Archive for March, 2010

Today dawned bright and sunny, cool but not cold – a perfect Schutzhund day and an almost perfect day to photograph Schutzhund dogs at work.  I say almost, because the sun was very bright, which meant another day of trying to photograph dark sable and black dogs without having them turn out like black silhouettes against a bright and sometimes over exposed background.

The Polarizer lens is a great asset and has really helped me with the exposure issues, but I discovered that when dogs get into shadow, the camera photographs them very dark and there isn’t time to adjust. This happens quite frequently as the dogs often get into their handler’s shadow as well as in the shadow of the blinds during protection work.  I think it’s a rule of nature, kind of like whenever I try to photograph a dog at work, the handler and dog manage – more often than not – to turn their backs to me.  Why do they do that?

In addition to the technique described in my last post, Photoshop also features Adjustment Layers, which allow the photographer to correct the image without permanently affecting the original image.  What it also allows is for the photographer to select specific areas of the picture and correct just those areas.  Very cool.

In the before image (top), you will notice that the background is very bright but the dog is very dark.  I first selected the dog and corrected the contrast / brightness and color of the dog.  Then I selected the background and did the same thing.  Not to mention a little work with the Clone stamp to get rid of the leash.  This is my first attempt at using Adjustment Layers, and for those of you who are familiar and proficient with Photoshop, this may seem like a no brainer.  But for photographers like me, who are just learning Photoshop, this is a very useful technique that will allow me to focus on taking the best pictures I can (exposure and composition), without being overly worried when the dog comes out too dark.  The Eraser Tool, as noted, is very useful as well, especially when time is of the essence.  Try both and let me know what you think.

No, this does not mean I have declared my mission of photographing dark sable and black dogs a success.  Far from it.  I still want to learn how to properly expose the images so I don’t have to spend a lot of time in Photoshop – and it is a matter of pride to master taking photos of dark dogs in bright light.  So stay tuned – and share your experiences and tips!  We all will benefit and appreciate your insights.

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Ask any Schutzhund photographer, experienced or just getting started, the one thing that eludes all of us – except maybe for that ultimate in-focus, perfectly exposed shot of the courage test right at moment just before and after impact with the sleeve – is photographing dark sable and black dogs so they appear in the photo perfectly exposed as the richly textured magnificent animals that they are rather than the usual black blobs against bright backgrounds.  If we correct the background, the dogs get even darker, and if we correct for the dog, the background becomes nearly blinding.  I contend finding the right balance is the holy grail of all Schutzhund photographers.

Well – thanks to professional photographer Paul Timpa – I think we may have a line on how to work around this vexing problem.  Here is what Paul has to say:

The reason the dogs come out so dark is because the camera is designed to take all photos at a “medium brightness”, meaning not too dark, not too bright.  When you take a photo of the dogs in action, the camera measures the light in the scene.  Generally it is pretty bright.  So the camera says, “This scene is very bright and I need the photo to be “medium” brightness” so it darkens the whole photo. Unfortunately, even though it gets the sunlight and grass correctly exposed, it has now darkened the dogs too much.  There are two ways to get around this problem.

  1. You can shoot in manual mode and set the exposure so that the dogs are captured at the correct brightness.  This is how I shoot pretty much 100% of the time.  This will result in the background being potentially too bright, but at least the dogs will look correct. Photographers have battled contrast problems like this since the dawn of photography.  It’s just something we’ve learned to live with.  It’s always a choice as to what to expose correctly — in this case, you probably want to expose the dogs correctly at the expense of a background that may be too bright.
  2. The other option, which is one that I use most of the time for contrast problems, is a little more complicated.  It only takes a few seconds (literally just a few seconds) once you get the process down, but it does require a little bit of knowledge and a piece of software (either Photoshop or any software editing tool that does “layers”). Basically the process is to create two versions of the photo: one exposed correctly for the dog, and one exposed correctly for the background, and combine them.  This may sound complicated, but basically the process is to have a very bright photo (a bright dog and bright background) and then copy and past a normal photo (dark dog, correct background) on top of the bright one, and use the software to erase away the dark dog on top which would reveal the brighter dog underneath.

