the easier your life will be!

Also my brain was a bit all over the place so apologies in advance for a couple of “squirrel” moments. 

How to: Take & Edit Photos of Black Dogs

Table of Contents

There seems to be this idea in people’s minds that taking photos of black dogs is the holy grail of photography. That they are somehow the most difficult coats to take photos of. In this how-to guide, I’m going to equip you with some tools to go confidently into your next photoshoot with a black dog, and begin to consider that they might actually be easier in some ways than, for example, coloured dogs.

It's All About Light

As with everything in photography, photographing black dogs is all about light. How much, where from, how strong, what temperature and so on. For some reason there seems to be this idea that while a “normal” dog can be photographed on overcast day, somehow the entire light of the entire sky won’t be enough to illuminate a black dog, so people try photographing them in the full sun.

All these dogs are so shiny. And I think the thing that gets me is that all this shine tends to make them look quite grey. People worry about lightening up black dogs cos they’ll turn grey, but then go and take photos of them in these conditions. Anyway.

If you’ve worked your way through ANY of the two non-editing courses (and I hope, if you’re here, that you have) you’ll know that harsh sunlight flatters NOBODY. Especially not black dogs. 

In my opinion, black dogs go insanely shiny in full sun. SO SHINY. Some people really like this shine, but I find it kind of ugly. Maybe you have to make up your own mind here but it’s certainly not my favourite thing. Not to mention all the crazy shadows and tiny catchlights which come from taking photos in the full sun. 

I would even go so far as to say that late afternoon light, when the temperature is warm, can also be problematic to black dogs when it is direct light, as their coats reflect colour so easily.


So much yellow in this coat. And it's technically correct because of the temperature of the light, but also... so yellow. And let's make a note of the side-light and come back to that, shall we?

So now that I’ve completely terrified you away from taking photos of black dogs in any kinds of lighting conditions, what can you do?

As With Every Dog: Get Enough Light

The main thing, is to get soft, even, flattering light on the face. Like with every dog in every photo we’re taking. 

Staying on the edge of the woods, in a clearing, or by a road will make sure plenty of light from the sky falls on the face. Check out the Locations lessons if you’re in the Learning Journey, under Creating > Locations. We want to avoid especially deep shadows, or situations where we need to really under-expose the dog so we don’t risk “clipping the blacks” or even just making the black dog so dark that trying to lighten him results in a lot of noise.

Balancing the Light

As with every dog and every photo we’re aiming to balance the light. This means (in general), highlights not blown out, BUT not underexposing so much that you can’t get detail back in the dog. This will be different for every camera, and varies for ISO. I know a friend’s camera will start to really show a lot of grain and loss of detail if she has to raise the shadows very much at ISO 320. Mine is pretty fine until it’s over ISO 1000. That being said, on photos like the one below, which is ISO 200, Loki is so underexposed that I had to raise the shadows a lot in order to simply SEE him. And this was extremely noisy. 

So there is a balance between how much you can/need to lighten the black dog, the ISO, and what your camera can handle.

Focus Issues & Black Dogs

One problem I’ve heard from members of the LC is that their camera struggles to focus on their black dog, when they have to underexpose the image due to backlight or similar.

We talked about this in the March Q&A.

What we have to remember is that our cameras generally look for areas of contrast, to know where to focus. So when we have a black dog in an underexposed situation, especially if their face, eyes, or lighting situation don’t really give them catchlights in their eyes, we just have a black blob in front of the camera. So it looks around and goes 🤷🏻‍♀️ and focuses somewhere. Because there’s nothing to say: “This is one part of the subject, and this is another part”, it’s just all dark. 

OR… it will find the shiny contrast of the dog’s nose, and focus there.

