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Posts Tagged ‘aperture’

Color theory is all fine and good, but how can IPO photographers use color effectively in their images? We may not have control over the setting as landscape, commercial and portrait photographers do, but we can be aware of the setting we are in and take advantage of the colors that are there. We also can educate handlers and helpers about their clothing choices to create the best chance for getting the shot.

Consider the following examples:

Colors in IPO-1

This is one of my favorite images and has been featured in recent posts. The story here is a puppy contemplating his future life. The green says calmness and serenity, but the puppy’s expression is not all that calm and serene. He’s way too serious and just a bit worried! The red collar draws the viewer’s eye up towards the puppy’s face.

Colors in IPO-2

This is another favorite image, which like the image above features red and green, along with blue. This is a classic color combination! I would recommend this color combination to any handler. Also, notice the yellows in the background; nice highlights to what otherwise might be a boring, monochromatic background.

Colors in IPO-3

This image was taken in the winter, at a field devoid of much color. In taking this image, I choose to frame the dog and handler to the left of the yellow blind. The power pole also provides a frame, but I usually prefer to take power poles out as they are not very attractive. What is cool about this image is how the yellow strip on the handler’s arm picks up the yellow from the blind. His shirt also is a nice contrast to the background and his dog, as are his khaki pants. Another good color combination for handlers. Notice the handler by the blind kind of disappears into the background, thanks to dressing in black. That’s okay for this image, but might not work as well as the primary subject. More about dressing in black a bit later in this post.

Colors in IPO-4

This is another example of a winter scene. The pasture’s grass features various shades of orange, along with a bit of green here and there. I like how the brightness of the grass allows the dog to stand out from the background. It is monochromatic, but it works, because it’s unusual to see shades of orange in a grass pasture and the color tones and shades are harmonious.

Colors in IPO-5

Back to summer. Green grass provides a wonderful contrast for black dogs! Taking this image from a position that shows the dog against the green grass and not right up against the helper, who is also in black, captures the action without muddying things up. There is also some red along the fence line, which adds a little interest and framing.

Although handlers and helpers love to wear black, it isn’t a great choice for photography as there is no contrast. Remember, black absorbs all light. As a result, a black dog and the handler’s and/or helper’s leg will likely meld together, without much definition or detail.

This is also true for white, which reflects all light. Very often, the white tends to blow out and all definition and detail is lost, not only in the white area, but also in the surround pixels. Many times, I will expose for the dog and then in post-processing separately adjust different areas of the image, such as the dog, the handler and the background. It takes more time, but it’s worth it, especially with those “money” shots.

Colors in IPO-6

This image is a very good example of a monochromatic image. I really like the image of the dog, but the background and dog are a little too close in color. As a result, the dog tends to blend in with the background. The white along the dogs chest, neck and muzzle offers a nice contrast, however. For this image, consider placing the dog on another background or change the background color in post-processing.

Colors in IPO-7

Puppies are fun to photograph as they have great expressions. The puppy stands out nicely from the green grass, but also notice the puppies hazel eyes.  Are you seeing a pattern here of how a single color can provide a focal point and/or highlight?

Colors in IPO-8

And, finally, this image illustrates what happens when a black dog and a helper in black are photographed one on top of the other. It’s hard to see the differentiation between the dog and the helper’s leg. It is good that the field and trees contrast with the helper and dog.

In closing, I encourage you to take the time to survey the field and think about how to use the available color to enhance your images. I also encourage you to explain to handlers and helpers how wearing contrasting colors to their dogs really helps you take high quality, dramatic images of their work. Helpers may not have a lot of options, as scratch pants most often come only in black, but handlers do!  It’s worth mentioning, even if they do look at you like you’re nuts.

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

Bokeh-19

Bokeh-20

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.

Bokeh-17

Bokeh-8

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.

Depth of Field-10

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.

Depth of Field-3

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.

Depth of Field-5

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!

Depth of Field-6

Depth of Field-8

Depth of Field-4

Depth of Field-7

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Yes, I did promise the next post would be about histograms, and it will. But, first … my favorite shots from last weekend’s USCA Southeast Regional Championship. Conditions were not great for photos, though the overcast did provide for even lighting. Most of the images were shot in aperture priority at ISO 3200, f/5.6 with the camera choosing the shutter speed. Camera was Canon EOS 5D Mark iii, with EF 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM lens. My goals were to shoot a variety of images, including some angles I had not gotten before, as well as some of the people at the event.  Hope to have the post on histograms up this week.  Until then, enjoy the highlights from the SE Regionals and happy shooting!

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As the first taste of fall is knocking at my doorstep (yes – even here in Georgia, the next few days will feature gorgeous warm days and cool, crisp nights), summer’s incredibly bright sunlight still haunted me today at the Greater Atlanta Schutzhund Association club field. The challenge, of course, is the grass, which with the morning dew becomes highly reflective. Rather than become annoyed, today I tried something different – silhouettes!

Classical silhouette photography features a part of the image blacked out, with the brighter background that also is in focus. The blacked-out part of the image has well-defined edges. To achieve this look, be sure the sun is directly behind your subject, in other words back lit. Focus the camera on the background and set the exposure for the brightest part of the image. A large aperture opening (f/8 or higher) will bring the background into focus as well. At sunrise or sunset, try focusing the camera at the sky to the side of the sun. Keep the aperture set and use the shutter speed to get the desired exposure.

For today, I elected not to have the dog be all black as in a traditional silhouette, but to allow some color and detail of dog to come through. I used aperture priority at f/5.6 at ISO 800 to expose for the background. With traditional silhouette photography, a longer exposure may be needed, especially at sunrise or sunset, to achieve the classic look with well-defined edges. As long exposures are not possible with dogs at work, the best bet is to set the aperture and use the shutter speed and ISO to create the desired exposure for the background. Remember that to get a fast moving dog in focus, a higher shutter speed will be needed. I also tried not to focus in too closely on the dog, but to use the reflective grass to help create the silhouette effect. I then cropped the image in post production.

Give it a try and let me know how you do. Until next time, happy shooting!

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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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