Archive for the ‘Schutzhund Portraits’ 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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I realize this isn’t the typical Schutzhund action picture.  In fact, this photo isn’t of a typical dog breed you see around Schutzhund, but it is my favorite picture of all the photos I took this past Saturday (August 29) at the Greater Atlanta Schutzhund Club. This photo is of a female Fila Brasileiro or Brazilian Mastiff.  For those unfamiliar with this breed, Fila’s are a mix of mastiff, bulldog and bloodhound. They are natural guard dogs, very loyal to their families but do not like strangers.  They also are not a breed for everyone; so do not take this post as a recommendation to purchase a Fila for Schutzhund or for any other purpose.  Only those who know how to handle a Fila should consider having one.

In addition to taking action shots, I also really enjoy capturing Schutzhund dogs’ faces.  These are very intelligent dogs, and their faces show the intensity of their drives and their interest in the work. I found this dog’s very expressive facial expressions intriguing; particularly her eyes are they peered at me through the crate bars.

To capture their faces, I use a zoom lens (Canon Ultrasonic EF 100 mm x 400 mm 1:4.5 – 5.6 L IS or Canon Ultrasonic EF 70 mm x 200 mm 1:2.8 L IS USM).  I have my camera (Canon Rebel XT) set on automatic or on action burst mode.  I find that using a zoom allows me to capture the dog in action and unaware of my presence.  I zoom in as close as I can get, if the dog is relatively still.  If not, I pull back a bit to allow the dog some wiggle room, which I crop out later.  The resulting “candid” shots usually yield some interesting expressions.

I then import the photos into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2, which is a must have for serious photographers.  If you’re not familiar with Lightroom, I strongly recommend checking it out.  For me, it has been indispensible for keeping my photographs (more than 10,000 of them) organized, for cropping and adjusting much more easily and more quickly than in Photoshop with the same results, and emailing / burning to CDs.  I also can create slide shows in Lightroom, thus displaying them is much easier and classier, too.

Lightroom sports very powerful tools for cropping, adjusting and adding effects.  Lightroom also has some really cool pre-sets.  For this photo, I cropped way in to accentuate the dog’s eyes, and I used the General: Punch preset.  I love the edginess this preset brings to the photo.  It really adds depth and character.  What I really like about Lightroom is if I don’t like the adjustments I’ve made, no problem.  I just hit reset, and I’m back to the original settings.  All the work done in Lightroom is virtual.  The original file is not changed.  Nothing is set in stone until you export the photo.  Cool!!

So – try zooming in on dogs’ faces as a part of your Schutzhund photography.  Take a lot of pictures as you never know exactly what you’ll get.  I’ve also gotten some great “out takes” that are really pretty funny.  I would love to see examples of your work!

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