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Archive for May, 2010

Composing a heeling pattern photo really has to do with what you want to capture. Of all the obedience exercises, the heeling pattern is the longest and most varied, with different speeds, turns, about turns, group and stops.  The good news is there are many angles and positions from which to shoot. The bad news is your options may be limited, depending on whether you are at a trial or a club field, the angle of the sun and other background distractions. This next series of posts will break down the heeling pattern and offer some suggestions on how to compose photos for each element.

Let’s start with three basic tips for anytime you shoot the heeling pattern; for that matter – all of Schutzhund.

First, take a hard look at the field. Where is your best vantage point in relation to the sun?  I have had excellent results shooting with my back to the sun. Be careful about standing in shade and shooting into sun and vice versa as it may impact exposure. Also look for any obvious background distractions, such as buildings, parking lots, vendor booths, people and fences. Fences can really create havoc on focusing, especially with zoom lenses. You may think your focused on the dog and handler, but often the lens will decide to focus on the fence, which isn’t moving and has hard, sharp borders on which to focus. I recommend not shooting at fences, particularly split-rail fences, if you can help it. Can’t tell you how many really great fence shots I’ve taken over the years. Chain links aren’t so bad, but be careful!  You may wish to adjust your depth of field so the background is blurry. Using your camera’s auto focus point selections can help, too, if that feature is available.

Second, decide what aspect of the heeling you want to photograph. My favorite photos are those that show the relationship between the dog and handler, as shown in the photo below. They look like they are in sync and really communicating with each other. I also like to capture the moment the handler changes speed. This handler had a pony tail, which added an interesting element of motion to the image. More about this in later posts that look at each of the heeling pattern’s elements.


Third, position yourself to maximize your chances for great shots. While this may seem an obvious tip, it bears mentioning – position yourself so you have an unobstructed view of the dog and handler. We photographers cannot always control what other people do, but be aware of what is going on around you and try to find a spot with a clear view of the action. The best photos are those taken from the dog side or from the front. Also, try to photograph at an angle to the dog and handler. Sometimes straight-on photos work, but many times they seem flat. When you shoot at a slight angle, it gives a sense of dimension. Also, think about getting low and shooting up at the dog and handler or shooting from a vantage point where you are shooting down at them. These positions yield interest, and if you zoom in fairly tight, it can take a lot of the background distractions out of the picture.

The next post will break down the heeling pattern and take a more detailed look at composing different kinds of shots. Look for that post the week of June 6th.

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In the June 2010 issue of Photoshop User magazine, John Paul Caponigro wrote an article about how to apply local adjustment strategies in Photoshop to effectively use the frame of a photograph (see pg. 56 of the issue).  He writes: “The four most important lines of any image make up the frame.  They’re often the ones that are least consciously recognized, but they make or break images.  How you use the frame tells the viewer what you’re interested in and how you’re looking at it. The frame delimits what’s in or out of an image.  It determines orientation, its proportion exerts a psychological influence and it determines relative position.  It also exerts a strong visual influence on the way the eye travels through a composition, emphasizing and deemphasizing elements contained within it…There are three classic ways of using the frame: Emphasize one side of the frame and not the others, emphasize two opposite sides, creating an un-contained focus on the center of the image, or emphasize all four sides of the frame, creating a contained focus on the center of the frame.”

Within Photoshop, Lightroom or other photo editing programs, you can lighten the bottom, the top, one side or the other or all four sides to create different effects and tone, or you can use a vignette to focus the attention to the center of the photograph, again creating a different mood or tone.  The photos below show examples of using a vignette to draw attention to the center of the photo.  This particular technique works great with a portrait photo or with an action shot where you want to draw the viewer into the center of the photo.

While it is fun to apply special effects, you first need a photo that will lend itself to these strategies and techniques and that starts with composition.  I’m the first to admit that in the heat of photographing Schutzhund dogs in action there isn’t much time to plan a shot; many times you just have to go with the flow. Yet, by really understanding what is happening on the field and analyzing the angles at which you can get the best perspective on a particular exercise, you can put yourself in position to take dramatic photos that will be perfect for applying special effects to coax a dynamic feeling out of the photo.  For viewers, it becomes less looking at a nice photo of a Schutzhund dog at work and more of appreciating a work of art that tells a story and evokes real feeling.  As a result, it helps viewers experience the excitement of Schutzhund, appreciate the sport a bit more and maybe inspire them to support or get involved in Schutzhund.

This is the first in a series of posts that will go into more detail and offer suggestions on how to compose Schutzhund photos and then modify or process those shots to get the most of out them and create an image that will have your viewers saying, “WOW – nice shot!” or “I can almost feel the dog as I look at this picture!” We’ll look at all three phases and break them down into their individual exercises.  As we go along, please comment as you feel inspired as we all learn from each other.

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