Posts Tagged ‘blinds’

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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If you look at the thousands of IPO photographs gracing Facebook, Pinterest, Intagram and other social media sites, they pretty much look alike, especially with respect to color. The style of photography is photo journalistic; that is, photographers capture the moment as it happened. This isn’t a surprise, given the nature of the sport and of where training and trials are held.

Although IPO fields look monochromatic on first glance, they really are not. They are plenty of colors all around. And, even if a variety of colors are lacking, such as in winter on a gray day, much can still be done with the tones and hues that are present. As noted in Part 1 of this series, color communicates an emotion or message in an instant. It also creates a mood, draws viewer attention to or away from a part(s) of the image, or adds an interesting highlight. In short, color is an important part of the story.

The following list of colors and meanings and feelings associated with them is adapted from Latrice Eiseman’s book Pantone® Guide to Communicating with Color. PANTONE® is recognized worldwide as a standard in color management among printers, artists, painters and designers. The Pantone Institute studies how color influences human thought processes, emotions and physical reactions. So, this seems like a great place to start!

RGB color wheel

RED:  Seeing this color creates a physical response with the release the hormone epinephrine, which causes people to breathe faster, raises blood pressure, and increases the heart rate and perspiration. The human mind connects RED with excitement and high energy. Red literally turns people on. Latrice writes, “It has an aggressive nature, commanding attention and demanding action.”

PINK:  “Vivid, shocking or hot pinks share the same high energy and spirit as mother red,” Latrice notes. Pink is associated with energy, youthfulness and creates “a feeling of movement and wild abandon.” Pink is fun, but it can be faddish.

ORANGE: This color is among the hottest of all colors. It brings up feelings of glowing and vitality. “In its most vivid intensities, it is perceived as a color that shouldn’t be taken too seriously; a dramatic exclamation point…It’s seen as playful, gregarious, happy and childlike…Orange contains some of the drama of red, tempered by the cheerful good humor of yellow.”

YELLOW: A color often seen on the IPO field from the sun, to blinds and the one-meter hurdle. It is “equated with splendor and heat of the sun…light and warmth.” It also is associated with imagination and enlightenment. As noted, yellow is cheerful and energetic. The human eye sees yellow before any other color. Good reason to use yellow for blinds and jumps as this color makes them stand out from the background. I’m not entirely sure the dog cares one way or the other, but for the handler and spectators, yellow pulls the eyes to these key elements on the IPO field.

BROWN: This color “is the ultimate earth color associated with hearth and home, substance and stability.” It also is associated with durability. Some view brown as dirt or dirty; not necessarily a positive response. In the IPO world, dirt and being dirty is a way of life, but for spectators or people not familiar with the sport, too much brown may be a negative. The key here is to bring out the connection with the earth – not a hard thing to do, since IPO is an outdoor sport.

BLUE: This color is a constant in our lives and “is strongly associated with sky and water…Blue is seen as reliable, trustworthily, dependable and committed. It inspires confidence.” Blue is also restful. “Humans are soothed and replenished when they view blue, and there is some evidence that when blue enters our line of vision, the brain sends out chemical signals that work as a tranquilizer.” Darker blue communicates power. Brilliant blues are dynamic and dramatic, a stark contrast, that can be used advantageously.

GREEN: This color in its many hues and tones “offers the widest array of choices.”  Blue greens are thought of as cool and clean, but also can communicate warmth. Mostly, green is associated with nature, and communicates freshness.  Deeper, richer greens are identified with money and prestige, safety and security.

PURPLE: A color with many meanings “from contemplative to regal…It is both sensual and spiritual.” Purple is not a color typically seen in the IPO world, although sunsets and sunrises are, and they can have purple shades. Consider, for example, a dog tracking early in the morning with a hint of purple in the sky or a silhouette of a dog working at sunset.

NEUTRALS: There are a lot of neutral colors, such as beiges, grays and taupe, in IPO. These colors are “seen as solid, enduring, timeless, and above all, classic.” They are safe and non-offensive.

