Archive for the ‘Action Photography’ Category

These past few weeks have been restful and fun using digital painting, textures and other techniques to create unique photographic art. Below are some examples:

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There is so much you can do with these techniques to enhance images. So far I’ve primarily done head shots, but I think they will work well with action shots, too. The key, I’ve discovered, is to work with close up images that have a lot of detail, clarity and strong colors. I am not sure images with blown out highlights or deep shadows will yield good results, as there is not enough detail.  While I am in-between classes, I am accepting commissions and running a special, which you can view here.

Last weekend, I attended the USCA Southeast Regional Championship. The weather on the first day of competition was an awful (rainy and dark); better on the second day for photography. While I did not shoot the event myself, I did spy several other photographers snapping away. Remember when shooting from the sidelines, you need to zoom in to catch the action. In general, the camera lens does a much better job of focusing when it is zoomed in on the dog rather than trying to catch a more panoramic shot of the entire field. There are not many clear focal points on the IPO field so the lens will often focus on something other than the dog, especially if it is lighter than the dog’s fur. It takes some practice, but being able to anticipate the dog and handler allows you to zoom in, which in turn greatly increases the chance of snapping sharp images.

Next up is preparing to shoot the Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club trial the end of April and more digital painting. Until then…Happy Shooting!

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Hello! Now that my first class is done, I have a few months off before my graduate work in clinical mental health counseling gets going in earnest, which allows me some time to work with photography, digital painting – and yes – add a few more posts! I know, you’re thrilled. Seriously, I had a great time yesterday taking pictures at our local IPO (Schutzhund) club for the first time since November. Above are a few of my favorites, with more photos available for viewing on my website – 031414 Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club Gallery.

It was nice to get in some practice before the Chattahoochee Club trail the end of April, especially shooting in RAW. As noted in earlier posts, I’ve hesitated shooting in RAW because of the large file sizes and missing a crucial shot while the camera is busy writing the previous image(s) to the card. The technology is much better these days then when I first started taking photos of Schutzhund dogs at work, so with a fast enough card and camera processor, shooting a burst of images in RAW is not as daunting as it used to be. I only wish there was an effective way to shoot action in HDR. Something to investigate further while I have these few months off. Any ideas, please let me know!

My next post will highlight a couple of digital paintings I’m just now completing. I am very excited about sharing them with you. Until next time – Happy Shooting!

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So, are you intrigued? What do penguins and Schutzhund (IPO) dogs have in common. Quite simply, they both can be tricky critters to photograph as they move fast and sometimes in unanticipated ways. While on our trip to Antarctica, I was thrilled (on the inside, of course) when experienced National Geographic photographers grumbled that photographing penguins swimming is very difficult, much to their annoyance. I think they much preferred photographing the ice, as ice moves at a glacier pace, if you’ll pardon the pun. More about ice in a future post.

Their advice for photographing penguins confirmed my own approach to Schutzhund dogs. First, you must understand and learn their behaviors. And, then you must learn to anticipate. As with Schutzhund dogs, penguins are often the darkest part of the image, especially if they are hanging out on an ice berg or snowy area. At times, they are on rocky beaches, which offered welcome contrasts. So, like Schutzhund dogs, choices must be made as to whether to expose for the penguins or the background. We were blessed with marvelous weather – clear, sunny and very little wind. Temps were in the 30s. Simply lovely by Antarctica standards. Days were 23 hours long!

Penguins on land are funny – really – they’ll make you laugh at their antics and awkward ways of moving and stealing each other’s rocks, used to feather their nests. Even penguins look down and watch where they are walking in the rocky, icy, snowy landscape that is Antarctica. And, sometimes, they slip and lose their footing. Photographing penguins on land is more about capturing their expressions and funny behaviors.

Penguins hang out in flocks, as there is safety in numbers, but they also are sometimes alone, which makes for a very poignant photo. They fuss at each other, play, walk about, and are very curious. They also create highways in the snow to the water, and if you stand in their way, they’ll just wait for you to move.

Penguins in the water are elegant and fluid; such a joy to watch. I had a lot of fun and success one day photographing penguins swimming. I was on deck, which gave me a birds-eye view. The water is so clear that the penguins showed up very clearly. They dart about, but they also display flock behavior. Not being a birder, I had to watch and learn. They are very, very fast in water and unpredictable, so I tended to frame wider rather than trying to follow on particular penguin. And, I used a fast shutter speed – 1/750 or better – and burst mode. Yes, they are that fast!

