Archive for June, 2012

As a postscript to my most recent post on shooting in RAW vs. JPEG, I listened to a very interesting webinar this week, offered by the Professional Photographers of America. The speaker, Gregg Martin of Gregg Martin Photography, shared his experiences and advice for sports action photography. He’s an expert with several decades of experience shooting game action for collegiate and pro sports teams. Gregg was the 2011 South Carolina Photographer of the Year. He had some very interesting things to say about shooting in RAW vs JPEG.

In short, he never shoots in RAW. Not because it does not have its benefits and merits, but because the files are too large for his needs. Gregg said he simply cannot afford for the camera to slow down or the buffer to fill up writing the image files to the card nor can he afford the time to download and process the images. Game action happens too quick, and he has to be ready to get the shot in a split second. After the game, he is under time pressure to download the files, select the best shots, do some quick retouching and then get them to the client.

Gregg uses Lightroom 4 exclusively, as it has everything he needs to edit his images. Lightroom 4, by the way, has many of the same editing sliders used to process / edit RAW files in Photoshop Camera Raw. He also comes more from a photo journalist perspective than perhaps most Schutzhund photographers. His goal is to get best shots and get them out the door as quickly as possible. As a rule photo journalists are not at liberty to make artistic changes. I suspect that most Schutzhund photographers, like me, love to artistically work with the images as much as taking them.

So, for me it comes down to a simple question: What are my needs? If I am planning on using the images online or printing in a format that does not require large image size or amazing quality, then maybe JPEG is a good choice. If, on the other hand, I am planning to create high quality and/or large prints, artwork, or a photo book like The Art of Schutzhund: A Photographic Essay, then RAW is the better bet. With RAW, planning the shot is even more critical due to file sizes and writing time. With JPEG, there is more flexibility, as the smaller files sizes allows the photographer to capture a longer burst than with RAW.

I agree RAW creates more detailed, higher quality images, but as Schutzhund is a fast action sport, the downside of shooting in RAW cannot be ignored. JPEGs are perfectly fine; nothing wrong in shooting in that format. Both work but for different purposes. For those unfamiliar with shooting in RAW and want to give it a try, you will need an editing program that can handle RAW images, as one reader found out the hard way. I should have mentioned that in my last post. My apologies!

In closing, thank you to all who have commented and visited. Your encouragement, thoughts and comments are very much appreciated. As noted, next post will look at auto focus.

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No doubt you’ve heard and maybe even participated in the debate about whether it is better to shoot in RAW or JPEG. One argument, to which I held fast, is RAW is better with static subjects; in other words, no or not much motion. The primary reason is RAW files are much larger and may slow the camera down as it writes the files to the card, thus hampering burst shooting. For fast action, I was not convinced that RAW was really the best option.

Well, I’ve been converted, enlightened, my thinking reshaped. However, you wish to express it, I am convinced after this weekend’s experimenting with this ‘n that camera settings that RAW really is the way to go most of the time. The intensity of the color and the amount of detail really are much better with RAW. Also, in post processing, when I needed to get rid of an unwanted element, such as a leash or a person’s legs, the sampling of pixels and resulting clone was much improved over what I could achieve with JPEG images. Even though RAW may take some extra time to process in that every image must be processed, it actually saved me time in removing unwanted elements. BTW – Adobe Lightroom makes post processing of RAW images a snap (no pun intended). Didn’t really take me much more time than editing JPEGs.

To achieve the best results, I carefully timed my shots and then only took a few in a sequence rather than trying for a full sequence of the entire catch, spin and putting the dog in the pocket, in the case of the long bite. If that is was what I was going for, then RAW may not have been the best choice. It’s a pick your battle kind of thing, or better yet, pick your priority, and then select the file type that will give you the best chance of success. Having a fast card helps.

I also experimented with my camera’s auto focus system. The most interesting tweak was to slow down the camera’s tracking setting, which gave the camera more time to lock in on the dog and set the focus. I found this very helpful when tracking a dog running for the long bite or during a drive. A recent forum post from Digital Photography Review I read as a part of my research offered some great advice:

“With Servo AF I find better results by NOT using the center autofocus (AF) point (regardless of whether the lens is f/2.8 or larger). With most action shots of dogs you can count on the head being in the upper third of the composition so choose one of the AF points above the Center AF point. This will also help keep the splashing water from getting in the way of good AF tracking. I know this (non-center point) advice goes against conventional wisdom but if the 30D is similar to the 40D and 7D in this regard my experience is you will have better tracking with the points surrounding the center point. Learn to use back button AF and keep that AF point on the dogs face! This is key to getting good tracking.”