WHITE:  Most often, IPO photographers encounter white as blown out highlights (joke!).  Seriously, this color “imparts purity and simplicity.”  It is not a color seen very often in IPO, except on handlers who wear white on hot summer days.  As it is a very difficult color to photograph, I encourage handlers to avoid wearing white.

BLACK: The most popular color in all of IPO! Many dogs are black or have a lot of black in their coats. Handlers love to wear black! Black “is associated with magical mysteries of the night.” It also communicates power, elegance, sophistication, expensive and dramatic. All good qualities of IPO dogs and handlers. Yet, it too, is difficult to photograph.

For more about these and other colors, I encourage you to look up Latrice’s book. It’s a quick, easy read. Part 3 of this series will look at IPO images and how color was used to highlight the action and to enhance the viewer’s experience. Until then, Happy Shooting!

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While there is never a dull moment in Schutzhund or one picture that is ever the same as another, Schutzhund photographs can begin to look alike after a while. That is because most Schutzhund photos are taken at eye level; that is, the photographer is standing and shooting parallel to the ground and directly at the dog and/or handler. The advantage to this shooting angle is it puts the subject on equal footing with the viewer. The disadvantage is the images can look like snapshots as well as a thousand other Schutzhund photos.

A great way to add a new dimension to your photography is to change your shooting angle. This next set of posts will explore shooting from different angles.

First up, ask yourself this simple question: How low can you go? By shooting from a low angle, you can enhance the impression of power and motion. As Robert Hirsch in is book, Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age, describes, “An individual figure becomes more heroic and larger than life.” What better impression to convey of a Schutzhund dog?

Also, consider that power is an important concept in Schutzhund training and trials, especially during the protection phase. Try zooming in to give the dog more prominence and the appearance of dominance. Be careful, though, not to have the dog and/or handler appear to be looming, which can take away from the awe and reverence your viewers might feel when studying the image.

The images in the slide show above offer a few examples. Several are of puppies. Photographing them at a low angle helps to make them appear larger than life and really shows off their personalities. The viewer also can see the dog’s potential! The image of the ball pick up puts the viewer right into the action, which can be very exciting, as does the image of the recall. The blind running pictures again put the viewer right into the action, and in one of the images, the dog is looking right down the barrel of the lens. Now that’s a bit intimidating! The other images are more portrait style and just show a different perspective.

The following offers a few tips for achieving good success with low angle shooting:

  • Don’t be afraid to get in close to the action and either kneel or lay down, if you can do so safely and not interfere with the dog and/or handler.
  • Use a beach chair to save the knees.
  • If the Schutzhund field has a hill or sets on top of a rise, position yourself just below the field, and then shoot at eye level. This is how the images of the gray sable puppy were taken. The puppy was actually looking me right in the lens.
  • Consider the background carefully, as well as the sky, as they can provide a dramatic backdrop.
  • If the opportunity presents itself, get creative and try staging a planned shot.

Let me know what you come up with, and as always, happy shooting!

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Photojournalist Robert Capa (1913 – 1954) once said,

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”

I have been thinking about this statement since I read it in Robert Hirsch’s Light and Lens: Photography for the Digital Age (strongly recommended resource). There is great wisdom in this one statement. Consider, which photos looks better, Picture 1 or Picture 2 below?  Which shows the most drama and captivates your eye?  The tendency is to try to capture all the action and/or the entire Schutzhund field, thus providing too much information and no focal point for the photograph. When composing pictures, think about what it is you want to show – not just the action but the mood, the drama, the overall emotional impression. What are you trying to say to the viewer or would like the viewer to take away from your photo? What I hope these questions will elicit is a shift in focus (pun intended) and for you to consider looking beyond your photographs as just great action shots, but approaching your Schutzhund photography as creating art.

