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Archive for August, 2012

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Recently, I attended the North Myrtle Beach Schutzhund Club trial and experimented with the ideas and tips offered in the Increase the Light or Increase the Shutter Speed post. Unlike high school and professional sports, shooting IPO (Schutzhund) trials under the lights is not at all easy. Most IPO fields simply do not have powerful enough lighting to make the field bright enough for fast action photography. Nevertheless, I decided to experiment.

The images shown in the slide show above were taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200 mm IS II USM lens. I also set the camera on aperture priority, which allowed the camera to set the shutter speed. The aperture was set at f 2.8 for all but one photo to allow as much light onto the camera sensor as possible. A wide open aperture setting has the disadvantage of a softer focus. My goal was to try to strike a balance between exposure and focus. as well as use to the light to achieve an interesting look to the images. The ISO was set at a minimum of 1600, but ranged upward to 4000, 6400 and 8000. Most of these photos were shot at an ISO of 4000 or 6400. Shutter speeds varied from 1/640 to 1/3200. Most of the photos were taken at around 1/640 at dusk to 1/1000 to 1/2000 at night.

While I really like the Canon 70-200 mm lens, it does not have a long enough focal length to capture action across the IPO field, especially during a trial when I can’t get up close. That’s true in daylight and especially true at night. The Canon Mark III is a marvelous camera body for action photography. Unless you have a long-range powerful zoom lens, the key regardless of the time of day for shooting trials is to pick which exercises you want to capture and position yourself as close to the action as possible.

For this trial, the hurdle and scaling wall were close to the spectators’ side of the field and under a bright yellow light, so photographing the retrieve exercises was more productive. In this instance, shooting under the lights had the same effect as bright sunlight in that the details of the dogs were lost and they tended to look like blobs, especially the dark sable or black dogs. Belgian Malinois seem to photograph well in any light!

Bottom line: Nighttime shooting under the lights for IPO is best for carefully planned specialty shots, not the general action photography that can be achieved in daylight. It would be fun to try for silhouettes and other mood-type images. A goal for another day!

Please let me know of your experiences shooting at dusk, night or in low-light conditions! Until next time, happy shooting!

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Weather conditions, as discussed in earlier posts, can present a significant challenge for competitors and their dogs as well as for those who love to photograph dogs at work. IPO (Schutzhund) is a sport that waits for no person, no dog and goes on in all types of weather. Earlier posts offered suggestions on photographing dogs in action in bright sunlight and changeable lighting conditions, but what about days with persistently low light, such as heavy overcast, fog, mist, and rain, or evening and night, a favored time for summer training and trials, especially in the south?

Low light tends to diffuse the light, which results in muted and softer colors and contrast. Fog and mist yields more monochromatic, cooler (blue) images. Rain also produces reflections. As in bright light, the lack of contrast can cause a loss of detail and result in dark sable or black dogs looking like blobs. This tends to happen more when photographing a dog and handler against a brighter background, such as the Schutzhund field. The grass holds moisture, which acts like a reflector, as the images below shows.

On the other hand, this softer light can yield a painterly look, a popular look for portraits. In the image below, the dog was photographed against a fence and a darker background, which provides a nice contrast. Also, I was much closer to this dog, so the reflection from the grass was not as much a factor as it was in the above image. The puppy picture is another good example.

Amy Renfrey in a recent Digital Photography School post succinctly sums up a key strategy for low light conditions: Increase the light or increase the shutter speed. Her point is cameras left on auto controls will tend to slow down the shutter speed to bring more light in order to achieve a good exposure, but the subjects in motion will be blurry. Taking the second part first, Amy recommends controlling shutter speed manually and not worrying too much about noise, which can be managed in post-production. Another way to increase the shutter speed, of course, is to increases the ISO. To review the relationship between ISO, shutter speeds and aperture settings, see the earlier posts, “Calculating Exposure: A Function of Doubles and Halves.”

The other half of this equation is to increase light, primarily by using wide apertures. One way to do this is to use fast lenses. What this means is to use lenses with low aperture settings; that is, let in a lot of light. A lens with a larger maximum aperture (a smaller minimum f-number) is a “fast” lens, because it delivers more light intensity to the focal plane, achieving the same exposure with a faster shutter speed. A smaller maximum aperture (larger minimum f-number) is “slow” because it delivers less light intensity and requires a slower shutter speed.

The lower the light, the greater the risk of motion blur from hand-held cameras. When shooting at dusk or at night, try using a mono- or tri-pod to steady the camera. The downside is it may limit your flexibility in tracking the action. Also, if you can, use lenses with a stabilization feature.

One more tip. Instead of relying on the zoom, if you can, move as close to the action as you can. Being close removes distractions and reflective sources. The camera is also able to focus almost exclusively on the subject. While this is good advice any time, it really helps in low light conditions. Tricky with some Schutzhund skills, but it’s well worth it. Be sure to ask the helper and handlers if this is okay. Below are a couple of examples of photos shot up close and personal.

You’re comments and suggestions are always welcome! Happy Shooting!

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Greetings!  Thank you to all my readers for your continued support and encouragement. I truly enjoy writing this blog and get a big kick out of watching the hits pile up. Passing 20,000 visits is a real milestone, especially considering that Schutzhund is not a large universe, although those of us in the sport tend to think of it as our whole world.

As with last year, we are having a hectic summer, including integrating a new dog into our pack. Zarek Von der Sauk is just nine weeks old and already has made himself at home. Shannon Hoffman Slaman of Von der Sauk German Shepherds bred Zarek. His father is Farin Spod Lazov, a son of Agent von Wolfsheim (WUSV, BSP), and his mother is Nutja vom Kathargo. As you might expect, taking care of a puppy plus two other dogs, traveling and working has left little time for photography and blogging.

While it has been a good summer in a lot of ways, it also has been a sad one. We said good-bye to our Leroy v. Rietnisse (Eli), who passed away in July. He was a remarkable dog, who achieved six SchH 3 titles. Eli and my husband, Peter, showed successfully at the 2010 New England Regional Championship and the 2010 USCA German Shepherd Dog Championship, where they took home a trophy for the highest scoring team from the southeast region.

We also said good-bye to Peter’s father, who passed away on Sunday, August 5, at the age of 88. For most of his life, Robert Pericles Spanos’ passions were being stock and commodities broker and his family. He also founded a management consulting firm, ran a television station, worked in advertising, insurance and sales. He flew combat missions as a B24 navigator in Africa and China in WW 2 and graduated from Purdue. Late in life, he published a book of poetry, in which he wrote about himself: “I’ve had a great life…God has given me the things that count.” May both Bob and Eli’s memories be eternal.

I will be posting a new blog entry towards the end of next week or over the weekend (August 18 -19), so please check back.  Stay cool and happy shooting!

BJ Spanos

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