Written by J.B. Shepard, a professional pet photographer and founder of the Puptrait Studio.
One of the biggest misconceptions when photographing dogs is that you should avoid flash photography. We’re here to tell you that despite what you may read on the internet that this myth is simply not true. It is OK to use flash when photographing dogs. We’ve photographed hundreds of dogs and have cleared these topics with veterinary professionals on numerous occasions.
How to safely photograph dogs with flash is a topic that we have already covered in extensive detail on our studio dog blog. But as it is a topic that we get asked often by our professional dog photo clients, we thought it might be worth specifically addressing the safety of flash use when photographing dogs.
Light is the foundation of photography
As a professional pet photographer, I thought it would be helpful to our pet portrait clients and to the aspiring dog photographer to walk through some of the more common questions and concerns we receive about using flash when photographing dogs.
Before we begin, we want to be 100% absolutely clear – never intentionally harm, scare, stress or irritate a dog. This holds true when we’re discussing the introduction of new and novel stimuli like flash photography or something as familiar as pets or scratches.
Your dog is always the best judge of what it likes and dislikes.
If your dog withdraws, bristles, growls or otherwise responds negatively please stop what you are doing immediately. Never force a dog into an unwanted situation or make it aware of a disliked or fearful stimuli.
Is flash bad for dogs?
Flash is not bad for dogs. Flash photography is no more harmful for dogs than it is for humans. In fact, flashes and strobes are often less dangerous and irritating to dogs than many other forms of photographic light sources. As we’ve discussed previously on the Puptrait Studio blog, flash capability and strobe compatibility should be one of the primary factors to weigh when considering what is the best camera for pet photography.
Does flash hurt dog’s eyes?
Flash lighting is safe to use when working with dogs. Your dog may find the use of flash irritating, anxiety inducing, scary, or annoying. In those instances, it’s best to avoid using flash. You never want to do anything to cause your dog discomfort – number how mundane the stimuli. Unlike stronger light sources, such as natural light from the sun or lasers, flash is unlikely to cause permanent harm to your dog or cause skin burns. And, unlike staring at an eclipse, flash will not burn out your retinas.
Does flash make dogs aggressive?
Flash does not make dogs aggressive. This is the most common misconception that we see repeated across the internet. Most dogs and other domesticated animals become aggressive for similar reasons that people become aggressive or violent. Aggressive behaviors in dogs are most commonly triggered by resource guarding, fear, instinct, or a conditioned stimuli. As long as you are not forcing your dog to be photographed and repeatedly ignoring their aversive body language and warnings, none of those triggers should ever present when photographing your dog.
Does flash scare dogs?
The vast majority of dogs are not scared of flash. Granted some dogs are absolute scaredy cats, fearful of everything but a few very familiar and safe objects or other animals. We once had a canine client that was scared of shiny vinyl and ceramic tile floors (he had slipped hard on a kitchen floor as a puppy). But with a little patience, a few distractions and a lot of treats that furry little guy eventually become comfortable with exposure to flash.
Is flash safe to use with dogs that are scared of thunder storms?
This might come as a surprise to you, but most dogs who are scared of thunder storms are actually perfectly fine with being photographed with flash. When you think about all of the factors associated with a severe thunder storm it kind of makes sense. It’s true, you can’t have lighting without thunder. But thunder storms are unique in a lot of other ways besides lighting. Unlike a thunder storm, flash photography is not associated with sudden drops in barometric pressure, loud noises, your home shaking, wine, pelleting rain / hail or changes in the smell of the air. To a dog a severe thunder storm is a cataclysmic event that stimulates all of their senses. In comparison, photographing a dog with a flash is more like turning a bright lamp on and off repeatedly when they’re trying to nap. All they have to do is close their eyes and it goes away. In that sense, it’s not a threat as much as it is an annoyance.
Is it bad to use flash on a dog?
No. Using flash is only bad if your dog doesn’t like it. Never do anything to discomfort, upset or hurt your dog. But if your dog doesn’t mind you using flash, you’re probably fine. Lot of pet owners use flash when photographing their dogs. Using most camera flashes and monolights on dogs are perfectly safe. In fact, flash light is much safer and substantially less powerful than even natural light. Flash may temporarily disorient a subject and cause spots to appear before their eyes. But it will not damage your eyes like staring into the Sun would.
Should I use flash when photographing my dog?
Light is very important to photography. Very rarely is available natural light optimal. Flash can help freeze subjects when photographing running dogs. It can make your photographs sharper in low light conditions. And, photographing black dogs with strobes, monolights and flashes can help bring out details you might otherwise not be able to capture.
Consider using flash even when photographing pups outside during the day and in brighter interior settings
When working in brighter environments, flash can be tremendously helping — filling harsher shadows and highlighting more important aspects of your image. Learning how to create, shape and modify artificial light properly is one the quickest ways an aspiring pet portrait photographer can step up their photo game and begin shooting like a pro.
PLEASE NOTE THIS POST IS NOT INTENDED AS MEDICAL ADVICE OR AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR ADVICE FROM A VETERINARY PROFESSIONAL. WHEN IN DOUBT ASK YOUR VET.
About the author: J.B. Shepard, is a professional pet photographer, dog advocate, and founder of the Puptrait Studio. J.B. lives in Hampden, with his wife and two dogs — George (a Boggle) and Lucky (Jack Russell Terrier).