A question that has been asked in The Request Box a lot over the past months is “how to get dogs used to flash in studio” and then a few more of “how to get horses ok with flash” – both use the same principle but with different applications. Whilst we were photographing Bryt’s Cake Smash, we also took the opportunity to test out a backdrop from DBackdrops and a deep modifier with Pippi.

Pippi is a strange little puppa and she is extremely sound sensitive. In a new environment, I knew there was absolutely no way we’d be able to put her straight into the set and shoot – she would have a meltdown and run and hide, all because of the “pop” noise from the strobes. She is the perfect example to use for desensitization because she has a stronger reaction than almost every other dog I’ve photographed. Handy that she’s here at home isn’t it!

So, in an effort to help others, we recorded the steps before Pippi’s portrait was done. These are steps that we repeat every time with Pip, and every time we photograph a new dog in a studio, whether they’ve done it before or not. The same principles work for all other species, you just need to know what they want to be rewarded with!

[MTog’s: Over in the Members Content Archive, there is the BTS & Full Edit from this shoot]


In summary, the steps for desensitisation are:

  1. Take the animal away from the lights
  2. Drop a treat or toy on the floor and pop the flash once on the animals connection to the item
  3. Drop a treat or toy again with no flash
  4. Repeat until no reaction to the flash is seen
  5. Move closer to the light and repeat
  6. Continue doing step 5 until you’re on the set with no reaction to the flash
  7. Pop the flash and then reward the animal, repeat until no reaction is seen
  8. Increase the duration between the pop and the reward
  9. Go shoot!

It’s that simple – just watch the body language for signs of tension, fear and avoidance. Always listen to the animal and what they are trying to tell you. Never push for something if they are obviously uncomfortable!