If this is happening, you have a few options:

  • Make sure you’re using a single-AF point and positioning it over the eye. We need to not really give the camera a lot of options as to where to focus. 
  • Find an area with more light on the dog’s face, or even use a reflector to bounce more light onto the dog’s face. We really need to create some contrast for the camera to find, particularly in the eyes. Try also getting the dog to raise their face slightly, to get more light reflecting from the sky.
  • Underexpose less. Yes, you may need to blow out the highlights. If the choice is between your dog not being in focus, and the highlights being slightly blown out… I know which is more important to me. 
  • If your camera is consistently focusing elsewhere even when there’s plenty of light on the dog, make sure you check out the focus lessons to try and diagnose the problem.


Be very aware of your backgrounds with black dogs. We need to really help them stand out and be separated from their background, but also not be overwhelmed by their background (yes, it’s a balancing act!).

  • Putting your black dog against a dark tree stump/trunk/dark bush is going to make him blend in, particularly if there are ANY bright areas in the image (eg., bits of open sky or bright bokeh spots)
  • Putting your black dog against a very bright area might contrast him, but also he can get “overwhelmed” by the brightness, especially if it’s busy.

So, where can you put your black dog?

 Solid, mid-toned backgrounds work very well. That means they aren’t too bright, and they aren’t too dark. The editing tutorial of Šaj below is a good example of a “mid-toned” background.

Backlight also works pretty well IF it’s well-filtered and not overpowering. This is because the rim light can help the dog have a lot of separation from the background. They are glowing, we can easily see the shape of them, and this glowing light draws our eyes to them as well.


1. Using backlight & rimlight for a dramatic black dog in dark environment photo. 2. Low-contrast, mid-tone background. 3. An example of when Loki is in a “dark area” and would easily become overwhelmed by the light areas of the photo. 4. Low contrast mid-tone. 5. Mid-toned background. 6. Backlight. 7. Putting him in a dark hole (I could edit this, but getting separation would be difficult still, but I could use it for a dramatic deep/dark forest effect IF he didn’t look so cute.). 8. Getting overwhelmed by light in the background. 9. Low contrast, mid-toned background. Light directly behind to contrast his dark. 10. A kind of “tunnel of light” (soft light) behind him, to contrast his dark fur against. Eye is drawn to the light -> dark dog is in the light. 11. Dark dark dark, but fun as a dramatic effect and certain mood. 12. Backlight to help her stand out. 13. Mid-toned background. 14. Mid-toned background (old photo, I would turn down the bokeh a bit more now). 15. Backlight and monotone colours. 

Balancing Black & Grey

One of the other main issues people run into, is balancing black and grey. It’s very easy, when lightening up a black dog (especially when raising shadows!) to end up with a washed out grey dog!

And it is a balance. Without light, we can’t see the details of the dog. With too much lightening, we have a grey dog. The main thing to remember here, I think, is that our eyes make sense of things based on light AND dark. We can’t tell what is bigger or smaller, in or out, without areas of light and areas of shadow. 

What I’m saying is, don’t be afraid of blacks and shadows. Our dogs are black. Without blacks and shadows, we loose the contrast that TELLS us they’re black. One of the ways I make my black dogs look lighter, is to contour their face with darkness. By adding darkness to the shadow/inward parts of their face, it gives contrast compared to the light parts of their face – essentially, making the light parts look lighter! 

It’s like how if you’re editing a photo, and you have the background of Lightroom or Photoshop set to light grey or white. Your photo then probably seems really dark, right? Try setting the background to black. Now your photo looks really light!! Nothing has changed except the shade around the photo and the contrast for our eyes between the light and the dark. 

These two images are exactly the same. Notice how the one on the black background looks much lighter and has more detail in the surroundings than the white background image? 

So yes, we want to be able to see the details of a black dog. We also want to keep them a nice, rich black. Don’t be afraid of adding some contrast to their fur.


One more note on contrast,  is that contrast can help our dog stand out, if there is no contrast in the rest of the image. Our eyes are drawn to contrast, and contrast is particularly visible when compared to areas of low contrast. So, by making sure our dogs are a rich black with plenty of contrast, and removing contrast from their surroundings (by raising the blacks, for example), this will also help them to stand out.

