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Archive for the ‘Fast Action Photography’ Category

This past weekend I had the pleasure of shooting the Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club’s spring trial. Below are some of my favorite images. I shot all of the Obedience in RAW, but had to switch over to JPEG for Protection in order to get the burst shooting speed I wanted and not have deal with the memory card lag. I didn’t want to miss anything! In post-processing, I primarily relied on the Adobe Lightroom preset “PUNCH” in addition to tonal mapping in Lightroom. If you have Lightroom and haven’t tried this preset, I encourage you to give it a try. Marvelous for quick editing to up the clarity, contrast and vibrance. If time had permitted, fine tuning the images Adobe Photoshop would be beneficial; for example, removing light poles and other unwanted background elements. Also, in many of the Protection images, it would be good to balance the background separately from the dog. The full gallery of images is available on my website under the gallery name 2014 Spring Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club Trial (under the Dog Sport tab).

Until next time, Happy Shooting!

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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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As all IPO photographers can attest, IPO (Schutzhund) fields are among the hardest backdrops for photographing working dogs in action. The lighting changes from one end of the field to other and from one side to other.  And, I’m sure each of us has one field in particular that bedevils us every time. For me, it’s the Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club field in Winston, Georgia. It’s a lovely place, very green, with many trees lining the field, plus horse pastures on two sides. As you can see in these images from the Chattahoochee Club’s fall trial, the horses graze very near to the field and keep an eye on what’s going on.

I really like photographing on this field. For example, I love using the horses as a juxtapose to the dog’s size and movement. I also like how the trees and pasture weeds add color around the edges of my images, and the field’s contours allow me to get some interesting angles and perspectives.

So, why is this field so challenging? For most of the day, especially prime shooting time when the light is just right, half of the field is in full sun and the other half is in deep shade. This is wonderful for handlers and dogs, but not so wonderful for photographers, especially as the action dances from shade to sun and back again. When the shade finally does retreat, the sun floods the field with bright, white light.  In addition, the dew is heavy here, as is the frost. As you might expect, until the field dries, there is a lot of moisture glistening and reflecting off the grass.

I have yet to figure out just the right balance of settings to get great shots every time. My goal is to create two sets of custom settings, so I can easily flip back and forth, depending on the lighting conditions. I’m working on it, and invite you to stay tuned for future updates.
As noted, the images above are highlights from the Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club’s fall trial, which was held October 12, 2013, Enjoy!
Until next time – Happy Shooting!

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In my last post, I defined bokeh as a “nice blur effect.” That’s true in a general sense, but bokeh is so much more. In common usage, bokeh refers to patterns of blurred lights or shapes within an image. Another way to look at it (no pun intended) is how out-of-focus points of light are rendered – not in a technical sense, but in an artistic one. According to Ken Rockwell (see below), “Bokeh is not how far something is out-of-focus, bokeh is the character of whatever blur is there.” In other words, it is the aesthetic quality of the out of focus (outside the depth of field) areas of the image.

The term “bokeh” in digital photography has been in use since the mid to late 1990s. It derives from the Japanese words “boke”, which means blur or haze, or “boke-aji”, the blur quality. For more about how “boke” became the Anglicized “bokeh”, see Mike Johnston’s on-line column Bokeh in Pictures.

Bokeh results from a wide-open aperture (f/1.4 up to f/5.6) and a shallow depth of field. The subject is close to the lens and the background and light source are farther away. As you might expect, this will yield a background that is very softly focused or blurred. Recall photos where Christmas tree lights or city street lamps appear as soft circles of brilliant light against a softly focused or blurred background. This is a classic example of bokeh.

Amy Renfry clarifies the difference between soft focus and bokeh in her article, What is Bokeh Effect in Photography: “In soft focus photography there is an intentional blurriness added to the subject while the actual edges are retained in sharp focus, but in bokeh it is only an element of the image that is intentionally blurred. Additionally, bokeh tends to emphasize certain points of light in the image as well.”

Consider the three images below. The first is a puppy against a soft focus background. One could argue that the background is a bit monochromatic. Yet, the image still works. The second image shows a helper (Frans Slaman) against a background of trees and the third a dog running the blinds. Notice how the light filtering through the trees and at the base of the blind appear as soft circles that blend into the background. That’s bokeh! It softens the brighter points of light and adds interesting highlights to the background.

