Unleashed Education Blog

Taking Amazing Pet Portraits in Bad Weather

behind the scenes pet photography tips Dec 22, 2021

With Craig Turner-Bullock

The weather can play havoc with our schedules sometimes, especially when clients expect sun-drenched, backlit, bright and vibrant images. But sometimes, it's good to break the mould and push your creativity in less than ideal circumstances. So whether you have some willing clients up for something a little different, or you head out with your own dog, give shooting in crappy weather a try, you might end up liking it.

I know for a lot of you it’s winter right now and you may be facing weather that you might not think you can shoot in, or just don’t want to! ❄️ ☔️ 💨

I’m writing this post to give you some inspiration to help get you out of your comfort zone and into the inclement weather. Feel free to disregard this advice during hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and all other extreme weather conditions, remember safety first!

Just as an FYI, so far this ’summer’ in New Zealand we’ve had the heaviest rainfall on record, floods, the strongest winds for 40 years, fires, more floods and it’s generally been really crappy for sessions, so I feel for all those with weather woes!

First up, check out the little behind the scenes look at a session with the gorgeous Dottie the Dwarf. She’s a Griffon with dwarfism, who was rescued from a breeder who was having her put to sleep because they didn’t want to pay for Dottie's ongoing treatment and care.

Anyway, we went for our session at my usual hilltop location expecting epic views of Christchurch. Pretty much the second we got out of the car the weather turned suddenly, you know the song ‘4 Seasons in 1 Day’? That’s a kiwi band singing about the weather in NZ and it’s totally true!

So what do you do? Well, you ask your clients if they mind doing a couple of really quick shots to see what you can come up with, and then you reschedule so you can get the images they want, they really, really want.

Dottie and Ralph are great mates too, so I had him with me and I took a few shots of him after Dottie and her family had left.

I love the results of our misty adventure, and actually, there are a couple of Ralph that are amongst my absolute favourite shots of him I've ever taken! 

The weather pushed me out of my comfort zone, literally and creatively and I even made a couple of the edits Black and White, which I love but almost never do!

Now for some dog spam!

Not just any dog spam, lots of images I’ve taken in less than optimal weather conditions!

I hope they will provide you with some inspiration to get out there in the winter weather and shoot some epic seasonal images!

I’ve added a little description on each image telling you all about the conditions (what can I say, I’m British, we talk about the weather A LOT), along with all my camera settings so you can see what kind of settings you can get away with during inclement conditions.

We’ll start with this image, I've shared it many times. I took it for the Composition 101  behind the scenes video for the Embark Challenges. It's my Ralph. If you've seen the BTS video, you'll already know it was freezing cold, windy and very wet! But under the bridge, we were a little more sheltered and this is one of my personal favourite ever Ralph moments. The bonus of shooting this in such bad weather is that the light under the bridge was pretty soft and diffused. If it had been a bright sunny day, it would have been side-lit, which is my least favourite type of light!

Canon EOS R5 | RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens | 104mm | 1/500th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 400 | 6 image panorama 

Next up is Spencer. Spencer’s clients actually wanted to have a rainy session, but this was RAIN! Pouring down, we had my gear wrapped in plastic food wrap, plastic bags and worked under a couple of umbrellas. It still didn’t stop everything from getting soaked though. Thankfully all equipment survived and I got this shot of Spencer, which I love and so did his parents. Sometimes you have to make your own magic and what better way to do that than backlighting rain to make it sparkle!?!

Canon EOS 1DX II | EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II lens | 142mm | 1/250th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 800 | Jinbei 600v flash

This shot of Griffin & Gemima was taken on a very stormy day. The rain did hold off for the session, but it was far from the sun-drenched backlit kind of shot I pictured at the start of this post! But, I adore the drama of the cloud, it really makes the shot if you ask me. But what I love most is the dark grey/blue sky contrasting with the little slither of jade water. 

Canon EOS 1D IV | Sigma 8-16mmf/4.5-5.6 DC HSM lens | 16mm | 1/800th sec | f/6.3 | ISO 400

This was a Fantastic shoot, I love working with these guys, we’ve had several sessions together. The shoot was great and the sunset was epic, but right at the end of the session thick fog suddenly rolled in over the river. I grabbed a few shots and as quickly as it appeared, it went away again. But this shot is so atmospheric and even though there’s not much visible aside from dogs and water, it still has a sense of place that I love.

Fujifilm GFX 50s | GF 63mm f/2.8R WR lens | 63mm | 1/125th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 1600

One gloomy New York winters day one of my (many) dog photography dreams came true. I photographed an American Pitbull terrier in America, Times Square to be exact! It was -6º Celsius, completely overcast and we were numb in places I never knew existed, but boy was it worth it for another session of a lifetime.

Canon EOS 1DX II | EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II lens | 125mm | 1/500th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 400

Sometimes you’ll have a session booked that you just can’t change and you just have to make the best of what Mother Nature gives you. This was a shoot for my book, A Dog’s Life. A tight deadline from my publisher meant squeezing in 20 sessions in 20 towns around the North Island of New Zealand in 12 days! On this particular occasion, it was pretty cloudy and grey. We headed to the beach with this trio of pugs. It took some setting up to get this shot. In a moment of serendipity, the rain held off long enough to get what I wanted and as soon as I exposed this image, it poured, but it didn't matter, I got the shot I needed!

