creating black background equine portraitsI have always loved producing dramatic portraits and with the investment in some new lighting equipment last year I have finally been able to start producing what my creative brain has always wanted to.

A lot of people will refer to the photos as ‘black background’ portraits and they can be produced in a couple of ways. Previously I was reliant on one of three methods. The first relied on strong sunlight to create dramatic light and shadows and then I would edit out the background using photoshop. The second relied again on natural light with the horse stood in a stable or preferably barn door, although a good method I often found the light a bit flat against what I wanted to achieve. The third option and my preference up until now involved using an off camera standard flash on maximum power whilst the horse was stood in a dark stable. This worked to a degree but didn’t quite achieve the look I wanted plus would be restricted room wise.

creating black background equine portraits

Before and after when relying on strong sunlight

With the investment in some strobe lighting a whole new set of doors opened literally and figuratively. The power of these lights essentially allow me to shoot in daylight not just indoors. As long as I have some form of background that isn’t sky I can produce a black background in camera with only the need for minimal editing. I actually though like to incorporate the sky especially when cloudy as it produces some spectacular dramatic effects.

creating black background equine portraits

My method is quite simple in that I set up my strobe at its highest power setting, position it at my desired angle (which will change through a session) and then with the help of a high speed trigger attached to my camera adjust my manual camera settings until I reach my desired exposure. I tend to actually shoot with quite a high aperture (11 ish!) to ensure the detail in the coat is maintained throughout the image and I look to shoot at ISO100 so then adjust my shutter speed accordingly. For some portraits I will add in a second strobe at a lower power setting to create some fill lighting to reduce the shadows. This is especially the case when not looking to fully black out a background.

creating black background equine portraits

This was shot with two lights and not intending to completely over power daylight.

With editing after I concentrate mainly on the removal of any background that might not be entirely blacked out, and any objects such as ropes or power cables.

Below is an example of a recent photoshoot showing a behind the scenes look at the set up, a straight out the camera version of my photo and the finished product. Click to view full size images.

creating black background equine portraits

At times I will still choose to use my former methods but now for specific commissions I use my strobe lights. Being able to see the results instantly also gives confidence to my clients that I will achieve the desired finished portrait that they are envisaging.

If you are interested in capturing your horse or pet or even yourself in this style drop me an email at or contact me via Facebook to discuss further. I am currently taking bookings for May onwards through the year.

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