Archive for November, 2011

Lines are a powerful tool in creating dramatic and artistic photos. Although lines do not exist in nature, we humans create psychic lines to help us organize what we see. Photographers can use lines to guide viewers through their images. Photographers can also use lines to enhance action and energy, and add texture to a photo, which invites the viewer to touch the image with their eyes. Robert Hirsch in his book, Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age, explains:

“Psychic lines occur when we forge a mental connection between two points; usually when an object looks or points in a particular direction, our eyes will follow and draw an invisible line. Digital software allows image-makers to alter the quality of lines, rough and smooth, thick and thin to reinforce emotional and/or expressive qualities in the final composition…Lines can be flowing, majestic, or undulating. Lines can convey abstract or symbolic concepts. They can show you contour, emphasis, form, pattern, texture, and directional movement. Horizontal lines can express calmness, dignity, and magnificence, implying repose and stability. Vertical lines indicate an up and down flow that implies a smooth and continuous motion…Diagonal lines, being neither horizontal or vertical, are placed at angles within a composition. They are dynamic and indicate action, energy, and movement. “

Consider the image below. Notice how the boards frame the dog and helper. Also notice the helper’s eyes locked in on the dog’s eyes, which draws the viewer to the primary focal point – the interaction between the dog and the helper. This vertical line continues down the dog’s back. The vertical wood boards, which make up the blind, accentuate the motion of the viewer’s eyes up and down the image. The wood grain, with the photo effect added in post-processing, provides texture and gives the image a gritty look. Protection work can be gritty, especially in the blind with dog kicking up dust and spraying spit.

This second image of the hold and bark shows similar vertical lines, but notice how the helper is standing. His legs are placed diagonally to his body and thereby create a triangular A-frame shape, which mimics the shape of the blind. The post running up the middle of blind, to me, reinforces the sense of the helper backed into a corner with his back against the wall. More power to the dog!

The image below combines both the power of shapes and lines. More about shapes in an up-coming post. But for now, look at how the edge of the field at the drop-off down the hill creates a visual separation between the background and the primary subject area. Also notice the handlers’ position with legs spread wide (another A-frame), which frames the dog. What is most powerful to me in this image is the vertical line from the handler’s head to the dog’s head and the parallel lines created by both the handler and dog looking in the same direction with the same intensity.

Photography teachers and masters encourage their students to visualize an image before taking it. That is great advice, but it is easier said than done when the scene is far from static. Even so, be aware of possible lines as your survey the field and position yourself. Think about how the handler or the helper stands and use it to frame the action. In post-processing, look for lines and consider how to use them to enhance your images. Also remember, the Rule of Thirds, which divides an image into nine quadrants. Recall that the intersections of these quadrants are key visual areas; where the viewer’s eyes will tend to go first. The lines in the Rule of Thirds also are key visual guides, as explained in an earlier post.

Next up – More about Shapes. Thanks for visiting. As always, I would enjoy hearing from you! Until next time….


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This headline sounds like something your Schutzhund coach (or should I say IPO / Dog Sport ) would say as you work to create a synergy between you and your dog that ultimately becomes the dance of obedience. This phrase also describes an important visual element that can greatly enhance the impact of your images. The next few posts will delve more deeply into primary design principles and visual elements from the perspective of Schutzhund photography. The source material for these posts come from Robert Hirsch’s Light and Lens: Photography for the Digital Age (a strongly recommended resource).

The previous post alluded to the visual element of space. One of our greatest challenges as Schutzhund photographers is dealing with space. On a Schutzhund field there is a lot of it, and the dog and handler (or helper) take up a proportionally small part of that space. Do you zoom in or take a wider shot? What should you look for as a background? How does all this relate to the final image?

Hirsch describes four kinds of photographic space:

  • Actual Space: The two-dimensional area that encloses the image within the camera’s viewfinder. Three-dimensional space “are inside and around or within the object.”
  • Pictorial Space: The “illusionary space of depth that we see in a two-dimensional work such as photography” and “can vary from appearing perfectly flat to receding into infinity.”
  • Virtual Space: The space within your computer screen. “It may or may not exist in any concrete form. It may be manipulated, compressed, stretched, and/or rearranged differently from how the camera initially recorded the scene(s).”
  • Positive and Negative Space (Figure Ground): “How dark/black areas and light/white areas can be used to organize and define compositional space.”
As a starting point, Hirsch recommends limiting the amount of blank space to no more than one-third of the photograph. I think this is a good general guide, but allow yourself some leeway. Before taking your shot, think about these four spaces: What is your camera actually seeing as compared with what you are seeing? How will you display the image – in print or on screen? How large? Will you show it with other images in a collection or a slide show? How can you use the positive or negative spaces around the subjects to define the photo’s composition? How you answer these questions depends on what you are trying to show / say with your photos and your goals for the day. One day’s answers may differ from another’s.

Comparing the two photos below offers an interesting illustration of these concepts. These images were taken at the Brushy Mountain Schutzhund and Police Club’s 2011 trial in Statesville, NC.

On the one hand, in this first image, the viewer sees the re-attack and drive from the same perspective as the spectators. The viewer also gets a sense of the grand scale of the Schutzhund field. There is a visual line from the blind to the dog and helper, which helps focus the viewer’s attention to the primary action in the photo and serves as a pointer for the direction of the action. The trees in the background provide a natural border and backdrop and push the action towards the front of the image. The grass in the foreground gives the dog and helper someplace to go. All excellent points.

On the other hand, the dog and helper seem very small and diminished as compared with the vastness of the field and sky. Note that about 75 percent of the image is comprised of empty space around the dog and helper.  As a result, the primary action is lost among the grass and trees. Unless the image is blown way up, the viewer cannot really make out the helper or dog’s faces. This is a significant drawback, because in the protection work the real drama is the interplay between the dog and helper. If the viewer cannot see their expressions, a key part of the story is lost. This photo, to me, is one of a thousand nice shots of re-attack and drive, but nothing special.

The photo above is the next one in the series of images of the re-attack and drive. By cropping out most of the empty space, the action is much closer to the viewer. Again, the trees provide a natural border and backdrop and push the action forward. With less space in front of the dog and helper, the action seems more immediate and jumps out of the image. It looks as if the helper is going to drive the dog right into the viewer. The dog and helper’s expressions are much more visible. As a result, the viewer is right there locked in battle along with the dog and helper. The visual line in the first image was removed, but with the action so close, it is not a significant loss. If I were to do more work with this image, I would remove the hard wood tree and branches around the helper’s head, which distract from the harmony of the evergreens. This image, to me, successfully conveys the drama and action found in protection work; much more so than the first image.

The image below is a teaser for the next post, which will consider lines and how to use them to create dynamic photographs that “indicate action, energy, and movement” – the very things we try to capture as Schutzhund photographers. This image shows an excellent example of the visual line between the handler and dog, known to all in Schutzhund as focus! What other lines are in this photo? How are they used? Do they help or hinder?

Until next time, thank you for visiting!  Any questions or comments, send them my way.

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