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Posts Tagged ‘Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age’

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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During an IPO trial or training, spectators watch the dogs and handlers carefully to see how well the teams execute each exercise. Is the dog straight? Does the dog look happy and alert? Does the team move well together? Does the dog show power and confidence? Observations can get quite detailed, especially in a championship where there is just a point or two separating the winning team from the runner-ups.

Many photographs of IPO exercises can be quite dramatic, especially when the photographer gets low and close to action. As noted in a post from about a year ago, titled “Change Your Angle: How Low Can You Go?”, by shooting from a low angle, photographers can enhance the impression of power and motion. Viewers feel they are part of the action.

An extension of getting low and close is capturing expressions. Photographing expressions captures an important part of the IPO story – relationships between the dog and handler; between the dog and helper; between the handler and the judge; between dog and handler teams; and between the dog, handler and spectators to name a few examples. IPO is all about relationships!

The slide show below shows some examples. So, the next time your photographing IPO dogs and handlers in training or competing, focus in on their expressions. It’s a great part of the story that most IPO images miss. Until next time – Happy Shooting!

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When photographing dogs, whether in a lovely pose or in action, paying attention to small things before and after the image is taken can make a big difference between a photograph that looks like a snapshot or one that looks polished and professional. For many photographers, grabbing that quick shot is all they are after, and that’s fine. But if you want to take your photography to the next level, remember small things do matter. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate this point.

Consider this image. It looks pretty good. It’s in focus and a nice pose. Yet, it could be much better.

Little-Things-Matter-1

Notice in the image below how much more dynamic it looks. All that was done was cropping to a 5 x 4 aspect ratio (8 x 10 print), using the histogram to make a few tonal adjustments (shadows, highlights and mid-tones), touching up with the dodge and burn tool here and there, sharpening the eyes just a tad, and finishing up with cleaning up the bits of yard dust on his head, eye crud and bubbles on his tongue. All told – 15 minutes of work.

Little-Things-Matter-2

In Schutzhund photography, backgrounds are a real challenge. The action gets lost amongst all the clutter. Even after considering all the options, it’s sometimes very hard to avoid unwanted background elements. Now, I love Shelly Timmerman of Shell Shots Photography. She is among the best around, but even Shelly would admit that she doesn’t add much to this image. So, by taking her out in post processing, along with the tent and fencing tape, this image goes from a snapshot to a cleaner, more professional image.

Little Things Matter-5

Little Things Matter-6

The following is a list of some of the small things I look to correct:

Unwanted elements in the background: Okay – these can be big or small, but look for the small things that can be distracting and either shoot around them or remove them in post processing.

Sun position: Ideally, it’s best to shoot with the sun over your shoulder. In addition to fully lighting the subject, sunlight adds a glint to the dog’s eyes, which brings a lot of life to the image. Remember that early morning or late afternoon are best for photographing dogs, especially dark or black dogs. The warm light brings out the detail and highlights in the dog’s fur. By mid-morning, the light is too harsh and often all you will get is a blob without much detail.

Eyes, ears, nose in focus: Your viewers will naturally look at a person’s or dog’s face first. It is what draws viewers into the image, along with the action. Make sure the eyes, ears and nose, especially the eyes, are tack sharp.

Dust and debris: To me, removing bits of dust and debris from a dog’s coat along with eye crud and mouth drool really helps smarten up an image. After all, who likes to look at drool or a crusty eye? It’s distracting at best and gross at worst.

Glare: Even the best Schutzhund photographers struggle with balancing exposing for the background and the dog, especially at trials. Take the time to adjust each area separately in post processing by isolating the dog from the background and vice versa. In addition, Photoshop’s dodge and burn tools are great for lightening or darkening a small area of an image.

What’s on your list of small things that matter? Let me know, and I’ll share them in an upcoming post. Next up, sizing images for printing and the web. It’s both easier and harder than you think! 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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In an earlier post about perspective, the question was asked, “How low can you go?” In Schutzhund (IPO) photography, it’s a lot easier to go low than go high or wide, mostly because that is what is available as Schutzhund fields do not offer a wide variety of opportunities to stand on ladders and peer down on the dogs. Also, shooting wide often yields more field than anything else.

On the other hand, higher angles allow for the “surrounding environment to take on more prominence,” as described in Robert Hirsch’s book, Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age. The higher you go, the less important the subject in the overall image. Higher angles suggest “vulnerability, weakness or the harmlessness and/or openness of the subject.” Obviously, in Schutzhund or IPO, photographers do not want to show dogs as vulnerable, weak or harmless. On the other hand, it’s an interesting perspective in the protection work to see how much of the field the dog is asked to cover in the various attack exercises or the long bite.

Bird’s eye views are rarely available to Schutzhund photographers and are not the best choice as they can be “perplexing an disorienting to viewers…A bird’s eye view enables viewers to hover over the subject from a Divine perspective. A subject appears inconsequential, reinforcing the idea of fate or destiny – that something beyond the subject’s control is going to happen.”  The higher up, the less the action is apparent and the less impressive it becomes.

The same can be said for oblique angles, where the horizontal line is at a very odd angle or tilted to one side. As Robert Hirsch explains, “This may suggest angst, imbalance, impending movement, tension or transition, indicating a precarious situation of the verge of change.” An oblique angle may be a creative choice during those brief moments of transition in the hold and barks, right before the escape bite, and as the handler approaches the dog and helper. Yet, so much of Schutzhund is about precision that I am not sure oblique angles really show the sport or the dogs to their best advantage.

On the other hand, at home, photographers can have a lot of fun photographing dogs from various angles. The slide show above shows one of my favorite pictures of our dog, Kira. She was sitting in the backyard and I was on our porch. I aimed the camera from my perch dead center on her. The result is a photo that looks a bit like a fish eye. Another image taken in our pasture, shows Kira and Eli (Leroy v. Rietnisse) chewing on sticks. I like this photo as it over dramatizes the difference in sizes between Kira and Eli and between the sizes of the sticks each choose. Also included is a picture of Kira taken in my office, very much up close and personal as a counter point. Other images in the slide show were taken at higher angles than at field levels. Photos like this are only possible when taken at a stadium, unless you are able to stage a shot on a club field. Now, that would be a fascinating experiment!

So, from this photographer’s perspective, shooting at angles that best show the action up close and personal is preferable as what I am really after is to show the power and impressive nature of these magnificent animals, as well as their skill and tremendous training.

On a personal note: My husband and I are in the process of moving to a new home and shortly thereafter embarking on a trip to Antarctica over Christmas! If you would like to follow our travels, visit the Lindblad / National Geographic website, where daily expedition reports are posted. We are traveling on the National Geographic Explorer. The expedition leaves on December 19 from Ushuaia, Argentina!

Please understand if I am not able to get another post in until just after the New Year! I will try, but my time right now is very much not my own. Yes, I am taking my camera and will share a lot of photos from Antarctica! Until then, best wishes for a joyous holiday season and a happy, healthy New Year!  Thank you for visiting 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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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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Taking photos that are tack sharp is one of the most difficult challenges in Schutzhund photography. Consider, however, that there may be times when too much sharpness is not necessarily a good thing. More is not always better. Focus is as much an artistic choice as it is a camera setting. This post will look briefly at autofocus settings that enhance focus and artistic choices that enhance the image.

According to Robert Hirsch in his book, Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age:

The majority of DSLRs have two focusing modes: Manual and Autofocus. Most DSLRs either have an active (infrared) autofocus (AF) or passive autofocus systems, which automatically focuses on objects at a certain distance to the lens. Active autofocus sends out a beam of red light that the camera uses to measure and set the distance of the subject. In passive autofocus, light that is naturally reflected by the subject is used to read the contrast of a scene and set the focus.

DSLRs also offer autofocus zones, including single-area focus, area focus and closest-subject focus. Within these zones, your camera may allow you to set priority points or zonal areas. In addition, many cameras offer single-servo or continuous-servo focus settings. Single-servo locks the focus at the time of exposure. Continuous-servo focuses constantly while the shutter button is pressed halfway. This is particularly useful for photographing dogs (or any subject) in motion. Professional photographer Nasim Mansurov offers an excellent detailed explanation of DSLR autofocus modes on this blog. I recommend it to you rather than going into a lot of detail here.

Note: Nasim explains autofocus from the perspective of a Nikon shooter, while my perspective is Canon. There are many strong opinions on either side as to which is better. I have no opinion as I think both are excellent, and which you choose to use is a matter of personal preference. At one time, there may have been significant differences as Nasim mentions, but he also acknowledges that the gap is pretty much closed when it comes to autofocus systems.

With respect to autofocus, my preference is to use all focus points with priority set to the center area. I find this works best for tracking fast moving dogs. If your camera model offers it, suggest setting the tracking to be just a bit slower than mid-point. This setting is on a sliding scale in Canon cameras; slower to the left, faster to the right. I also press the shutter halfway when tracking a dog and then press fully when I’m ready to get the shot.

As the dog runs down or across the Schutzhund field, the light changes, which affects the focus, especially when shooting in burst mode. The result is some images in the sequence may be out of focus. How fast your camera writes images to the card also may effect burst mode shooting. Try waiting until you get closer to the exact moment you are trying to photograph and start the burst mode within a few frames. For example, rather than shooting the dog continuously running down the field for the long bite, track the dog with the shutter pressed halfway for continuous focusing. A few moments before dog engages the helper, start the burst mode. I have had good experience with this method.

Artistically, focus or the lack of it can add drama, texture and guide the viewer to key focal points. For example, by playing with the depth of field, the primary subject is in focus, with the foreground and/or background out of focus. The blurriness is called bokeh. It is derived from the Japanese word, boke, which means blur or haze, or boke-aji, which means blur quality.

Another technique that adds texture is to use a softer focus, which can make the photo look like a painting. This can be achieved with the wider aperture, such as f/2.8 to f/5.6, paired with a slower shutter speed. There is no one magical setting and some dogs seem more akin to this technique than others. The images in the slide show that have this “painterly” look were taken at f/5.6. I really like this technique, and am just learning how to use it effectively myself. So stay tuned…I’ll have more to say about it in a future post.

Of course, you can go the opposite direction for amazing clarity and tack sharp focus. This is achieved with tighter apertures, such as f/8.0 to f/11. Using Photoshop or some other editing software, bokeh can be added to bring out the primary subject by blurring other areas of the image or try increasing the clarity and/or contrast. This will help sharpen the image as well.

One more technique that I am still learning is to slow the shutter speed way down to create motion blur. The trick is to get a key part of the image in focus, such as the dog’s head as it launches towards the helper. Panning is a cool technique that is achieved by tracking the dog while in motion and keeping the camera moving while releasing the shutter. Ideally, the result is the dog is in focus, while the rest of the image is not. Think racecars zipping around a racetrack.

The images in the above slide show were taken at a recent seminar on out of motion exercises, offered by Frans Slaman. They show examples of these techniques and how to use focus to create dramatic images. Enjoy and happy shooting!

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Light can be both friend and foe to photographers, especially to those of us who like to photograph dogs in action. