Archive for the ‘Filters’ Category

Master Photographer Peter Lik takes his best pictures just after sunrise and just before sunset when the suns rays are barely visible and the lighting is very soft and full of color. He also bemoans shooting midday as the light is harsh, colors wash out and it is difficult to capture detail. While Peter will get no argument from me about shooting in the midday sun, we Schutzhund photographers do not often have the luxury of photographing our subjects in ideal lighting conditions or standing still.

A challenging scenario is bright midday sun and dark sable or black dogs, especially at trials. It is enough to make even the most stable photographer go barking mad! The following offers some tips that I hope will be helpful and keep you from howling in frustration.

My thanks to Betty Lindblom of 5 Dogs Photography for her advice, which is reflected in this post. By the way, if you’re not familiar with Peter’s work, I recommend checking out his website or better yet stop in at one of his galleries to view some amazing landscape photography. We have visited a couple of them in our travels; truly inspiring.

Always be aware of the sun’s angle and the background.  More so than any other time of the year, your position relative to the sun and the background are critical considerations for getting great shots. The sun’s rays are stronger, vertical during midday hours, more intense in the summer and reflect off of everything! See the photos below. Notice how the detail of the dog is lost among the brightness of the wood background in the first photo and how the grass and sky serve as massive reflectors in the second photo to wash out the helper and the dog. In addition, the very bright sky throws off the camera’s ability to produce a balanced exposure. I often use a circle polarizer filter  or neutral density filters to minimize the glare and enhance colors. Also, try to shoot at a slight angle to the subject. Take a lot of photos and be patient. Between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm, there really is not much you can do about the harsh lighting. Resign yourself to taking a lot of photos, with slightly different settings, and realize that more photos than not may turn out over exposed, with focus problems or the dog will be a black blob.

Focus in tight. The next photo shows how going for a tighter shot takes away the problems produced by the sky and large reflective backgrounds, such as grass, buildings or wood platforms, leaving a much better exposure with good detail, color and contrast. A little touch up with the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop was all that was needed to give this photo a little extra punch. The dodge tool allows for selective lightening, while the burn tool allows for selective darkening. Very useful for toning down bright spots or adding in some color depth, without having to do a lot of detailed selections and time-consuming layer adjustments.

More About Angles. Shadows produced by the blind itself are a major challenge especially during the summer months. The first photo below has many of the same problems already discussed, but by shooting from a position where the lighting is fairly even in the blind – more from the side – the shadows are minimized. With cropping and some adjustments with the dodge and burn tools, the second photo is much better. Another reason why I like the dodge and burn tools is overall adjustments do not work well when part of the image is very bright and part is very dark. To me, the results seem to mute the color and vibrance of the photo.

Contrasting handler’s clothes with the dog’s coat color. Many handlers think it’s cool to wear black slacks when training or showing their dog in trial. This is not necessarily the best costume for garnishing great photos, especially in the summer. Think about it! Dark or black dog against black pants, how is the camera to distinguish one from another? Encourage handlers to wear slacks that contrast with their dog’s coloring. Blue jeans and tan khakis work very well for dark sable or black dogs. See the photo below.

Portraits in the sun – well maybe not.  This time of year is ideal for taking portraits. Look for even lighting conditions, such as shade with maybe a little bit of sun coming through the trees for a dappling effect. Again, be aware of the sun’s angle and shoot at a slight angle to the dog with the sun over your shoulder. If you are shooting in bright light, again shoot at an angle. Try not to have the sun directly front light the dog as you may lose color and detail. Dogs, especially dark sable or black dogs, look great in green grass, but watch out for color reflections on their fur. If at all possible, take portrait shots early or late in the day. See below for several examples.

Do you have any tips you can offer? Share them here or let me know for a future post. Thank you for visiting!

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We just returned from a visit to New Jersey, also known as the Garden State, where we spent several days training Eli (Leroy v. Rietnisse) with T. Floyd.  This visit afforded me the chance to practice using a polarizer filter in a different environment than what I am used to in Georgia. They actually have thick, rich carpets of grass in New Jersey, which is great for tracking and provides photos with very rich greens. In Georgia, the grass is more sparse and only green for awhile in the spring and fall; a result of a hotter and longer summers and red clay soil.