On another note,  I asked several of the National Geographic photographers, who also act as guides and skilled zodiac drivers (inflatable rubber boats with outboard motors that got us up close and personal to the ice, penguins and landings), did they compensate for the bright light and white ice / snow. One fellow say he did not use exposure compensation, but tended to shoot in neutral. That, too, was my experience. While some like to over compensate (add light to light), I found that neutral worked very well. I still will try to add light to light when on a Schutzhund field to see if that helps.

We saw, by they way, four species of penguins – Adele (blue eyes), Gentoo (orange beaks), one Emperor, and Chin Strap (have a chin strap). We also saw many whales, including Humpbacks, Minke and Killer Whales. After one day’s shooting of nearly 700 images, I had to ask myself how many images of dorsal fins did I really need – more about that in my next post. Also, an upcoming post will focus on ice, which is really a discussion about exposures and other camera settings for Antarctica and how what I learned can be applied to Schutzhund photography.

Until then – Happy New Year – and thanks for visiting!

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This week at the Greater Atlanta Schutzhund Association club field, I experimented with using as wide open aperture and high shutter speeds to freeze the action, and adjusting the ISO accordingly to get reasonable exposures. As with the photos in my last post, I shot with a Canon EOS 7D camera, a Canon 70-300mm DO IS USM 1:4.5 – 5.6 lens and a UV filter. This time, I decided not to use a ProMaster Digital Circular Polarizer filter, to see my results without the filter.

During the early part of the day the photos in the shadier areas of the field came out better without the polarizer filter, as shown below.  This image was shot at 1/1000 at f 5.0 and ISO 640.  The focus on the dog is a little softer than I like. Part of the challenge is to be sure the lens is focused right on the dog or else it tends to focus on brighter areas of the image. Also, while camera shake is not as big an issue at higher shutter speeds as it is at lower speeds, photographer movements can affect focus, such as when you move to following the dog. Some days, my focus targeting is better than others. Hmmm – maybe I need more focus training, except I really don’t care too much for hot dogs.

Moving on…This next image was shot at 1/1000 at f 6.3 ISO 640. The dog is sharper, which is due to the lighting being more even (no shady area), and probably better focus targeting on my part.

This next photo shows great action. It was shot at 1/800 at f 5.6 with an ISO of 400. Notice the little mushrooms near his front feet and the blurred area at the front and back of the image. The photo following this one is my favorite of the entire day’s shoot. It’s composition is spot on, the dog’s expression adds drama and it looks like the dog is about to run me over, which he was. This one was shot at 1/1600 at f 5.0 with an ISO of 640. To get both of these shots, I sat on a beach chair on the side of the field. I do not do well with squatting – don’t have the knees for it – so a beach chair gets me low. I propped my elbows on my knees for stability, or you might try using a monopod.

The next set of pictures are a before post processing and after. You will notice the background in the first image seems brighter and the dog darker. With a few adjustments in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, I was able to achieve the balance I wanted for this image. As I mentioned in my last post, this is a useful technique with dark-coated dogs. It also works to compensate for shadows cast by the handler onto the dog, another persistent challenge on bright, sunny days. This image also was taken at 1/1600 at f 5.0 and ISO of 640.

The next image illustrates a problem all photographers have with shooting into the blind. The interior of the blind is often shaded, with the sky very bright. This photo was taken at 1/000 at f 4.5 and ISO 400.  I really like the composition and the action, but what I don’t like about this photo is the sky. It looks artificial to me and the trees to the left of the blind, although nicely blurred, do not look natural. Photoshop can help here, but when you’re in the field, try focusing in as tightly as you can on the blind. It will help the camera get a good exposure and limit the amount of annoying and distracting background elements. This image was taken midday, which in Georgia during the summer is the worst time of the day to taken photos. The light is harsh and there are a lot of particles in the air, which reflect light.

The following three shots again demonstrate the effectiveness of getting low and zooming in. The first and third images were taken at 1/1000, f 5.6, ISO 640, and the second one at 1/400, f 5.0, ISO 640.