Bokeh-7

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Ken Rockwell offers an excellent discussion of the technical aspects of how bokeh is created. If you are interested in a more in-depth discussion than is offered here, check out his article, simply titled Bokeh. If you really want to get into the technical weeds, see H. H. Nasse’s article, Depth of Field and Bokeh, published by Carl Zeiss Camera Lens Division.

The following summarizes Ken’s definitions of poor, neutral and good bokeh:

  • Poor Bokeh. Occurs when the blur circle (out-of-focus point of light) has a sharply defined edge, bright edges and a dim center.
  • Neutral Bokeh is a technically perfect and evenly illuminated blur circle, but the edges are still too well defined. As a result, out-of-focus objects, either points of light or lines, appear as reasonably sharp lines in the image due to the sharper edges of the blur circle. Many quality lenses today create neutral bokeh.
  • Good Bokeh is characterized as a blur circle with an edge that is completely undefined. That is, it blends softly into the background.

The aesthetic appeal of bokeh within an image is subjective. One could argue endlessly about whether an image has poor, neutral or good bokeh, and if your having an image judged, this could be very important. Most often, it is an artistic judgment. For example, the images below show neutral bokeh. If you are after a more textured effect in the background, this isn’t so bad.

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To me, this next image of a puppy standing on his hind legs combines neutral and good bokeh very well. The tree trunks are softly focused and exhibit a neutral bokeh, yet the blooms on the crape myrtles are an example of good bokeh and really pop out of the background. It’s a nice counter point to the dark puppy fur.

Bokeh-15

In Schutzhund (IPO) photography, it can be tricky to work bokeh into fast action images, as photographers like to fill the frame with the dog – an excellent composition technique. Also, aperture and shutter speeds settings are often set to achieve sharp focus, which is not favorable to creating bokeh. But creating bokeh is possible under the right conditions and offers an appealing feature to perk up backgrounds. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes. Until next time, Happy Shooting!

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This past week I had an opportunity to photograph dogs, cats and other critters at a friend’s farm. She also owns the kennel where our dogs stay when we’re traveling to places dogs cannot go. The purpose of the photo shoot was to grab some great shots for my BJ Spanos Ink Photography portfolio. The added benefit, though, is I was reminded of how paying attention to depth of field can add an artsy look to photos as well as remove distractions.

How many times have you taken a photo of a Schutzhund (IPO) dog at work and realized that not only is the dog in focus, but so is everything else in the field of view (see image below). I’ve taken plenty – more than I care to remember! Tends to be rather distracting, doesn’t it? The viewer’s focus is diffused over the entire image rather than drawn into the focal point, which in this case is the dog going over the one-meter hurdle.

Depth of Field-11

There’s a reason I used the word “diffused” to describe the viewer’s experience, as it directly relates to depth of field. Consider the image below.

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The background is diffused, and the dog and helper are in focus as is a bit of the foreground. The viewer’s eye is drawn right to the action, even though there’s a bit of interest in the upper right with the horses grazing. It adds a bit of symmetry to the image.

As a review, depth of field is the area of acceptable focus or sharpness. It extends from the nearest to the farthest part of the subject area in focus. Depth of field is controlled via the aperture and focal length of the lens. As you know, changing the aperture size directly affects the overall sharpness of the image. A small aperture, say f/11 or f/16, results in a deeper depth of field than a large aperture, say f/2.8 or f/5. The wider open the aperture, the shallower the depth of field; that is, the less area is within the zone of focus. What this means is at wider apertures, the subject will be in focus, but the area in front and behind the subject may be softly focused and/or even have a nice blur effect, called bokeh.

For a detailed explanation of depth of field and lens focal length, I refer you to Robert Hirsch’s book Light and Lens: Photography for a Digital Age. An earlier post from December 2010, entitled Using Aperture and Shutter Speed Creatively, also offers a good review and discusses how to balance ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get creative images. This post relies heavily on Bryan Peterson’s expertise. Worth re-reading in conjunction with this post.

Back to this week’s photo shoot. Much of the photo shoot took place in a hay field with very tall grass and just letting our two dogs, Kira and Brio, be dogs. They did not disappoint.

Depth of Field-1

This image of Brio showed me how cool “hay on the hoof” looks with a soft focus. It has a neat texture. Yet, Brio is kind of lost in the brush. So, with a bit of cropping, he becomes much more the focal point.

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The next image is Kira in the hay and shows the textured look of the blurred out background even better. Also, notice the foreground is blurred too, so that only the area around Kira is totally in focus, especially her face and the ball.

