Show Photography: Part Two

“The photographer must lie in wait and have a presentiment of what is about to happen.”

~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

So on with Part Two of Show Photography which, as I mentioned in my last blog, is from a chapter in my book that didn’t make the cut. For continuity’s sake, I’m going to start with the last paragraph from the previous blog…

It’s good you had some success with the outside photos, because the indoor arena is a photographer’s nightmare. It’s dark, dark and dark and where it’s not dark the lighting is poor and uneven and the cavernous ceilings swallow flash bursts faster than a fire-breathing dragon.

So rule number one is to get close to the animal you are photographing. Rule number two is to set the ISO to 400. Use ISO 800 if the light is really poor, but remember that the higher the ISO setting, the poorer the quality of the enlargement.

Expose some test frames then check the results on your LCD to see if you are getting anything useable. If not, move closer to your subject and try again.

Once you know how close you need to be for the correct flash exposure, (see Chapter 18), just maintain that distance, set your white balance for the type of inside light, and fire away.

Because of the necessity to stay within the range, it is very difficult to correctly expose a group of animals unless they are close together, the same distance from the camera and you are using an external flash. With an on-camera flash, the animals close to you will be overexposed and the ones far away will be underexposed. The solution is to forget the group shot. Pick out one subject, move in close and shoot.

This isn’t much different than isolating a subject from the group outside, except that there is so much more to deal with inside.

For instance, you’ll quickly find that white animals are much easier to photograph than dark animals because they reflect the flash back to the camera instead of absorbing it.

Black animals are very difficult. You need to be very aware of the background color when you are photographing black animals. In the first photo below, the animal’s head and ears have vanished. While these are not quality photographs, they do illustrate the point. By changing the camera position (which changed the background), the photographer was able to salvage the shot.

While the black animal is correctly exposed below, the whites are blown out. With dark animals, you usually have to choose between eye detail in the animal’s face, or skin tones. In this instance if I opted for exposing for the highlights, I’d have lost the animal’s head and neck in the dark background.

Tight cropping is essential at shows. Sure you can remove the distracting elements later, but your emphasis should be on creativity and fun, not editing out things you should have done correctly in the first place. If you are good enough to shoot inside a show environment, you are good enough to crop your images in the camera.

Ok. That’s the short course folks. There’s lots more, and as usual, I’m happy to answer any questions about your photography that you want to email to me.

In the book, I end each chapter with an assignment. So here are the assignments from the chapter on show photography. Pick your level of expertise and go to work!


The show environment is a difficult place to learn because there is so much going on, so enlist a helper to hold your animal while you practice. Digital is wonderful for this! You can fine tune your exposure with the help of the LCD screen and keep experimenting until you nail it.

Start outside where exposure is easier. A good outdoor location is a must, so scout out the possibilities before you introduce the animal.

Once you find a good location and are ready to make images, you’ll need a prop person behind you to keep the animal’s attention and a handler to make the animal stand correctly. When you are proficient outside, you’ll be ready to move inside.


Practice shooting both light and dark colored animals in different locations inside the arena. Study your exposures on your LCD screen until you get it down. It helps to keep a list of locations that worked along with exposure notes: distance from the subject, ISO setting, speed, aperture, where the nearest bar is…. that way…yes…here’s a killer tip… you’ll have a starting point for a good exposure next time and the name of the nearest bar where you can pony up if things go amiss.

Notes are particularly important if you are on the show circuit. If you keep good notes, the next time you hit Denver, you can whip out your notebook, check to see what your settings were last year, and shoot!


Practice using an external flash.

In dark show rings, practice setting your flash for one stop more exposure than indicated by the flash to subject distance. (So if the flash chart recommends f/8, also shoot at f/5.6.) This is good insurance–one stop more flash exposure usually helps without overexposing the subjects and the wider aperture will blur out the background even more.

The odd color cast in the above photo is just because there was not enough light to correctly expose the image.  The settings said f8, but f5.6 (one stop more exposure) was the ticket.