A key factor in the success of any photography business is the ability to produce technically sound images that stand out and differentiate your style from that of other photographers. As a pet photographer, one way to generate bold and professional-looking images from your outdoor sessions is to light your subjects with off-camera flash.
A simple off-camera lighting setup typically consists of either a speedlight or strobe that is wirelessly triggered by the camera, and often modified by a softbox or shoot-through umbrella. This allows you to create a greater sense of depth and more realistic shadows on your subject than when the flash is mounted on your camera. Depending on the flash power, off-camera lighting can be implemented to either complement or overpower ambient light.
There are a few reasons why I think that off-camera lighting should be incorporated into every pet photography session:
- It will add life to the eyes. The specular highlights or "catchlights" created in the animal’s eyes will give them depth and dimension, making it easier for the viewer to make a connection with the subject.
- You won’t be at the mercy of the weatherman. Maybe you’re at a beach on a clear day and the sun is blazing, throwing harsh light all over the place. Lighting your subject using a flash coupled with a modifier will allow you to create high quality and soft light no matter where you decide to position your subject.
- Using off-camera lighting looks professional. Nothing screams "professional photographer" like confidently wielding a lighting setup at your outdoor pet photography sessions. You’ll definitely draw attention from nearby onlookers, and I’ve gotten requests for business cards while I’m at a session with my lighting setup, even before anyone has seen my photos. Your client will feel looked after and have more trust in your abilities when they see you operating technology that is unfamiliar to them.
My typical off-camera lighting setup consists of a speedlight or two behind a shoot-through umbrella. Having an assistant hold the light will make life a lot easier for you, especially in windy conditions. If you are flying solo, you can position the flash on a light stand weighed down by a sandbag. I always shoot in full manual mode to keep the look consistent from shot to shot. Creating these types of portraits takes a little more time to plan and execute, but I think that the finished product is justified by the added effort.