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Archive for July, 2009

This past weekend, I was in Traverse City, Michigan visiting family.  As a part of our activities we spent a day at the Horseshows by the Bay, a regional horse show.  We saw many fine horses participating in a $30,000 purse Grand Prix. For those, like me, who know very little about horse shows, a Grand Prix event requires horses to jump over a number of jumps in a set course.  The goal is to complete the course within a set time limit (but as fast as possible) and with no faults.  In other words, don’t knock the poles off the jumps and don’t go beyond the set time limit.  The jumps are of different heights, looks and widths.  More challenging than the one-meter Schutzhund jump to be sure.

For fun, I decided to photograph this event and was fascinated at how similarly horses and dogs jump.  See the pictures above.  The primary differences are horses move more slowly and are much more predictable in their movements.  But their approach, launch, flight and landings are remarkably similar.

I found this an excellent opportunity to practice capturing captivating jump pictures.  The other cool thing is since the horses have to jump over a number of jumps, I was able to practice taking pictures at different angles, different zoom lengths and even in different lighting.  It was late afternoon, so some parts of course were saturated in light while other parts of the course were in shadow.

Before I knew it, I had taken well over 300 pictures, with the vast majority in focus, with pretty good exposures and with excellent composition.  That’s not always possible when photographing Schutzhund dogs jumping.  Often, the jump is in focus, but not the dog or only part of the dog, or the camera captures an odd moment due to my timing being just a wee bit off.

Bottom line, if you ever have the chance to attend a horse jumping event, take your camera and practice taking pictures.  It will help you get your timing and composition right for the Schutzhund one-meter hurdle.  And, you’ll have some really nice pictures as a result.

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Speaking of focus, the same article referenced in an earlier post from the August 2003 issue of Photographic Magazine on the steephill.tv bike travelogue website also had some great tips on how to use shutter speed in capturing action shots:

“There are two basic ways to deal with an action subject: freeze its motion by shooting at a fast shutter speed or blur it by shooting at a slower shutter speed.

How fast a shutter speed do you need to freeze a moving subject, and how slow a shutter speed do you need to appropriately blur one? That depends on the speed of the subject, its distance from the camera, its direction of travel and the focal length of the lens you’re using. The faster the subject, the closer it is to the camera, and the longer the focal length, the faster the shutter speed required to “freeze” its motion. A subject moving directly across the field of view (from left to right or vice versa) will require a faster shutter speed than one moving directly toward or away from the camera at the same speed.

The best way to learn the best shutter speeds to use for a given subject is to try different shutter speeds, and keep notes. Then look at your pictures and your notes, and see which shutter speed(s) produced the results you like best. As a very general rule, shutter speeds of 1/1000 or faster will freeze most sports action, and shutter speeds of 1/15 or slower will blur it. Shutter speeds in-between (which include the whole range on many point-and-shoot cameras) might or might not freeze action subjects—it depends on the subject and what it’s doing.

There’s a very effective way to show motion and have the subject appear sharp: Use a slow shutter speed and pan the camera to track the subject while you shoot. Stand facing the spot where you want to shoot the subject, and rotate your body from the waist up to point the camera toward the approaching subject (keep your feet firmly planted). Smoothly move the camera to follow the subject, so that the subject remains in one spot in the viewfinder. Gently trip the shutter as the subject reaches the desired spot, and continue to track the subject for a beat—don’t stop panning as you trip the shutter. With this technique, you can get a sharp image of the moving subject, while the slow shutter speed really blurs the now-“moving” background. The effect will really emphasize the subject’s speed.

An effective variation with subjects such as runners, bicyclists, basketball players and the like [and dogs!!] is to mount the camera on a tripod and shoot at a slow shutter speed to partially blur their motion. Experiment with different shutter speeds, starting with 1/30, and try panning with the subject. You’ll get some interesting images, with arms and legs blurred more than the bodies.

Another way to get a sharp image of an action subject at a slow shutter speed (especially handy in dim lighting conditions) is to shoot at the peak of the action—that point where a rising subject momentarily stops before starting back down. This offers an additional benefit, in that peak-action moments are often the most dramatic, too.”

A note about tripods and Schutzhund:  As you probably have experienced, using a tri- or monopod often isn’t practical during a trial, especially if you are trying to shoot all aspects of the dogs performance and not just one exercise. Still, it may worth a shot (if you’ll pardon the pun) for such exercises as the courage test (long bite) in protection or the recalls and send away in obedience.

Let me know if you’ve used these techniques and how they worked for you.

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Wondering why no new posts these past couple of weeks?  Don’t worry, I’ve not gone silent.  I will begin posting about Schutzhund Photography next week.  The reason there have been no new posts is we spent the past 16 days in Alaska. Wow – what a wonderful state.  Denali National Park (interior Alaska) is nothing like the Inside Passage (southeast Alaska). Each has its own beauty, animals, birds, flowers and amazing scenery.

Yes, I will post a few pictures.

The first week we were in Denali National Park, staying at the very small North Face Lodge (30 guests).  We saw Mt. McKinley (Denali) the first night; the rest of the week it was in the clouds. No sunset in Denali as it is so far north.  We hiked in sun, rain, wind and swarms of mosquitoes! Everything they say about Alaska mosquitoes is true!

During the second week, we were aboard the Lindblad / National Geographic Sea Lion (62 guests). We traveled up and down the Inside Passage, including stops at Dawes Glacier, which was calving at the time.  We saw a huge piece of ice fall and create a gigantic ice berg.  We also saw many humpback whales, including one that breached (leaped out of the water) right in front of my eyes! and bald eagles.  Amazing creatures.  As the ship was rather small, we could get up close and personal with the coastline and glaciers.  The ship also relies on Zodiac vessels to transport guests to the shore for hiking and kayaking and rides along the shore.  We took a Zodiac ride up close to where many Stellar sea lions were hanging out – amazing.  On the way, we saw some 20 bald eagles hunting for fish right above our heads!  We also took a ski plane ride over a glacier near Petersburg, Alaska.

During the two weeks, we saw brown bears, Caribou, Dall sheep, golden eagles, ground squirrels, a red fox, harbor seals, mooses and calves, mountain goats and kids, Dall porpoise, ravens, sea otters, snowshoe  hares, Stellar seal lions, Puffins, hawks, Peregrine falcons, owls, several  types of loons, ducks and gulls, and Cormorants.   I’m sure there are more species of birds, but we can’t remember.  We also learned a great deal about the wild flowers in Denali National Park. The naturalists there get very excited about itsy bitsy wild flowers, which brings up some interesting thoughts about macro photography.  Stay tuned for more!

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