Archive for July, 2011

Taking dramatic photographs of Schutzhund dogs at work that stop the action cold, in focus and with the proper exposure is no mean feat, as all Schutzhund photographers can attest. For any one photographic opportunity, there are many challenges, such as lighting conditions, dog coat colors, handler clothing colors, background distractions and the nature of the sport. Understanding the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed, and not just relying on your camera’s automated settings, will allow you adapt to changing condition while capturing creative and dramatic images.

After taking tens of thousands of images of Schutzhund dogs over the past six years, I still get confused about this relationship. It’s a concept that just does not come easily to me. My cousin, Nick Piesco, referred me to CameraSim – The Online SLR Simulator where you can adjust the lighting, distance, focal length, ISO, aperture and shutter speed in aperture priority, shutter speed priority or manual modes. After you make your adjustments, you can “take the photo”, see your results and then go back and try again. I found it extremely helpful. I also refer you to several previous posts that address the aperture, shutter speed and ISO:

To cement this concept in my brain, I am experimenting with keeping ISO, shutter speed or aperture at one setting and varying the other two settings. This week, I used aperture priority, which kept the aperture at f/4.5, f/5.0 or f/5.6 (most photos were at f/5.0). My goal was to try different ISO and shutter speeds to confirm which worked best under bright sunny summer conditions in Georgia at these aperture settings.

Photography experts recommend keeping the ISO setting as low as possible to minimize noise in the images. Ideal is between 100 and 400. Great advice, but fast action requires fast shutter speeds, which also means pushing the ISO up. These same experts say that 1/500 shutter speed should be sufficient to stop action.  Experience has taught me, however, that I get better results at 1/640 or higher, so that’s where I started the day.

On this particular day, I shot with a Canon EOS 7D camera, with a Canon 70-300mm DO IS USM 1:4.5 – 5.6 lens. In addition to a UV filter, I also use a ProMaster Digital Circular Polarizer filter on sunny days, which I find helps cut the glare on the Schutzhund field and enhances the colors.

The first photo below was taken with an ISO set at 200 and 1/640 shutter speed at f/5.6. The photo is in focus, but it’s dark and the color over saturated, which may be a function in part of using a circular polarizer to cut the glare on the field. I adjusted the photo in Lightroom (second image below), but the dog’s face is still a bit fuzzy and muted.

Here is a photo of the same handler and dog taken with ISO set at 400 and 1/640 shutter speed at f/5.0. The dog’s ears and muzzle still are not as sharp as I would like, but the photo overall has a more balanced, pleasing look.

The softness of focus, however, adds an interesting, impressionistic touch to this image of this dog zipping down the field, which was taken at ISO 400, 1/640 at f/5.0.

Just for kicks, I upped the shutter speed to 1/800 for the first image below. ISO was set at 400 and the aperture was f/5.6. This second photo was also taken at the same ISO and shutter speed at f/5.0. In my experience – and it may not make intuitive sense – I find that even at higher shutter speeds camera shake becomes an issue, especially when I shoot in burst mode and follow the dog (pan).  An upcoming post will look at the pros and cons of using a monopod or tripod in Schutzhund photography. Conversely, the third photo demonstrates my results at setting the ISO at 800, the shutter speed at 1/640 at f/5.0.

Another significant challenge we all face is changing lighting conditions. A dark cloud passed over when I took the photo below, with the sun shining on the background. The ISO was set at 400, shutter speed at 1/640 and aperture at f/4.5. Only thing to do is to be aware of the cloud cover and get ready to make some quick adjustments to compensate! Knowing what settings work for a cloudy day will allow you to make quick adjustments, without missing a shot.

The final two photos demonstrate a technique for photographing dark-coated dogs that has served me well time and again. In the first photo, the dog looks great, but the background is a little over exposed. The second photo illustrates the results after making a few adjustments in Lightroom. The lesson here is to set the camera for the darkest element in the photo, in this case the dog, and adjust the rest via photo editing. Be careful, though, not to over expose the rest of the photo so much that you won’t have anything to work with later.

I must confess that I welcome the chance to photograph dogs that have lighter coats, as shown in these two images. They really stand out!  But then, you might say, “Where is the challenge? And, besides most working dogs have darker coats.” Okay, you got me there!