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To close out this post are a few additional examples from the photo shoot of how using depth of field can add drama to images, while minimizing distracting backgrounds. They feature two of our friend’s five dogs, one of her 11 cats and one of her three horses, plus a neighbor’s horse. I particularly like the image of the pit bull mix coming into the field of focus, like he’s jumping right out of the picture. So, the next time  you’re out shooting, remember depth of field is more than just getting the subject into focus. It can add interest and drama to your images and help focus the viewer (yea – I know – a pun!). Until next time, Happy Shooting!

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Understanding the basic concepts of histograms is all well and good, but what do histograms tell photographers about their images and how are they used in the field? As noted in part one, this series of posts shares some excellent material from Varina and Jay Patel’s ebook, entitled “What the heck is a HISTOGRAM?”  For a more detailed discussion, I recommend this ebook. It’s excellent!

To answer that question requires understanding what “you can learn from a quick look at the graph. First, overall width of the histogram gives you some information about the contrast and dynamic range of your image…A low-contrast image will have a narrow histogram. That means a narrow dynamic range as well. Conversely, a broader dynamic range will results in a wider histogram – and an image with greater overall contrast.” This same concept applies to the three different areas of a histogram: shadows, highlights and mid-tones.

A quick aside: “Dynamic range” is another term that is used a lot in photography, but is often not defined very well. According to Sean McHugh, who pens the Cambridge in Color blog (another excellent resource), “Dynamic range in photography describes the ratio between the maximum and minimum measurable light intensities (white and black, respectively)…[In other words, in] a real-world scene [dynamic range] is simply the ratio between lightest and darkest regions (contrast ratio).” That’s not to say the concept of dynamic range is a one size fits all.  Printers, scanners and digital cameras have different dynamic ranges, as do different models within those groups. For an in-depth discussion of dynamic range and how it applies to digital photography, see Sean’s post Dynamic Range in Digital Photography

Back to histograms. With respect to exposure, “over exposure shifts the histogram to the right, and under exposure shifts it to the left.” Another indication of over or under exposure is if the bars bunch up or spike against the walls of the histogram. As noted in part one, this means there is a loss of detail in the shadows or blown-out highlights.

Remember that no one histogram is correct. “The idea is to match the shape and width of the histogram to the scene.” This is particularly useful in the field, because “on many cameras, the brightness of the LCD monitor on the back of your camera is affected by ambient light…[so] it may not accurately represent the true exposure of your photograph. The histogram provides much more accurate information.”

Consider the histogram below:

Histograms Image 12 RGB

There is a peak in the area straddling the mid-tonal and shadow areas (left side) and a flatter area from the mid-tonal to the highlights areas (right side). The peaked and flatter areas are fairly wide, which indicates good contrast. You might think, however, that this image may be a bit underexposed, as it’s shifted a bit to the left, or has only one area with a lot of detail and rest may be boring or muted. In fact, you would be correct, except for the boring part, of course (wink, wink).

Histograms Image 12

This image was taken on a cloudy day against a backdrop of the club field and trees, which are a bit monochromatic, but this was done on purpose so the puppy (as the focal point) stands out from the background. In the histogram, the background is shown as a consistent number of pixels stretching from the mid-tonal to highlights area (right side) and also to the shadows area (left side). The bars are not very tall, indicating there is not a lot of detail in these areas. The peak is the puppy. More pixels equate to significantly more detail in that portion of the image. The puppy is not brightly lit, so the peak is just left of center in this histogram.

The image below shows a similar histogram shape, but reversed. In this histogram, the background is shown as a consistent number of pixels stretching from the mid-tonal to shadows area (left side) and a little bit to the highlights area (right side). The bars are not very tall, indicating there is not a great deal of detail in these areas. The peak, which is just to right of center, is the black dog carrying the dumb bell. Again, more pixels equate to significantly more detail in that portion of the image.

Histograms Image 10 RGB

Histograms Image 10

Unlike the previous image, this one was taken on a bright, sunny day and shows a black dog happily retrieving the dumb bell. There is more reflective light, which shifts the histogram to the right just a bit. Contrast is good, as evidence by the width of the peaks and the entire histogram.

So next time you are out shooting, take a look at the histogram in camera, and use it as a guide to adjust your settings to get the image you’re after. Part three of this series will feature some tips on how to adjust your images in post-processing using the histogram as your guide.  Until then, Happy Shooting!

 

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