Photographing Dogs in Water

There are fewer trickier conditions to photograph in (in my opinion) and I think we managed to hit most of them on this one shoot... Black dogs, bright sun with harsh shadows and water!

Why were conditions tricky?

Black dogs

They are tricky to photograph because basically, the science behind how lighting falls and how cameras read light (sounds far less magical when you word it like that doesn't it?) means that it's harder to take a tack-sharp image with plain/very dark colours. It's harder for the camera to pick up depth etc. Commonly photographers end up with motion blur and focusing in the wrong place, meaning the shot is incorrectly exposed! And dogs are fast moving, smaller subjects (than horses anyway!), so this is an added complexity.

Lighting conditions

Non-photographers look out of the window on shoot morning and see a blue sky and say "THANK THE WEATHER GODS, we have BRILLIANT SUNSHINE!". Photographers like me who use natural light fore everything look out of the window and think "DRATS! The sun!". Don't get me wrong, I love the sun when I don't have to work! But when I'm working, blazing brilliant sunshine is complex for a number of reasons.

  1. It creates HARSH shadows which can limit the direction you're shooting and creates two extremes - very dark and very light areas (hence why black dogs or pure white dogs can be tricky in the respective light extremities)
  2. Harsh lighting makes humans squint (not flattering)
  3. Lighting conditions change even faster because the light can dip in and out from behind clouds meaning I'm fiddling to get my settings perfect more than usual
  4. Blazing sun brings flies (annoying)
  5. Blazing sun makes everybody sweaty and dogs pant (natural, but also can be a bit annoying)
  6. We have to watch for overheating in the animals which limits how much we can do and at what time of the day

It's not impossible to shoot in sun, we make do and get on with it of course! It's better than being rained off entirely. But I think it's important to have an understanding of the science behind how this all works, as the bright sun and clear skies can end up dictating how and when a photographer works. On this shoot, we had very bright sun after we were previously rained off a few weeks before. So I figured it'd be a good challenge and we all had to embrace it! And I'm so glad I did!


Dogs can of course be unpredictable. Even when they are as well trained as Otis and Nix, their movement can be erratic so you have to concentrate even harder as they are far smaller subjects, and I usually find myself laying on the ground. Water is also tricky at times. The glare from the sun on a bright day (linking back to my earlier point about light!) and also it's even less predictable when splashed than a moving dog! It can distort the way things look and can look a funny colour. In addition, we were surrounded by trees so you can end up with everything having an ugly green tinge. All these things you need to look out for and try to counter-balance in your settings, and then again when editing.

So what did we do?

We combined all three tricky things, of course! And this is how we did...

I was absolutely in love with the results. Otis and Nix were perfect boys, had the best time ever playing in the water with their ball and swimming. They let me take my time and the whole experience was just super fun and very relaxed for all of us! And the results capture their personalities perfectly!

About the dogs

Otis - Spitz mix type, you may notice he has 1 eye after sadly having to have it removed a year ago. He is the most hilarious boy and you wouldn't know by looking at him initially that his vision has now adjusted. He loved the water the most and did big jumps into the larger lake to retrieve his ball! He had a great time swimming and has the cutest down command where he places his chin on the floor between his two paws!

Nix - Doberman, and a big old goof. I don't know how anybody could ever be afraid of a dog like Nix, they ended up with such a bad name for themselves back in the 80s, yet he is a comic. At one point, he actually hid behind us as he was frightened of a wheelbarrow that was parked on the side of the path we were walking on. Nix says he was a very brave boy (even though we all laughed).

Annie and Conor, the boys owners have put so much time and effort into training them to be brilliant behaved members of society (and still had us in fits of laughter). They were off-lead the whole time which made a nice change - many of my clients can't go off lead (which is absolutely fine!) but it just gave us a more to experiment with!

Annie Levy, the boys owner, is a fully qualified behaviourist and is a science based dog trainer based in Essex. She helps people with their dogs all over the place either in person or online, and she has been instrumental in my journey with Penny! You can see her website linked below.

Photographing your dog

If you'd like to have your dog captured, I host a few mini sessions through the year for owners and dogs to dip their toe in (excuse the pun!). You can register your interest here

Otis & Nix

Hello, my name is Holly...

Welcome to my blog

I am an equine photographer based in Essex, England. I've owned and ridden horses always, and I've never known a life without them! I've started this little blog for my many ramblings. I've always liked to write, but never previously had an outlet for it - and now I do! I write about all things equine photography, horses and dogs so if you like any of those things, you're in the right place! If I can help you with a photoshoot then do let me know! x

My Equine Shoots