Archive for February, 2012

Light can be both friend and foe to photographers, especially to those of us who like to photograph dogs in action. Regardless of the light conditions, it is always a challenge. As Robert Hirsch notes in his book Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age: “There is no time of the day or year when the sunlight is photographically better than another. However, it may be more suitable for a particular subject. At various times of day and in different seasons, light takes on a range of unique physical attributes, each with its own emotional and tactile qualities.”

With this in mind, this post turns from an earlier discussion of quantifying light as tool for determining camera settings for optimal exposure to using the quality of light as a tool for optimal artistic expression. Yes, Schutzhund (IPO) photography is an art, so artistic expression is applicable and encouraged. It also separates the snap shots from the really great dramatic shots we all love so much and strive to emulate. And, I sincerely believe that the artful expression of Schutzhund through photography helps to promote the sport and make it more accessible to those who are not familiar with it, its purpose, and the marvelous dogs and people who dedicate many hours to it.

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While you continue reading, take a look at the slide show above and consider how the quality of the light changes the mood of the images. Consider how they might look under different lighting. They illustrate what Robert Hirsch calls “The Circle of Light”; that is, how the quality of light changes throughout the day and year, as follows:

  • Before sunrise: The outdoor environment can be seen as black and white, with light showing as cool and shadowy, and with muted, flat and opalescent colors. Colors become more intense as the sun rises.
  • Morning: Early in the morning, the sun’s rays are low. Warmer colors show through. Shadows look blue. By mid-morning, the light begins to lose its warm quality and starts to appear clear and white. This is because the full spectrum of light is able to penetrate the atmosphere, and entire spectrum of light together is white. For a more technical description of light rays, see an earlier post on understanding white balance and color temperature.
  • Midday: The higher the sun rises, the greater the contrast between colors. At noon, the light is white, so colors stand out strongly. Shadows are black and deep, and contrast is at its peak. Subjects can look like three-dimensional cuts outs against the background. Also, at this time of day, the light may be too harsh for many subjects. We all can relate to this when we try to photograph black, white or dark sable dogs.
  • Afternoon: As the sun begins to set, the light warms up again. On clear evenings, subjects can take on a warm, surreal glow. Reds get stronger, and shadows lengthen and become bluer. Also, greater detail can be shown.
  • Twilight / Evening: There is still a lot of light after sunset, although it may be not enough to capture dogs in action without artificial light sources. Light at this time of day is very soft, and contrast and shadow is at a minimum. Again, this is not ideal for photographing dogs, but it is a great time of the day for landscapes. Check out Peter Lik’s work some time.
  • Night: Unless you are under stadium lights, photographing Schutzhund dogs working at night is a feat of extreme courage. The light is harsh and contrast extreme. Long exposures and high ISO settings are needed, which is not conducive to capturing action. Still, it may produce a unique, more abstract image.
The seasons also express different qualities of light. Winter features more muted and subtle colors. Spring brings more daylight and more colors as the sun rises higher in the sky. Summer has the harshest light, and it can be really difficult to get great photos, especially midday. Schutzhund fields are also notoriously reflective. Fall once again is a time of transition with less light, but more color in the foliage as fall leaves display their colors.
The weather also affects the quality of light. Fog and rain diffuses the light, creates a monochromatic look and tends to be cooler or blue. Light is scattered, so colors and contrasts are soft and subtle. Rain also mutes and softens color and contrast. Snow reflects any predominant color, according to Mr. Hirsch. Blue casts and shadows are common. It also can fool your camera’s meter as snow reflects a lot of light. Taking pictures later in the day may be better choice to bring out the rich texture in the snow. Mr. Hirsch has much more to say about light in his book, which as noted in previous posts, I strongly recommend. It has really helped me become a better, more artistic photographer.
Until next time, thanks for visiting!!

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