In conclusion, the results of this week’s photo shoot taught me that getting low and using the power of my zoom lens really works for me, especially with a wide aperture and faster shutter speed. Shooting midday in the Georgia sun isn’t fun – too hot and humid – and the results are not what I’d like to see. On the other hand, that’s when protection work is most often done, so…I gotta continue figuring that one out.

And, finally, I want to try going even higher with shutter speeds to see what happens. I was at family wedding last weekend. The ceremony was held on a beach. I took a peek at the settings on the wedding photographer’s camera. Shutter speed was set at 1/4,000! Couldn’t get a good look at the aperture or ISO settings. If that works for wedding photography, it might just yield some interesting images in Schutzhund photography as well.

I will close out this post with another favorite shot of the day – a handler and his dog heading onto the field for a little work. Until next time, thanks for visiting!

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Before continuing with the series on composing Schutzhund photos, I thought you might enjoy seeing a few of the best images from this past weekend’s photo shoot at the 2011 SE Regionals. The competition was held at Lake Valley Schutzhund Club in Knoxville, Tennessee. I took more than 1,300 images, and I am just now starting to edit them. The best photos came from the protection routines. It was later in the day, with the sun behind me. As a result, the lighting was much better than in the morning, when the field glistened in the morning sun. Pretty, but not easy shooting!

I used a Canon 70 – 300 mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM lens, which is great for bright sun. But, as I learned this weekend, this lens is not that great for zooming long distances. It is much better as a medium zoom lens, such as when you can get on the field and get up close and personal with the action. During trials, I recommend a more powerful zoom, such as a Canon EF 100 -400 mm f/4.5 -5.6 L IS USM. In my experience, however, this lens tends to focus on the brightest spot in the image, which is not always where the action is – aka the dog! My favorite lens for Schutzhund is the Canon EF 70 -200 mm f/2.8 L IS USM. Great focus, great zoom capabilities, but like the 70 -300 mm is better for medium range. With the larger, heavier lenses, a tripod or monopod is definitely a help.

As one image shows, there were a couple of other photographers snapping away.

Next post will get back to the drive after the escape bite.

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As with the the out of motion exercises, the retrieves are also among the most photographed of all the obedience exercises and also among the most difficult to get just the right shot. How many times have you tried to photograph a dark sable or black dog jumping over a lightly colored or white jump or scaling wall while the sun gleams brightly, causing an intense glare on the white surfaces? Do you try to set the exposure for the wall and jump or for the dog? Or, do you set the exposure for the dog and not worry too much about the jump and wall? Or, do you set the shutter speed and let the camera figure out the exposure? What about the field, which can strongly reflect sunlight, especially early in the morning when the grass is covered in dew or midday when the sun directly overhead?
With still photography; that is, objects that are not moving, photographers can use a bracketing method whereby they take the same picture at slightly different exposure settings and then blend the photos together using a photo editing software program, such as Photoshop. But with Schutzhund, there is no time to reset the camera as the dog will be there and back again before the first setting can be changed.  What is a photographer to do?

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Here are a few techniques that have worked well for me over the years. The slide show above shows examples of these techniques.
Decide what effect you are after and set the camera to achieve that effect. For example, at the WUSV in 2008, I took a number of photos of the jump and scaling wall early one morning. The wall / jump were back lit by the sun, which meant I was shooting into the sun. The reflection of the sun caused a silhouette effect and highlighted the dew on the grass. As I recall, I set the camera for the shutter speed to capture the action in focus and allowed the camera to set the aperture. I also played with the ISO setting a bit to balance the bright light from the sun’s reflection with the dogs, jump and wall.
Photograph from different angles relative to running on the flat and the jump / wall. There are many opportunities to capture different perspectives by moving around as much as you are able. If you can, avoid positioning yourself straight on such that you get only a side view of the jump. This will yield flat and less exciting images. Photographing at a slight angle gives the impression of depth and emphasizes the action.
Go for the close up. There are about a zillion photos around of dogs going over the jump and wall. Try looking for unique pictures that show the dog’s emotion as h/she runs out on the flat retrieve or goes over the jump / wall, picks up the dumbbell and happily returns. Focus in on the dog’s eyes. Depending on the dog, many interesting and fun moments may be captured as well as some really great expressions. Of course, the trick is to watch how the dog moves to be sure you can photograph the dog’s face. This also is where editing software can really help as it allows you to take a wider photograph and crop in. If you are going for the close up, set the aperture to blur the background.
Follow the dog. In my experience, keep the focus on the dog works pretty well. Some photographers like to focus on where the dog will enter the frame, and it may work very well for those who are experienced with this technique. It also may be a viable technique if you are going for close up of the dog just coming over the wall. I just have not had a lot of success with this technique, so prefer to follow the dog and burst shoot as the dog goes out and comes back.
Do you have any ideas or favorite techniques for photographing the retrieves?  If so, please share them.