This advice applies to Canon DSLRs, but the principles are applicable to Nikons and other manufacturers cameras as well. If your camera has an auto focus system, suggest researching some of its finer points. Minor tweaks here and there could make a big difference. I’ll have more to say about auto focus settings in an upcoming post.

And, finally, I kept the aperture for the most part between f/4.5 to f/5.6. The ISO for the day was set at 400, and I let the camera adjust the shutter speed. It was a bright, sunny day, so I also set the exposure compensation to negative 1/3. The good news is the exposure was very consistent across the nearly 300 images I took. Although the images were at times dark, color and detail were preserved in most cases. JPEG images of black and dark sable dogs or dogs with dark masks came out a little muddy. As you might expect, recovering detail and adjusting the image’s exposure in the RAW images produced better results than with the JPEG images.

The slide show above shows some highlights of this past weekend’s experiments. See if you can pick out which ones were shot in RAW and which ones as JPEGS!  Enjoy and thanks for visiting!

Next up: Mastering Auto Focus! This post may not appear until early July due to other commitments.

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While learning about how landscape photographers use high dynamic range (HDR) and auto exposure bracketing (AEB) to enhance their images, I was curious whether AEB would work for Schutzhund photography. For those unfamiliar with this term, AEB simply means setting your camera to take multiple images each at a different exposure, usually a bit under, correct exposure and a bit over. How many exposures and how much variance between exposures depends on the scene, available lighting and what you, the photographer, are trying to achieve. The idea is the capture the full dynamic range, including shadows and highlights. Then in Photoshop or another third party editing program, the images are combined. This technique is very handy to ensure good detail in a heavily shadowed area to preserve detail or a very bright area where highlights might get blown out. For details on how to set up AEB for Canon EOS cameras, see the Serious Amateur Photography blog for a great explanation.

I tried it, but as I suspected, it really did not work well. I took three images within one second and achieved my goal of broadening the dynamic range, but the dog moved significantly from frame-to-frame and did not stay in focus. Now, the focus issue easily could have been due to camera shake. Also, best practice for using AEB is to set the auto focus to one point, not multiple points, and use manual focus to lock in. Hard to keep a dog in the center of the focus area when it’s moving. So, okay maybe using AEB with moving objects isn’t the best use. Next time, I want to try photographing the Schutzhund field with AEB – sans dog – and then as needed insert the dog into the combined image.

Another setting I played with was exposure compensation, which allowed me to brighten or darken the exposure as needed for individual images. I tried this in a heavily shaded area during protection work. It really helped balance the shade with the bright sunlight, which formed the back drop for many of the images. It also helped by allowing me to expose for the dog and to keep more detail and adjust the image in post processing (Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS 6).

Once again, I experimented with different shutter speeds, apertures and ISOs. I am convinced more than ever that the best starting place for Schutzhund photography is an ISO of 640 and a shutter speeds of at least 1/640. Aperture settings on either end of the spectrum can create some interesting effects, but are a headache to get the exposure just right. My preference is to set the aperture around 5.6 to 11 range. Consistently, my best images are within this range for all weather and lighting conditions. Makes sense.

And, finally I shifted between aperture priority and shutter speed priority modes. I like using both, as they each have distinct advantages. If the lighting conditions are even and not particularly changeable, aperture priority is good. Set the aperture and let the camera set the shutter speed. But if the lighting conditions are variable (sun to clouds and back again), shutter speed priority may be better. In this mode, the camera adjusts the aperture, which allows the photographer to set the shutter speed. In both modes, the photographer can adjust the ISO as needed.

Bottom line: It’s a never-ending adventure photographing Schutzhund dogs. But that’s the fun, trying this ‘n that and seeing what I get. At the beginning of this post are some highlights from my recent this ‘n that experimentation photo shoot.

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