Posts Tagged ‘lens’

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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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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.

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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.

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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!

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In earlier posts, a lot has been wrotten about the various elements that go into creating exciting photos of Schutzhund dogs. One element that has not been covered is lenses. We all have our favorite lenses, and which lens we use often is dictated by whether we can up close to the action or are relegated to the sidelines, such as in a trial. I am presently reading a very informative and fun book about pet photography, called Beautiful Beasties: A Creative Guide for Modern Pet Photography, by Jamie Pflughoet. I recommend it – easy to read and a lot of very helpful information.

Among the guidance she offers is an excellent description of a variety of lenses to achieve different looks. Admittedly, not all of us can afford to have a whole arsenal of lenses, but it is helpful to know what’s out there, especially if you’re interested in going for a particular look or feel.

f/1.2 and f/1.4 Shallow Depth of Field Primes: These lenses provide that very attractive soft, blurry background, called bokeh. The advantage is the subject really pops out of the photo. These lenses are not practical for moving targets, such as Schutzhund dogs at work, but are useful for shooting portraits.

Wide-Angle: These lenses can provide whimsical looks, such as big noses, but they also can offer a wide scene, such as the entire Schutzhund field.

Mid-Range Zoom: Many photographers uses these lenses, including the ever popular 70-200 mm. As Jaime notes: “Every lens has a sweet spot in terms of aperture (where it has the best sharpness, clarity and contrast). Find out where yours is, use it with your mid-range zoom.”

Macro: With these lenses, you can capture details, such as paws, tails, eyebrows and whiskers. The trick, of course, is getting the Schutzhund dog to stand still long enough to get the shot. Personally, I don’t think Macro lenses have much place in Schutzhund photography, but I could be convinced otherwise.

Telephoto: These lenses are used for serious zooming, such as the 100 – 400 mm lenses or higher, that you commonly see at Schutzhund trials. They are great for getting up close to the action that may be happening some distance away. From experience, however, my Canon 100 – 400 IM USM lens has a tendency to focus on the brightest spot in the field, which usually is not the dog. In this instance, try to shoot from an angle where the background, such as bleachers, is not significantly brighter than the dog and handler. Also, lighting conditions from one side of the field to the other can vary. On the other hand, without telephoto or zoom lenses, getting shot is less likely. A trade off to be sure.

So, what do I use? I rely heavily of two lenses: The Canon EF 70-300 f/4.5 – 5.6 DO IS USM lens and the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L II USM telephoto zoom. They are both very reliable and produce excellent results. I also really like the EF 100-400 L IS USM telephoto lens, but as noted above, in my experience, it does have some limitations for Schutzhund photography. Let me know what your favorite lenses are and why!

My apologies for not having photos to illustrate these lenses, but I am with my family these next couple of weeks attending to a serious family illness. I hope to post again in a couple of weeks, but if not, please be patient as a new post will be coming soon.  Thank you for your support and encouragement.

Happy Shooting!

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While at the 2012 USCA National German Shepherd Dog Championship in Nashville, Tennessee last weekend (November 2 – 4), I had a perplexing dilemma. Some where along the way I changed the autofocus settings in my new Canon EOS 5D Mark iii and had forgotten about it. This led to some unanticipated results as I tried to sort out what I had done and how to get back to the more familiar autofocus settings I typically use.

Rather than lose the opportunity to photograph several friends who were competing, I elected to shoot in full auto, and worry about sorting things out later, which I am happy to report, I did. I also used a Canon EF 100-400 mm 1:4-5.6 L IS zoom lens. I don’t often use this lens as the focus tends to be soft, and the lens targets the brightest place on the field, which typically is not the dog. On the other hand, I needed the extra zoom power my other lenses do not have. Most of the images were shot with a fairly wide open aperture, which also contributed to the soft focus.

The key point here is if things go awry, don’t panic! Even experienced photographers have bad days. The other key point is to test your equipment before you need it to be sure it is in good working order and if you can, bring duplicate equipment with you. Yes, I should have done this, and I know better, but I was very busy right before we left, and well, you know…(she says with a red face).

As with composing your photographs, your attitude is also very important, especially when you’re having a bad day. Try not to panic but keep your perspective, and use it as an opportunity to experiment or shoot in full auto. The downside to full auto is you may not be able to set the auto focus to a particular focal point or zone or change other exposure settings, such as aperture and shutter speed. On the other hand, the camera is figuring out exposure, so it’s a great opportunity to concentrate on composition.

The images I took are softer in focus as expected, partly due to the lens, the low light in the early morning, long distances between the camera and the action, and likely some camera shake and vibration from standing on bleachers. Even so, the Nationals provided some interesting results, which you can view in the slide show above. Some images are silhouettes, some are good examples of motion blur, some are focused tightly in, while others take a more expansive view of the field. Also, some images have special effects added. The next post will continue the series on perspective, including a more in-depth look at some of these images.

Until then, enjoy the highlights and 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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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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