Today, I tried Paul’s second option in Photoshop and found that it works very well (I had no doubt, Paul). Below are the before (top) and after (bottom) pictures and the steps I used to create them (more experienced Photoshops folks, please weigh in here as you may have a better technique):

  1. Save the image with the background exposed correctly and save a copy of the image, which is brightened to better show the dog. In this instance, I just increased the brightness level, but those more experienced with Photoshop may be able to use curves, adjustment layers or channels to achieve a correct exposure for the dog. Whatever works best for you.
  2. Open both in Photoshop.  Move the photo with the correctly exposed background (darker image) on top of the brighter image (with the correctly exposed dog) and release. This will create a layer with the darker image.
  3. Use the Eraser tool to erase the darker image of the dog, so that the brighter image of the dog comes through.  If you periodically deselect the Background Layer, which is the brighter image, you can see where you have erased and where you may have missed a spot.  You can vary the size of the eraser brush to accommodate larger and smaller areas of the dog.
  4. Now, I have never been known to be one that colors in the lines very well, and I found even by being very careful, I erased areas outside of the dog, which caused some of the brighter background to come through – a little strip here, a little strip there.  Not to worry.  Using, the Clone tool, I was able to clean up those areas.  You may have to toggle between the layers to do this, but it worked pretty well.
  5. Save the file as a psd (in case you want to go back and do more tweaking) and as a jpeg.

Sometime when I am a lot more familiar with my camera (Canon EOS 7D) I will try shooting in Manual mode, but for now, I’m going to stick with Paul’s second option and encourage you to give it a try.  Let me know how it goes.

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As with polarizer filters, professional photographer Paul Timpa offers some very helpful guidance about Neutral Density (ND) filters in his tutorial about lens filters. The following are some of his thoughts, with a few of my own relating his comments to Schutzhund photography.  For more of Paul’s articles, visit his blog.

Unlike the Polarizer, which is really just one filter, Neutral Density filters (or “ND” for short) are a “category” of filters.  You’ll buy a few of them, each having a different (but similar purpose).  So what is an ND filter?  Real easy:  it’s basically just a pair of sunglasses for your lens.  Yep, an ND filter is just a piece of glass with a gray coating on it that blocks some of the light, just like sunglasses.  So why would you want to use one?  There are three main reasons:

  1. You want to use a long shutter speed but it’s too bright out
  2. You want to use a wide-aperture but it’s too bright out
  3. A portion of the scene is too bright but the rest is normal, so you want to darken just the really bright part

The first scenario really doesn’t apply to Schutzhund photography, as we use short shutter speeds to stop the action, but scenarios two and three are applicable.  Here’s what Paul  has to say about them:

The second scenario: wanting to use a wide aperture in bright conditions.  If you’re trying to blur the background by using a wide-open aperture, and it’s bright outside, it may be too bright for even your fastest shutter speed.  For example, at F1.8 during the day, you may go all the way to 1/4000th of a second for a correct exposure.  If it’s still too bright out, there’s nothing you can do with the camera, if that’s the fastest shutter speed your camera allows.  Use an ND filter to cut down the light.  A 3-stop ND filter will bring your shutter speed from 1/4000th to 1/500th.  (4000 to 2000, to 1000, to 500 is three stops).

The third category is one of the most important, and is probably the category where ND filters are used most frequently.  If you’re photographing a scene that has one portion that is really bright but other areas of the scene are dark or normal, you can use an ND filter to even-up the lighting.  For those of you who have read my article on HDR [High Dynamic Range], you may remember that cameras are not great at taking pictures of scenes that have both really bright and really dark areas.  Generally, you have to pick just one area to focus your attention on, and the other area will just come out too bright (or dark), and you just have to live with it.  ND filters fix this problem.  How?  It’s pretty simple.  You use a special ND filter that is a piece of glass where only half of it has the gray coating – the other half is clear.  This is called a Graduated ND filter, ND Grad, or just Grad.  You attach the grad to your lens in such a way that the dark part of the filter covers the bright part of the scene, and the clear part covers the normal part.  Thus, it darkens just the bright part.