Picture 1 - Dog Playing Ball Far Away

Picture 2 - Dog Playing Ball Up Close

Speaking of creating art, there is a new trend in Schutzhund photography of using selective coloring. I really like this technique, as it is a very effective method to de-emphasize the background and dramatically emphasize the key subjects (action) in the photo. Creating selective colored images is not hard. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, here is a quick tutorial. If you are not familiar with Photoshop and need more detail, please message me with your e-mail address, and I’ll send you an expanded tutorial with everything you need to know.

Open the photo in Photoshop.

  1. Make any necessary adjustments to the image.
  2. Create a Hue – Saturation Adjustment Layer on top of the image layer.
  3. Slide the Saturation slider all the way to the left to create a black and white photo.
  4. Using the magic selection brush / wand, select the area you wish to color.
  5. Using the eraser tool (and make sure the brush color is white and the brush saturation is 100 percent), brush the selected area to bring back the color from the layer below. What you are doing is erasing the Hue / Saturation layer mask. By selecting the area first, you can brush freely over the area without concern that you’ll erase more than you wish to.
  6. De-select the selection. You can clean up any missed areas (such as areas that didn’t get selected) by making the eraser brush smaller. If you make a mistake, change the brush color to black, which will add the Hue / Saturday layer mask back in.

A cautionary note: As this technique is easy and fun to do, it is tempting to use it frequently. Be careful not to overdo, less your photos begin to look all the same. This is definitely a technique where less is more. Also, this technique works well with photos where the selected color area is strongly contrasted with the background; that is, selectively coloring a black or dark sable dog on a dark background may not be as effective as selectively coloring a tan or lighter sable dog. Selectively coloring shadowed areas also may not work as well for the same reason. Of course, the opposite is true. If you have a very light background, selectively coloring a black or dark sable dog may work just fine.

The following two pictures are examples of this technique, as well as the power of getting close yielding good photos.

In the image above, I really like the spectators watching the training. Schutzhund cannot be learned entirely from books and videos; it is very much an oral tradition. So watching the training is as important as actually doing the training. This photo depicts this, but I didn’t want the viewer’s eye to be drawn too much to the crowd, less it take away from the dog and helper engaged in the moment right before the re-attack. Also, notice that the crowd is in the upper left of the photo. This is the first place most western viewers will look, as we read left to right. The spectators’ eyes take the viewer to the dog and helper, and the dog’s eyes lead the viewer to the point of the whole exercise to get to the sleeve (at least from the dog’s point of view).

I tried mightily to remove the truck and post from the photo above, but I couldn’t get it to look just right, so I decided to leave it in. By selectively coloring the dog, I was able to de-emphasize the undesirable elements in the background and bring the viewers’ focus (yes, another focus pun) to the dog. I also wanted to emphasize this dog’s gorgeous coloring and eyes. Another option would be to move the dog to another background.

Let me know if you have any questions and if the tips in this posting help you. As always, thank you for visiting!

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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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Of all the exercises in the protection phase, the hold and bark at the find blind is one of the most often photographed.  For one thing, it takes place in a confined space and the dog is not moving as much as in other exercises. Much easier to plan and get the shot. Also, it can be quite dramatic as the dog comes full speed into the blind and starts a forceful hold and bark. Some dogs leap up and down as they bark, while others settle into the more traditional (and correct) position, and others move around in the blind.

It’s that dance, that communication between the dog and helper that is the essence of the hold and bark. The dog is trying to intimidate the helper, and the helper is standing firm with a look that says, “Is that all you got? Bring it on!” Capturing these moments, the look in their eyes, adds real drama to the photographs of this exercise.

Getting the shot is not always as easy as it appears. The find blind often is in shadow, a good thing for the helper, but not such a good thing for photographers that have to deal with a sharp lightening contrast from the rest of the field. Or, if you are at a trial, it may be hard photograph in and around other spectators. Try shooting from the stands to get above the crowd. A zoom lens is very helpful in this instance.