In this image, Loki is contrasted, he has pure black. All the surroundings are shades of grey. There are no other areas of contrast except on him. If the background was as contrasted as he is, he would blend into it much, much more.

Blue Dogs

Another thing to be conscious of is the fact that black dogs reflect colours – particularly blue. Blue dogs is one of the main issues I see with people editing black-coated dogs. 

You can sometimes use the space between the dog’s eyes as a place for the “Eye-Dropper tool” in Lightroom, to tell it that the area should be pure black. But, this is assuming the dog IS pure black. Many dogs have a lot of red/brown undertones in their coat, even if it’s VERY subtle. I’m looking at Loki’s fur in the sun right now (and he is about as black as black gets, apart from the edges of his ears) and there is definitely brown in his coat. Therefore, if I used the eyedropper on his black coat, it would probably shift things too much to blue (cancelling out the yellow) or to green (cancelling out the magenta). 

A better tool is to turn the saturation up to 100 and then adjust the white balance. Because the black coat is made up of brown (magenta/yellow), I will usually shift the white balance slightly to the warmer side of the spectrum as this is more likely to be “pure black”. I don’t worry about small areas of blue at the tip of the snout and between the ears. This is totally normal. 

1. SOOC. 2. Saturation turned up to 100. 3. White balance adjusted. 4. White balance turned all the way up. (And I would say, he’s probably still slightly too cool!)

You can also add a hue/saturation layer in PS and turn the saturation all the way up. This is a MUCH stronger effect than in Lightroom so be careful what you do with it (eg., don’t try and remove ALL the blue/yellow/colour. Remember, our black coats are not pure black!)

So, how can you get to a more “pure black” colour in editing? (Because it’s totally normal and natural and just the way light and colour works that they will end up blue when taking photos of them. Don’t try and fight it, just take the photos in RAW so you have complete control over adjusting the WB later)

  • Correct the white balance (this should solve the majority of problems).
  • (Possibly) lower the blue saturation somewhat in the HSL panel in LR.  Notice how tentative I am about this point? Because I do NOT want you to completely strip the colour from their coat!
  • Use a radial filter to lower saturation from specific points, OR (maybe even better) add yellow to those areas.
  • In Photoshop: Use a hue/saturation layer to lower saturation (be careful)
  • Or, use a colour balance layer to add yellow (and maybe magenta) particularly to “shadows”
  • Or, use a solid colour adjustment layer in yellow (the opposite of blue). Set the blend mode to “colour” or “hue”, and paint it over the blue areas. Lower the opacity, like a lot. 
  • If you are STILL having a lot of issues with blue, I would suggest your white balance is way too cool. 

How to: Edit & Brighten Eyes in Lightroom

This “How To” was taken from the Lightroom course, so if you’ve already seen it there, then keep your eyes out for future tutorials on this subject (pun intended). I do also have a process for enhancing the eyes in Photoshop, but it’s only a small step that just enhances the details of the eye, rather than brightening them specifically. I will add to this tutorial in the future.

Be careful! Everything in moderation! Most people when they first begin to edit pet photos, go a bit overboard with eyes. They make them too bright, too saturated, catchlights unnaturally light, or eyes too sharp.

How to Edit Eyes

Eyes are the window to the soul – and this is especially true with our pet photography. Spending a little bit of time working on the eyes of the pet in your image will take them from dull, to bright and vibrant!  