In my limited experience, ND filters are useful for reducing glare and brightness on the Schutzhund field. I have had some success, but neither do they solve all the problems. Probably, because I have only one, and it may not have been the right one for the conditions. For bright sunny days, I think a Polarizer filter is a better choice.  With the face pace of Schutzhund, it is a lot easier to adjust the Polarizer filter than to change from one ND filter to another to accommodate changing lighting conditions, especially on days when clouds roll in and out. Also, very often there isn’t a clear demarcation between the brightest and darkest area of the photograph as in a landscape scene.  The darkest area of a Schutzhund photograph is usually the dog.  The real challenge is how to capture the detail of dark sable or black dogs.  I will have more to say about his in an upcoming post.

That being said, I can see real value in using ND filters as a trial spectator where I am shooting at some distance to the action, especially when I am seated in a stadium. In those instances, there is a clear demarcation between the field and areas above the field.  I will give a try this trial season and let you know my results.  In closing, if you have experience using ND filters, please share them.

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One of the greatest challenges all Schutzhund photographers face is how to reduce glare and reflection on the Schutzhund field, especially when the sun is shining brightly. The problem is on sunny days Schutzhund fields act like one big reflective surface.  Landscape photographers (or as I refer to them masters of outdoor light) will tell you that ideally, outdoor photography should be done either early in the morning or late in the day, when the sun’s rays are more horizontal than vertical. Don’t we all wish Schutzhund operated on a photographer friendly schedule, she says reflectively (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun). But since, tracking is usually the only thing going on early in the morning (not the most exciting Schutzhund activity to photograph), and training and trials are usually done by late afternoon, these ideal conditions are not usually available when we are trying to get our best shots.

Taking the cue from these masters of outdoor light, I have started experimenting with both neutral density (ND) and polarizer filters to lessen glare and reflection. I also have been surfing the Web for tips and tutorials about filters.  Professional photographer Paul Timpa has some excellent tutorials on his Facebook page, including one that focuses on filters.  (Yea, okay, I know I’m a fiend for puns and alliteration – what can I say; it’s fun!)

Part 1 will discuss polarizer filters and Part 2 will concentrate on ND filters.  The following is an excerpt from Paul’s tutorial on filters:

A good polarizer may be the most important filter you buy, and is usually the first.  It’s important for two reasons:

  1. Polarizers can have a dramatic effect on your photos that can make them look much better
  2. They are one of the only filters that cannot easily be replicated in Photoshop or with software.

So what exactly does a polarizer do?  Rather than get into the all the scientific details about how light works, let’s just say that polarizers help eliminate reflected light and that has various beneficial effects on your photos. [For a more technical discussion of polarizer filters, see BobAtkins.com, “All About Polarizers – Linear and Circular.”]

Some of the beneficial effects include:

  • Making blue skies a deeper shade of blue; this makes clouds really pop
  • Enhancing colors, especially of foliage / leaves
[allows you to see through the white reflective light to foliage’s natural color]
  • Removing reflections on water, allowing you to see through the water
  • Removing reflections on glass, allowing you to see through glass
  • Cutting out haze

So how do you use a polarizer?  Easy, attach it to your lens and look through the viewfinder to see its effect.  Polarizers are designed to be able to rotate while attached to the lens.  Rotating it varies the effect.  You can just experiment by rotating it to see how much effect it produces.  For blue skies, the amount it affects your photo (if at all) depends on where the sun is located.  Basically it works best if the sun is directly to your side (left or right) and somewhat lower in the sky.  Polarizers have less (or no) effect when the sun is directly overhead or directly in front of or behind you.

What Paul doesn’t mention in his tutorial is there are two types of polarizer filters: Linear and circular. Linear polarizer filters do not work well with digital cameras, so professional photographers recommend using circular polarizers instead.  One other note, as with most things, you get what you pay for. They best advice I’ve found is that if your budget allows, it’s better to spend more on a quality brand.

