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Archive for June, 2009

Thank you for allowing me an indulgence of showing off our four-year old male German Shepherd, Leroy v. Rietnisse (call name Eli).  We just returned from his SchH 2 trial, and while he did not do well in the tracking for a variety of reasons, his obedience and protection routines were stellar.  These videos also demonstrate how harsh sunlight can really play havoc on the images being recorded.  I will have more to say about lighting as a friend or foe in later posts. We will trial him again in the early fall for both the SchH 2 and SchH 3.  Summer is too hot, and the trial season is mostly over in the southeast.

The judge was Thomas Lapp, SV, and the trial was hosted by the Greater Cincinnati Schutzhund Club on Saturday, May 30, 2009.

Eli’s obedience routine (93 out of 100): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzoBpM_139E

Eli’s protection routine (96 out of 100 – V!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gv-MVw5A3pY

Enjoy!

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When I was first getting into Schutzhund photography, I often asked what was the best way to capture the moment?  Is it better to pre-focus on a specific spot and take the picture as the action enters the frame or is it better to follow the action?

After five years and nearly 10,000 photographs, I lean heavily towards following the dog.  I have tried to pre-focus on a point, say the jump, but dogs move too fast and are too unpredictable. There is one exception and that is when the I am facing Blind 5 and the dog is coming around Blind 5 on its way to Blind 6.   But that too can be perilous for focusing, especially if there is an object such as a fence behind the blind.

The trick is to keep the dog in the automatic focus (AF) target area in the viewfinder.  Easier said than done sometimes. According to an article in the August 2003 issue of Photographic Magazine on the steephill.tv bike travelogue website:

“The best AF mode for action shooting is continuous predictive AF (assuming your camera has it). With predictive AF, the camera takes successive focus readings of the moving subject, and from these, calculates its speed and direction. The camera then adjusts the focus for the subject’s predicted position at the instant of exposure. This compensates for the distance the subject moves during the brief delay between the instant you fully depress the shutter button to make the exposure, and the instant the exposure is actually made. If your camera just has single-shot AF, you can still shoot action, but you’ll get fewer sharp pictures, because the moving subject might not be at the same distance when the film is exposed as it was when the camera focused on it.”

“When using predictive AF, track the subject with the camera, press the shutter button halfway down to activate the AF system, then press the shutter button all the way down as the ‘decisive moment’ arrives. This gives the AF system time to acquire the subject and do its predictive calculations. If you just suddenly stab the shutter button at the instant you want to shoot, the AF system might not have enough time to focus on the subject before the exposure is made.”

In my experience, pressing the shutter button halfway doesn’t guarantee an in-focus shot. It’s not necessarily a problem with the AF system. Often it has more to do with following the dog while taking multiple pictures in continuous mode.  The AF system may not adjust fast enough to the moving dog and may not focus one or two of the pictures within the series.  Or, the dog may move outside the AF target area in the viewfinder, in which case the camera will focus on something else (photographer error).

Timing, steadiness and a fully charged battery are important when using predictive AF.  Practice with your camera and get to know how the AF system works.  Also, practice holding your camera very steady or use a tripod so you can keep the action in the AF target area. If your camera battery is getting weak, it takes the camera longer to write the pictures to the image card, which can take away from its ability to quickly focus due to a lack of resources.  Every camera is different, so you may not have this same experience.

With practice, you will learn your camera’s idiosyncrasies and can then adapt accordingly.  Don’t be discouraged – keep taking pictures.  The more you take, the better you’ll become.  Please share your tips or suggestions.

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What makes Schutzhund photography exciting is the fast action and the challenge of trying to capture quintessential moments, such as during the courage test when the dog launches at the helper and just before the dog connects with the sleeve or during the send out as the dog skids to a stop and lays down to name just two of my favorites.  Schutzhund is full of these moments.

Capturing the moment can be very challenging, even for very experienced photographers.  Weather, lighting and the unpredictable nature of the dogs often combine to create the unexpected.  Best thing is to just go with it and remember that there is always an element of luck involved whether you’ve taken 10 or 10,000 pictures.

Even so, there are a few techniques and tips that can increase your odds of getting some great shots.  This post is a first in a series that will offer some tips on fast action Schutzhund photography, based on the experience from Schutzhund photographers and other professional photographers who photograph sports and wildlife.  Your comments and suggestions are always welcomed.  We learn from each other as to what works and what doesn’t.

For me, it all starts with knowing Schutzhund.  Before you begin shooting, watch the training and/or several trials and think about where you need to be to get the best shots. Watch trial photographers and see where they set up.  Try following their example on the training field. Be careful not to get in the way of the training, though!  Study the Schutzhund rule books and watch videos to learn the various routines and what happens at each point in the routine.  This will help you know what coming up next and anticipate when to snap – the picture that is!

Also, try different points of view.  For example, I really like to shoot the long bite by standing behind the helper and get the dog charging head on down the field.  In a trial setting, it’s hard to get this view, so I often shoot from this angle on the training field.  Or, focus in on just one part of an exercise, such as the dog’s expression as h/she goes around the blinds. Be as creative as you like!  The fun for me is finding points of view that show aspects of the dogs and the sport not typically seen.

What are some of your favorite points of view?

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