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Archive for April, 2012

A challenge all Schutzhund photographers face time and time again is how to achieve good exposure of both a bright, reflective Schutzhund (IPO) field and dark sable or black dogs in action. Is there a way to ease the tension between these two opposites?

As discussed in earlier posts, a lot has to do with the weather, time of day, lighting and the location of the sun relative to the photographer and the dog / handler team. Also, the use of a zoom lens can remove a good portion of the background, which allows the dog and handler to become the most dominant element within the frame. But, zooming in is not always the best choice as many of the exercises require tracking the dog down the field and getting the shot at a critical moment.

Is it better to meter on the dog, which can produce blown highlights in the background or is it better to meter to the background, which can leave the dog too dark? In both cases, the risk is not having enough information in the shadows or highlights to recover during post-processing. What about the metering modes that come with digital SLRs?

For those who are not familiar with these modes, the following is a brief description, provided by Mitchell Kanashkevich in his new e-book, Natural Light: Masting A Photographer’s Most Powerful Tool (available from Digital Photography School, an excellent online resource):

  • Evaluative (Canon) or Matrix (Nikon): This is the default metering mode on most DSLRs and many compacts, and the most sophisticated of all the metering modes. It works by analyzing the entire frame for light and dark tones, then looking at where your focus point is (which can be any one of those tiny squares in or around the circle) and marking the most important determining factor, while still considering the rest of the frame). Evaluative or Matrix mode is generally considered the best all-round system.
  • Spot metering: This is heavily weighted to the center, covering just 3.8% of the viewfinder area (on average). Spot metering mode can be good when there is a very specific, small element to expose for in a scene.
  • Partial metering: This is weighted towards the center of the viewfinder, covering around 13.5% of the area. This mode is best for cases where we need to expose for a backlit subject and don’t want the subject to become a silhouette.
  • Center-weighted: This is weighted at the center of the image and then averaged-out for the entire scene. It is the preferred mode of some photographers because it is generally very predictable in how it reads the light levels—it always does this based solely on what’s in the center.

There’s no need to compose all your images with the subject in the center (which is where the camera makes a light reading in most modes). Center your subject just to make a reading, and lock the exposure, usually by pressing the shutter button halfway, or with a separate control. After locking the exposure, re-compose the shot….

To attempt to show the differences, I took a few pictures of our dog, Kira, in our pasture. These are “out of the camera” images at f 5.0 with a Canon EOS 7D, EF 70-200 f 2.8 L IS II USM. The shutter speed varied a bit, as you might expect, from 1/320 for the evaluative and center-weight metered images, 1/250 for the partial metered image to 1/60 for the spot metered image.

Metering Mode: Evaluative

Metering Mode: Center-Weight

Metering Mode: Partial

Metering Mode: Spot

In all four images, Kira and the foreground is pretty well exposed, but the sunlit background is blown out. The degree to which the highlights are blown out depends on the metering mode. The spot metering is by far the worst. The only way to salvage these images is to either crop in and minimize the background with blown highlights or else replace the sun-lit background. Many professional pet photographers are making the artistic choice to leave the blown highlights in the background. I am not entirely sure that works for Schutzhund photography, however. This is not to say, all photographs must be totally balanced in color and exposure. Not at all. In the end, it is an artistic choice.

While I am at the 2012 AWDF Championship and Team Challenge, I plan to experiment with different metering modes and see if it makes a difference. In his book, Mitchell recommends that less experienced photographers stay with evaluative mode, and I agree. Even the pros, such as Mitchell, find the evaluative mode, which is the default mode for most DSLRs, works very well. But I am curious, so check back to see the results of this experiment. If you have any experience with using different metering modes in Schutzhund or other types of photography, I would love to hear from you.

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In taking photos at the Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club‘s Spring Trial, I had an insight regarding the use of burst mode during the long bite. In Schutzhund (IPO) photography, I believe there is such as thing as a too fast a shutter speed, especially shooting in burst mode. Consider that when you are tracking a dog down the field for a long bite and your camera’s burst mode is clicking away how the light changes from one end of the field to when the dog and helper engage. When shooting in aperture priority mode, the camera is adjusting the shutter speed and focus to create a good exposure and create a sharp image. Now also consider that most Schutzhund (IPO) fields are grass and act as one big reflector, especially by the time the protection phase begins, and that the dog is a significantly darker element running down the field.

What I have noticed is very often the camera (even very good ones with fast lenses) often produce images with exposure and focus problems in the middle of the burst series, risking not being able to get the engagement in focus. I think it is because the camera is adjusting for the entire scene and the dog is just too small an element. I also have noticed this when I  zoom way in on the dog. So, my plan is to still use aperture priority as the camera can adjust the shutter speed faster than the aperture, but instead of shooting burst mode all the way down the field as I sometimes do, I will wait until just before the moment of engagement and then begin the burst series. I also will use shutter speeds more around the 1/640 to 1/800 – maybe 1/1000 – at the very most. This is a working theory that still needs to be tested. I’d be very interested in knowing about your experiences and how you adjust to ensure you get the long bite shots you want.

In the meantime, enjoy the highlights of the trial. If you would like prints, please contact me. Thank you Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club for a great day!

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While at Photoshop World 2012: Washington, DC, I had the privilege of attending a seminar offered by Jay Maisel, who is well-known for his ability to capture light, color and gesture in every day life. His talk spanned his 40-plus year career as he showed us many of his most famous images as well as family and travel photos.

Jay started his career in photography in 1954, decades before digital photography! Remarkably, he does not edit his images in any digital editing program nor does he use artificial light.  What you see is how they were taken! He did admit that in recent years he has taken to cropping images every now and then, but mostly he leaves them alone and publishes only the ones he likes.

Also of note, he carries his camera with him all the time. He uses one camera body and one lens. He also leaves his lens cap off, so he’s ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Check out his website – Jay Maisel Photography – to see samples of his work. I think you’ll agree he is a master of his craft!

As with most truly profound insights, his advice was simple.

Light: Be aware of the air and atmosphere, as it can set the mood of the entire image. Light mostly comes forward in photographs. Viewers will follow the light, so use the light to guide the eye to the focal point of the image.

Color: Do not be too quick to color-correct your images, as the color can be part of the story. When the sun goes under a cloud, color comes out. This makes sense, as the sun, especially in midday, can wash out a scene pretty quick or turn dark or black dogs into blobs.

Gesture: This includes an expression, a hand or paw, anything that creates movement or captures the eye. Jay particularly likes to take candids and loves images where he gets found out; in other words, someone notices he’s taking their pictures and gives him an interesting look. Consider the trigger of why taking a image now rather than 10 seconds later would make a difference. In other words, go for the unique moment. That’s easy enough to do in Schutzhund, as almost every moment with a dog is unique.

General: Fill the frame with your subject. Too much extra space equates to wall paper; in other words, empty, un-interesting space that detracts and diminishes the image. On the other hand, scale varies the impact. Consider whether your subject is better shown larger or smaller within the context of the composition. Be careful not to create empty space, as noted. Look at the background, foreground, edges and corners. Jay really likes architecture, so he looks for patterns and other focal points to guide the viewer’s eye.

Consider the images in the following slide show in the context of Jay’s comments. Each of these images was chosen to accentuate the concepts of using light, color and gesture to create more interesting and dramatic images. Look at the light; the dog, handler or helper’s faces and other gestures; and how the subjects are framed. After listening to Jay’s comments, he has inspired me to look more carefully at a scene, to always be aware of these elements and to use my camera to tell a story rather than to take a snapshot. Let me know what you think!

 

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