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Ask any Schutzhund photographer, experienced or just getting started, the one thing that eludes all of us – except maybe for that ultimate in-focus, perfectly exposed shot of the courage test right at moment just before and after impact with the sleeve – is photographing dark sable and black dogs so they appear in the photo perfectly exposed as the richly textured magnificent animals that they are rather than the usual black blobs against bright backgrounds.  If we correct the background, the dogs get even darker, and if we correct for the dog, the background becomes nearly blinding.  I contend finding the right balance is the holy grail of all Schutzhund photographers.

Well – thanks to professional photographer Paul Timpa – I think we may have a line on how to work around this vexing problem.  Here is what Paul has to say:

The reason the dogs come out so dark is because the camera is designed to take all photos at a “medium brightness”, meaning not too dark, not too bright.  When you take a photo of the dogs in action, the camera measures the light in the scene.  Generally it is pretty bright.  So the camera says, “This scene is very bright and I need the photo to be “medium” brightness” so it darkens the whole photo. Unfortunately, even though it gets the sunlight and grass correctly exposed, it has now darkened the dogs too much.  There are two ways to get around this problem.

  1. You can shoot in manual mode and set the exposure so that the dogs are captured at the correct brightness.  This is how I shoot pretty much 100% of the time.  This will result in the background being potentially too bright, but at least the dogs will look correct. Photographers have battled contrast problems like this since the dawn of photography.  It’s just something we’ve learned to live with.  It’s always a choice as to what to expose correctly — in this case, you probably want to expose the dogs correctly at the expense of a background that may be too bright.
  2. The other option, which is one that I use most of the time for contrast problems, is a little more complicated.  It only takes a few seconds (literally just a few seconds) once you get the process down, but it does require a little bit of knowledge and a piece of software (either Photoshop or any software editing tool that does “layers”). Basically the process is to create two versions of the photo: one exposed correctly for the dog, and one exposed correctly for the background, and combine them.  This may sound complicated, but basically the process is to have a very bright photo (a bright dog and bright background) and then copy and past a normal photo (dark dog, correct background) on top of the bright one, and use the software to erase away the dark dog on top which would reveal the brighter dog underneath.

Today, I tried Paul’s second option in Photoshop and found that it works very well (I had no doubt, Paul). Below are the before (top) and after (bottom) pictures and the steps I used to create them (more experienced Photoshops folks, please weigh in here as you may have a better technique):

  1. Save the image with the background exposed correctly and save a copy of the image, which is brightened to better show the dog. In this instance, I just increased the brightness level, but those more experienced with Photoshop may be able to use curves, adjustment layers or channels to achieve a correct exposure for the dog. Whatever works best for you.
  2. Open both in Photoshop.  Move the photo with the correctly exposed background (darker image) on top of the brighter image (with the correctly exposed dog) and release. This will create a layer with the darker image.
  3. Use the Eraser tool to erase the darker image of the dog, so that the brighter image of the dog comes through.  If you periodically deselect the Background Layer, which is the brighter image, you can see where you have erased and where you may have missed a spot.  You can vary the size of the eraser brush to accommodate larger and smaller areas of the dog.
  4. Now, I have never been known to be one that colors in the lines very well, and I found even by being very careful, I erased areas outside of the dog, which caused some of the brighter background to come through – a little strip here, a little strip there.  Not to worry.  Using, the Clone tool, I was able to clean up those areas.  You may have to toggle between the layers to do this, but it worked pretty well.
  5. Save the file as a psd (in case you want to go back and do more tweaking) and as a jpeg.

Sometime when I am a lot more familiar with my camera (Canon EOS 7D) I will try shooting in Manual mode, but for now, I’m going to stick with Paul’s second option and encourage you to give it a try.  Let me know how it goes.

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