Black Beauty

By Fred Levy, KONG Guest Blogger

Last summer, I was at the local dog park letting my dog run around and was chatting with the regulars who come to the park. As we watched the carefree pups play, a woman mentioned that black dogs have a harder time getting adopted than other dogs. I had heard about this with cats but not dogs; I thought it was interesting, and sad. Normally, when I’m at the dog park, I’ve got my camera in my hand and take photos of all the dogs running around. I figure it’s good practice and promotion for me as a pet photographer. On this particular day, I was looking for a new project to work on and had been mulling over different ideas. Everyone who owns a black dog knows how hard it is to photograph them. They often get lost or turn into black blobs. As I thought about this challenge, I came up with the Black Dogs Project. Photographing black dogs against a black background offered two benefits for me. One was the challenge of photographing a difficult subject in my small studio–I would have to make sure that I had all the lighting right and placed to light my subject but not the backdrop.  The second was the chance to show how beautiful black dogs can be and that it’s not impossible to get great photos with the right lighting.

What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of support from all over the world. I’ve been photographing these dogs for over six months. It all started with a request on my Facebook page for people with black dogs to come to my studio to let me photograph them. Once the Huffington Post picked up the project, I have been swamped with emails and phone calls from people all over the world asking about the project, wanting to be included and showing support for what is a very widespread, yet not well-known issue. When I started, I had no idea how extensive it really is and I’m still in awe of how far-reaching Black Dog Syndrome is.

Many people have asked me if I know why this happens and I’ve thought about it quite a bit. I don’t think it’s just one thing but a combination of many issues. For many people, adoption starts online. If the photo of the dog doesn’t show well, they are less likely to be adopted. Good photography is vital to the adoption process.There are also a surprising number of people that think black dogs are bad luck or more aggressive.  Of course, that’s not the case and education is the key to dispelling these types of stereotypes. Though I don’t have all the answers to solve this problem, I encourage all pet photographers to work with a local shelter and help them get better photos of their adoptable dogs. I know it makes a huge difference in placing dogs into good homes. I’m hoping that this project creates lasting awareness, not just a fad to adopt black dogs. The way I see it, the more we can do to educate people about good pet ownership, the better it is for all pets, no matter what they look like.

Fred Levy is a professional photographer whose dog, Toby, inspired his passion for shooting pets. Since the birth of his two sons, he’s expanded his work to include children and families. In addition to the Black Dogs Project and portrait work, he teaches photography. Fred lives and works in Maynard, MA.