There is no one set place to get the best shot. A lot depends on the dogs. With dogs you know, it is easier to set up as you know which side of the blind they come in and how they behave in the blind. This has the advantage of knowing where to zoom in; for example, capturing the dog’s look at h/she comes into the blind or if the dog is a leaper zooming in on the dog’s and handler’s faces. With dogs you do not know, it may be better to zoom out and capture the entire blind, and then use photo editing software to crop in.

Best advice is to track the dog coming into the blind and be ready to fire. If your camera has burst shooting mode, use it, so as not to miss some of the most dramatic moments just as the dog comes into the blind and confronts the helper. Burst mode also allows you to capture a mini-movie of the dog’s hold and bark, which not only makes a great series of photographs, but also may be helpful to handler to see in slow motion the dog in action. Also, try different positions to the sides or directly behind the dog. If you feel adventurous, get a ladder and stand at the top of the find blind looking down from the helper’s perspective. I have not tried this one myself, but it is an intriguing idea.

The slide show above shows some of my favorites, including a couple taken by Betty Lindblom of our dog, Eli (Leroy v. Rietnisse). Next up – my favorite exercise to shoot – the escape bite!

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This is the second of three parts in the next segment in a series of interviews with accomplished Schutzhund photographers. This segment features Dee Clark. The third part follows.

What events have you taken past and future? At every event I attend, I have my camera in hand. I enjoy viewing an event from behind a camera lens. Often, I am at an event to support friends and take pictures of their dogs. This has led to some instances where I was the only photographer and was asked to photograph the event. Many of these events were both working dog trials and conformation shows/breed surveys.

What is your philosophy about photographing Schutzhund dogs? My philosophy is about capturing the extreme control the dogs exhibit and showing these working dogs and their handlers as a team. As much as I like seeing the all out fight in the dogs, I think it is also important to show that the majority of these dogs are also their handlers’ companions. The adoration the dogs and handlers show each other during the critique is just as important as the intensity the dogs demonstrate in the track, the joy they exhibit in the obedience and the power they bring to the protection work.

Capturing the “perfect’ moment in Schutzhund is not always about the wide open mouth before the dog fully grips the sleeve or the acrobatics of the helper safely catching a fast launching dog. It is in the emotion on the face of the helper, handler and the eyes of the dog. A lot of photographers capture these moments in the shots they discard at time of editing.

What equipment do you use? I shoot with a Nikon D80 most of the time, with a AF-S VR Nikkor 70-200 mm 1.2 8G lens. I find this lens to be very versatile for what I need. However, some of the best action shots I have taken were with a 10.5 megapixel Olympus point and shoot. Although it is nice to have all the equipment with all the bells and whistles, I have found that if a photographer takes the time to really learn everything their point and shoot cameras are capable of, they can create some outstanding works of art.

What is your favorite piece of equipment that you use for Schutzhund photography? For me, it is not so much that I have a favorite piece of equipment. What really helps me is my own lack of inhibition and self-preservation. I tend to find myself in the midst of the action. Of course, this is only during training when I can be right on the field in the middle of all the action. I often plant myself on the ground to get more interesting vantage points and camera angles. Having my lens below the action pointed up at what is going on has given me some of my best shots.

What are “must haves” for any serious or aspiring Schutzhund photographer? I love this question!! For me, the “must haves” are knowledge and a willingness to learn from what worked and what did not! Knowing my subject, the environment, the people directly in the action and knowing that I can wait all day long with my finger on the shutter, but I can still miss so many wonderful shots.

The other answer to this ties in with knowledge. No matter what kind of camera or level of camera you have, KNOW your equipment. Learn all the features. Get out there and just shoot! Just taking action shots of your dogs or friends’ dogs at play and running really helps you learn how to use your camera settings. Do not be discouraged if you do not get that perfect shot. The more pictures you take, the more you learn. Take the camera to a little league game, a parade or soccer game; any place where you can shoot randomly. Do NOT delete off your camera, wait until you get home and see what you shot when you edit.

For more with Dee Clark, see part 3 below.

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