My limited experience with my polarizer filter (HOYA Pro 1 Digital Filter, Circular PL) has produced some excellent results (see photo at the start of this post). I really like how the colors are more vibrant and the glare is reduced. Notice how the coloring in the dog is really visible.  I really did not have to do much in the way of color or exposure correcting to this photo, and it was taken at high noon on a bright, sunny day.  I know Paul writes that polarizer filters have less effect in the midday sun, but I think my results were pretty good. I’m encouraged anyway and looking forward to taking more pictures and seeing what I can do with this filter.

If you have used a polarizer filter in your Schutzhund photography, please share your experiences.  Thanks!!

Part 2 of this discussion of filters will be posted over the weekend.

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1,000 Hits and Counting

Just noticed that I have hit the 1,000 hits mark!!  Many thanks to all who have visited my blog. I hope you will continue to come back often and will comment from time to time.  Let me know if there are any topics you would like me to cover.  My next couple of posts will be on using neutral density and polarizer filters. Researching these posts has really taught me a lot about how to use these filters to their best advantage.  Look for the posts the end of the week or over the weekend.

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This is next segment in a series of interviews with Schutzhund photographers.  I hope that by reading what has inspired other photographers, the equipment they use and how they go about taking pictures you will be encouraged in your own photography.

Carolina Valenzuela lives in Maryland.  She has been involved in Schutzhund for the past four years and titled her first dog in 2009. She loves the sport and hopes to someday compete at high levels.  You can view her pictures in the Art of Schutzhund Photography Gallery and on her Web site at www.gsdbestk9.com.  Carolina also contributed photographs to the book, The Sport of Schutzhund: A Photographic Essay.

How did you get started in Schutzhund photography?

I started taking pictures of dogs working when I joined my first Schutzhund club back in early 2006. I just snapped pictures of dogs here and there and everyone seemed to love them. Seeing how happy I made everyone with pictures of their dogs, I started to shoot more and more. Back then I had a point-and-shoot Sony, but it took real nice shots. I soon realized, however, that for the protection phase, I needed something better and faster. So I bought my first SLR, a Nikon D40.

What was your inspiration?

I actually got inspired by the owners / handlers of the dogs, just seeing the smiles on their faces when I showed them pictures of their dogs working and doing what they love. I made their day and in return they made mine. What can I say, I like making people happy.

How long have you been taking pictures?

I started getting serious with photography in 2006 when I got involved with Schutzhund.

What events have you taken past and future?

I started taking pictures at training, then at club trials. I’ve also taken pictures at Regionals and the 2008 WUSV. Because I’m also into Agility, I’ve taken lots of pictures at Agility trials as well. The camera comes with me everywhere now. It is the first thing I pack.

What is your philosophy about photographing Schutzhund dogs?

I like the pictures to talk for themselves, by showing the dog’s intensity and athletic ability.

What equipment do you use?

I now shoot with a Nikon D80, and have two lenses that I used with it: a Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED Autofocus lens and a Nikon Zoom Telephoto Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 ED AF-D Autofocus lens.

What is your favorite piece of equipment that you use for Schutzhund photography?

Believe it or not, I love my Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm the best!

What are “must haves” for any serious Schutzhund photographer?

Good eye and good timing.

What is you favorite type of picture to take?

My favorite shots are during the long bite. I love capturing the dogs in the air. I also like the bark and hold, and capturing the dogs showing their pearly whites.  See picture below.

How do you go about taking the picture? What is the most challenging picture to take? How do you tackle it?

I point, press the bottom half way and wait for the perfect shot. I think the most challenging shots are same as the ones I like best, the long bite and the bark and hold, especially those showing the dog’s teeth. You have to be quick and know when it is coming.  See picture below.

Other tips for new and/or experienced photographers?

Don’t waste your money on the best camera body out there. What matters is having a good eye and good lenses.

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