I had better success taking pictures the day we worked on obedience in the late afternoon, as the lighting was even and I was able to shift my position relative to the sun, a key requirement in using a polarizer filter.  The day we watched others work on protection (we were there to work on tracking and obedience), the lighting shifted from clouds to sun back to clouds all afternoon, and when the sun was out, it was facing the spectators. Very tricky.  Also, as I was shooting with a Canon EF 70-200 mm 1:2.8 USM lens, I was not able to zoom across the field and capture the blind running as well as I hoped. I’ve been on a mission to capture the moment the dog crosses in front of the handler as the handler is sending the dog to the next blind. Still – I did get some really nice photos.  Here’s a few of my best shots; none have been color or exposure corrected (love it when that happens!).

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Just couldn’t resist posting this picture of Eli (Leroy v. Rietnisse), which I took in our backyard the other day while experimenting with the Polarizer filter.  I am delighted with the results, which required absolutely NO adjustments to color, focus or exposure.  The only changes I made were a little work with the Clone stamp to remove his fur saver collar and a blade of grass from his mouth.  The following are the photo’s technical specs: Exposure 1/640 sec at f 5.6; focal length 56 mm; ISO 640; Lens 28 – 135 mm / f 3.5 – 5.6 IS USM (the standard lens that comes with the Canon EOS 7D).

Enjoy and may you have a blessed Pascha (Easter) weekend!

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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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As with polarizer filters, professional photographer Paul Timpa offers some very helpful guidance about Neutral Density (ND) filters in his tutorial about lens filters. The following are some of his thoughts, with a few of my own relating his comments to Schutzhund photography.  For more of Paul’s articles, visit his blog.

Unlike the Polarizer, which is really just one filter, Neutral Density filters (or “ND” for short) are a “category” of filters.  You’ll buy a few of them, each having a different (but similar purpose).  So what is an ND filter?  Real easy:  it’s basically just a pair of sunglasses for your lens.  Yep, an ND filter is just a piece of glass with a gray coating on it that blocks some of the light, just like sunglasses.  So why would you want to use one?  There are three main reasons:

  1. You want to use a long shutter speed but it’s too bright out
  2. You want to use a wide-aperture but it’s too bright out
  3. A portion of the scene is too bright but the rest is normal, so you want to darken just the really bright part

The first scenario really doesn’t apply to Schutzhund photography, as we use short shutter speeds to stop the action, but scenarios two and three are applicable.  Here’s what Paul  has to say about them:

The second scenario: wanting to use a wide aperture in bright conditions.  If you’re trying to blur the background by using a wide-open aperture, and it’s bright outside, it may be too bright for even your fastest shutter speed.  For example, at F1.8 during the day, you may go all the way to 1/4000th of a second for a correct exposure.  If it’s still too bright out, there’s nothing you can do with the camera, if that’s the fastest shutter speed your camera allows.  Use an ND filter to cut down the light.  A 3-stop ND filter will bring your shutter speed from 1/4000th to 1/500th.  (4000 to 2000, to 1000, to 500 is three stops).

The third category is one of the most important, and is probably the category where ND filters are used most frequently.  If you’re photographing a scene that has one portion that is really bright but other areas of the scene are dark or normal, you can use an ND filter to even-up the lighting.  For those of you who have read my article on HDR [High Dynamic Range], you may remember that cameras are not great at taking pictures of scenes that have both really bright and really dark areas.  Generally, you have to pick just one area to focus your attention on, and the other area will just come out too bright (or dark), and you just have to live with it.  ND filters fix this problem.  How?  It’s pretty simple.  You use a special ND filter that is a piece of glass where only half of it has the gray coating – the other half is clear.  This is called a Graduated ND filter, ND Grad, or just Grad.  You attach the grad to your lens in such a way that the dark part of the filter covers the bright part of the scene, and the clear part covers the normal part.  Thus, it darkens just the bright part.

In my limited experience, ND filters are useful for reducing glare and brightness on the Schutzhund field. I have had some success, but neither do they solve all the problems. Probably, because I have only one, and it may not have been the right one for the conditions. For bright sunny days, I think a Polarizer filter is a better choice.  With the face pace of Schutzhund, it is a lot easier to adjust the Polarizer filter than to change from one ND filter to another to accommodate changing lighting conditions, especially on days when clouds roll in and out. Also, very often there isn’t a clear demarcation between the brightest and darkest area of the photograph as in a landscape scene.  The darkest area of a Schutzhund photograph is usually the dog.  The real challenge is how to capture the detail of dark sable or black dogs.  I will have more to say about his in an upcoming post.

That being said, I can see real value in using ND filters as a trial spectator where I am shooting at some distance to the action, especially when I am seated in a stadium. In those instances, there is a clear demarcation between the field and areas above the field.  I will give a try this trial season and let you know my results.  In closing, if you have experience using ND filters, please share them.

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