The steps I usually take with eyes include:

  • Using radial filters raising whites on the whole face (maybe twice). 
  • Adding a radial filter raising clarity over the whole eye. Also possibly raising whites a bit.
  • Working on the catchlights – drawing a radial filter over the catchlights, increasing whites, increasing highlights, MAYBE increasing exposure or shadows. Aiming for naturally bright, not glowing or overdone. I also usually desaturate the catchlights. I try and aim for both eyes to be equally bright and the same colour.
  •  You can use radial filters OR the adjustment brush to help with the colour of the eyes. In the video you’ll see me add some blue to the ring around Journey’s pupil, remove some magenta from Loki’s eye to shift it a little from orange to yellow-gold, and add a lot of yellow and raise exposure on Boom’s eye to bring them to a rich chocolate colour.
  • You CAN add some sharpening if needed, but don’t go overboard.
  • I usually try and keep the eyes more or less even in terms of light, unless one side of the face is obviously darker than the other due to the lighting conditions, in which case one eye should naturally be darker than the other, or else it will look unnatural. 

How to: Add a Snow Overlay in Photoshop

Sometimes out winter photos can appear a bit dreary and flat. There’s not a lot of colour on the trees, everything is white. Adding a bit of a snowfall can help provide some visual interest to our images and we can do this with Photoshop and a free brush or overlay.

Program: Photoshop

Difficulty: Easy/Medium

Recommended prior knowledge: installing brushes, creating new layers, masking.

When you are using a snow overlay or brush, just consider where the snow would naturally be falling. Some people will recommend that you mask the snow off of the entire dog, but personally I know that snow doesn’t avoid falling between you and the dog, so there would naturally be snow in front of your subject. You can mask out specific areas of snow (eg., over the eyes) and soften other areas, but try and keep it as natural as possible. 


Be careful that using a snow overlay doesn’t become overly distracting  and that it isn’t used as a way to “hide” a not-so-great photo.

Often when a photo is “missing something” because the dog is looking intensely or severely in a direction without there being anything to look at (as in the photo we use for this lesson), or the scene is kind of “empty”, we instinctively want to fill it with STUFF to make it make more sense or feel “fuller”.

First, you’re going to want to find and download some snow brushes. I used these ones  but a quick google search will turn up others. Once downloaded, find them on your computer and drag the file into photoshop. This should automatically install the brushes, and you’ll find them in the brush selection panel. 

Be aware that some sites may prohibit using their brushes for commercial purposes (eg., client shoots). 

Be aware that free brushes like the one linked above will be a small file size and get blurry and pixelated FAST. Etsy has a lot of great brushes you can buy pretty cheap, and then you’ll have a good variety for future. 

With your photo open in PS (I do this on my fully edited photos as the last step), create a new blank layer.

Go to the brushes section and have a look through the different brushes. Some will have more fat chunks of snow, some will look more like it’s falling down hard, some will be small and busy. You can play with some by making them large enough to cover most/all of your image and stamping it on the new layer.

Make sure your brush is white. Opacity 100%, Flow 100%.

If you don’t like the effect, just press cmd+z or ctrl+z on the keyboard to undo it, and try another one. Don’t worry if the snow covers some of the dog’s face or eyes right now, we’ll fix that in a minute.

If your snow didn’t cover the entire image, we can fix that now with the move tool. Using the handles at the edge of the snow layer, drag outward until it covers the whole picture. If your photo was smaller, you might not need this step so you can skip ahead.

When the overlay is big enough, press enter to confirm the size.

Now we need to mask some of the snow off his face, or other areas where we don’t want it. 

Press the mask button, change your brush back to a soft round brush with 10-15% flow, and make it black (because we need to hide parts of the layer beneath the black). Now brush it off the eyes. Don’t brush it off the whole dog as this looks weird and unnatural. Also brush it off of the foreground snow layer. 

You can turn down the opacity a bit to make the effect less strong as well. 

If you change your mind at any stage and want to bring some of the snow back, just change your brush colour to white, and paint it in to reveal it! This is the magic of using masks – our layers and data is never erased, so everything can be undone or changed at any stage!


And that’s it! You can experiment with which brush you’re using, how much snow you mask out, and how opaque you make it. As always, I would love to see your finished photos, so make sure you pop them into the Facebook group and/or share them on Instagram! 

Let me know if you have any questions at all in the comments below.