Canon EOS 1D IV | EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens | 24mm | 1/200th sec | f/8 | ISO 800 | Speedlite 580EX II on camera

Here’s a cheeky little behind the scenes shot of the time I traipsed around London with some fellow Barka workshop pals, Bridget, Josie and Cat, photographing Bridget's Beagles Lucy & Porthos. It poured with rain all day long, we were all soaked right through, but we had a blast as we wandered the streets, taking in many tourist hotspots (Buckingham Palace here).

And this is Lucy Beagle on said rainy day. This is at Trafalgar Square, with the rain clearly visible.

Canon EOS 1DX | EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II lens | 102mm | 1/320th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 200

This was another one of those sessions I simply couldn’t postpone. I was on a trip to the USA and this client drove 1500 miles from Kansas City to Boston especially to have me photograph these four cuties. Mid-winter, cold, extremely overcast and raining intermittently. Her ideal shot was a panorama, so that’s what I created, in minimal light with nothing but an ice light to light the dogs!

Fujifilm GFX 50s | GF 23mm f/4R LM WR lens | 23mm | 1/320th sec | f/4 | ISO 1600 | Icelight | 17 shot Panorama

I’m not going to lie, this session was one I REALLY wanted to postpone. It was really grey, completely overcast, and rather than interesting textured cloud, it was the high flat stuff that gives you nothing but a flat boring expanse in every image with sky in it. I knew the dogs, Mila and Shaka, were very active and the client wanted action shots. But my suggestion of postponing didn’t go down too well so we headed to the beach prepared to make the most of the conditions on the day. Thank goodness we did, you’ll see why in a moment!

Canon EOS R5 | RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens | 172mm | 1/1000th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 1600

This guy is Benson, Charlotte and I photographed him together at Snow Farm here in New Zealand. It was a very dull overcast day, but we were desperate to shoot in the snow, so we did! Because this was such a moody sky, I actually added fake snow to add to the wintry scene. But make no mistake, if it was actually snowing, we would totally have been out shooting! I just added a start to finish video of me creating this to the Unleashed Edits if you want to check out how I made it, you can buy the tutorial (or it's free if you're an Unleashed Member).

Fujifilm X-T3 | XF 40-150mm f/2.8R LM OIS WR lens | 106mm | 1/500th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 800

Next up are a couple of images I took while teaching workshops. This one was taken in Tasmania during the Style Lab Workshop with Charlotte and Alicia Zmyslowska. It was the only day we could take students to Bridestowe Lavender Farm and it was just our luck that it was bucketing down. Wrapped in waterproofs, with plastic bags and rain guards on our gear we took a few of our more willing dog models (and owners) for a few shots to create some magic in the rain before some more breathtaking magic happened, again, stay tuned!

Canon EOS 1DX II | EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II lens | 135mm | 1/500th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 640

Another workshop image, this was taken in Arrowtown during a long and heavy downpour. Once again, what can you do when it’s raining to make the most of the shot? Backlight the rain and turn it into sparkles!

Fujifilm GFX 50s | GF63mm f/2.8R WR lens | 63mm | 1/125th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 400 | Profoto light in front | Speedlite behind

Remember Mila & Shaka and that super overcast weather I wanted to postpone the session for? Well here’s why I am forever grateful to the client that she wanted to go ahead regardless of how the weather was looking. The cloud started to clear enough just in time to make the single most spectacular sunset I have ever witnessed in my entire life. It led to me creating one of my all-time favourite Dogoramas, a 45inch acrylic of which now hangs on display in my studio!

It just goes to show you, you never can tell quite what might happen if you brave the elements!

Canon EOS R5 | RF 70-200mm f2/8L IS USM lens | 70mm | 1/1000th sec | f/2.8 | ISO 1600 | 42 shot Panorama

And the Style Lab shoot at Bridestowe Lavender Farm? Well, this was taken later on that very same wet and stormy evening. Another occasion when the clouds parted without warning and Mother Nature gave us this magical sunset.

Canon EOS 1DX II | Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens | 35mm | 1/500th sec | f/1.4 | ISO 400 | 12 shot panorama

So, once again, it just goes to show folks, you never truly know what might happen if you just get out there and shoot. Make the most of the bad weather, create the magic in as many creative ways as you can possibly think of. But always be ready for any unexpected magic that might present itself to those who are brave enough to venture outside. You can't have a rainbow without a little rain!

Canon EOS 1DX | EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II lens | 200mm | 1/1000th sec | f/5.6 | ISO 800

Start your pet photography journey with 100 free daily tips!

That's over 3 months worth of daily tips covering topics like working with light, obtaining expression, camera settings, shooting action, composition, using the location, dog handling tricks – and so much more. Delivered direct to your inbox so you can read and absorb straight away (no homework required).

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.