Seriously, I would be very interested in hearing from you about your experiences! Please post a comment or send me a message. Thank you for visiting.

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Editor’s Note: Dee Clark has graciously come to this blogger’s rescue by penning a guest post on photographing puppies and young dogs. With integrating our new German Shepherd Dog, Brio (Baccardi Liquido) into our pack, a whole lot of travel in June, including a couple of unexpected trips, life has been a bit chaotic. Thank you, Dee, for sharing your experience on how to photograph puppies and young dogs!

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Photographing puppies and young dogs is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. They are very unpredictable and you never know when that great image opportunity may strike. To get great shots, you will need patience and be ready to click that shutter, as the moment can come and go as quick as lightning.

Other important tools, besides your camera and lens, are an assistant, treats and a repertoire of interesting noises to gain the attention of your subjects. Puppies and young dogs, although wonderfully fun to watch, have an amazing capacity for “attention deficit disorder (ADD).” They also may be so focused on you – the photographer – that they will not leave you alone or get far enough away from you to take pictures.

The following are some key points to remember when trying to capture lightning in a bottle:

  • Have an assistant; kids are great for this!!
  • Check the lighting and get your camera set for optimal exposure. Also, scope out the area for good backgrounds and optimal lighting conditions.
  • A set environment helps; for example, obstacles for exploration, a kiddie pool, giant ball, wheelbarrow or large rocks. Again, be mindful of what is in the background and what items could be hazardous.
  • Let the puppies get the “zoomies” out when you first take them outside, but have the camera at the ready. It also is good time to take some test shots and adjust your settings, if necessary. If your camera has a burst mode, use it.
  • Have a basket or pile of toys in a central area for the pups to access. Puppies actively engaged in play inspire some wonderful facial expressions.
  • If you have a trustworthy adult dog available, let h/she mingle with the puppies, as the dog will help keep them moving. It will also help the pups settle to capture close headshots.
  • Hungry puppies will respond better to the pocketful of treats that you and your assistant will have on you.
  • Keep squeaky toys on you, too, which you can use to grab a pup’s attention quickly. These toys are particularly useful for getting photos where the puppy looks perplexed.
  • Be mindful of where your feet are. When moving shuffle your feet, as your eye is trained through the lens, and you cannot usually keep track of where all the puppies are. Stepping on a puppy or being jumped on by a young dog is never good J
  • Wrap that camera strap tightly around your wrist!! Puppies of all ages see the strap as a tug toy!

Use your assistant well! Stand or sit back, and let your assistant to entice and engage the puppies. This will allow you to become the observer. If you do not have an assistant, then you will need to find ways to keep the puppies attention on toys or other objects so that you can move out of the way to get the shots. Small smears of peanut butter on toys or objects will almost always get the puppies to ignore you and your movements. After awhile, you usually can see the pups settle into their litter games and you can shoot away. This is a lot easier when it is not your own litter that you are trying to shoot.

When photographing puppies and young dogs, ages four months and older, puppy ADD is even higher. They might know how to sit for a treat, but puppies and young dogs rarely know how to hold the sit so that you can get into position for the shot. Again, an assistant or an older well-trained dog is helpful. You will find most of your photos are action shots, unless the puppy(s) or young dog(s) you are photographing has some training. Having an array of vocalizations you can use to get a pup’s attention really helps.

With respect to young dogs, action is the word! Having someone play ball or throw toys allows you to focus on the movement and your location in reference to the action to get the best shots. Side views and head on shots are great! These photos usually require that you be low to the ground. To add interest to your photos, have your assistant use objects with an array of sizes and colors to elicit movement.

Don’t forget to take frequent breaks, which will help you regain patience and allow the pup(s) to focus back on natural play. Again, keep the camera handy as this is when you usually get those shots you were looking for, but did not think would ever happen.

Puppies and young dogs are unpredictable and lightning fast. Getting them to do what you want to get that perfect shot is very difficult for us and for them. You can spend hours with the camera at the ready, snap thousands of shots, and maybe only getting 10 shots you actually like. It all comes down to patience. I liken puppy and young dog photography to sitting on the Serengeti waiting for the lioness to appear to cut a gazelle out of the herd. Sometimes it just never happens, but when it does – be ready – a great photo is at hand!

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This next entry in the series of interviews with Schutzhund (Dog Sport, IPO) photographers features Kira Marengi. Although she is relatively new to Schutzhund and photography, her work displays a maturity and artistry of someone with many more years of experience. Kira was born and raised in Northern Massachusetts and currently reside in Rowley, Massachusetts. She lives with her boyfriend Brandon Hayes, who owns Hayes Haus German Shepherds and Hayes Haus Dog Training, located right at our home. She is a member of Southern New Hampshire Working Dog Club, and is presently training her four-year old male, Buck vom GrimOrkie, for his Schutzhund titles; they received their BH last fall (2010). Kira loves the sport of Schutzhund and the bond it creates with handler and dog. She believes there is no greater feeling than to work as a team and accomplish so much together.

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How did you get started in Schutzhund photography? What was your inspiration?

I have always loved photography. I first began taking pictures of my own dogs – still shots, action shots – anything I could get them to do. You can never have too many pictures. When I first started training with my club, I had the wonderful Betty Lindblom of 5 Dogs Photography for my inspiration in the sport photos. Club members always appreciate a nice photo or two of their dog(s), and I wanted to be a part of that. I enjoy taking pictures, editing them, being able to send them along and hear the wonderful comments that are made about my work; it gives me all the more reason to continue what I do. I do the photography, because I love it, and it really is more of an art than just a picture. I also do photography for the club members, and to capture the special moments between them and their dogs.

How long have you been taking pictures? What events have you taken past and future?

I have been taking pictures for about three years, but for the sport of Schutzhund probably just about a year. Although I enjoy taking pictures of the dogs, I don’t think I will be shooting an event anytime soon. It takes a lot of hard work, time and devotion to be able to shoot events, and I admire the photographers that can do it, but I don’t foresee that in my future as of right now.

What is your philosophy about photographing Schutzhund dogs?

I am all about making a photo as unique as possible, which is why I feel that showing the dog’s power and devotion to the handler in many different exercises is what I aim for. The dog has a lot to say, and it is my job to capture this in my photography. As a spectator to the sport, you miss so much of the dog’s emotion whether it’s turning into the blind, the dumbbell pick-up or the first movements in the send away. These are all exercises that I feel I get the best pictures, and faces of the dogs and are almost able to tell what they are thinking.

What equipment do you use? What is your favorite piece of equipment that you use for Schutzhund photography? What are “must haves” for any serious Schutzhund photographer – aspiring?

Right now I use the Canon 60D, with an 18-135 mm Image Stabilizer lens. I have very shaky hands so I rely on the Image Stabilizer when trying to get all my action shots! For anyone that is interested in or takes pictures for the sport of Schutzhund, a “must have” is patience. Schutzhund is very hard to shoot, as it is very difficult to get “in focus” pictures. You will soon realize any “in focus” shot is a good one! Aside from patience, I really love my image stabilizer lens. It allows me to focus more on the dog than the camera, so it does most of the work for me. I highly recommend them for Schutzhund or any other active sport.

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

My all time favorite picture would be the dog entering the blind. At that very moment, I can capture the dog’s true intensity as h/she turns that corner and first sees the helper. There are many faces of Schutzhund, but I think that’s the best one. Going about taking this type of picture is a little bit easier than others. I sit at the blind and just as the dog approaches I hold my button down and shoot till the exercise is over, there is time to edit and delete afterwards, but the shot only comes once! In my opinion I feel the hardest shots to take are all of them, but If I had to pick one I would have to say the dumbbell over the hurdle. Getting this shot with my type of lens is a little difficult, it tends to focus on the jump versus the dog. So, I have to time it just right to capture the full exercise, which is often easy to miss.

Schutzhund is a very hard sport and many would say, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” I feel the same about Schutzhund photography. It takes a lot of time and effort to shoot for clubs and events as well as patience. Then it takes even longer to sort through and edit them when most just do it for fun and club members. Everyone likes to have memories of their dogs, and that’s what we are there for.

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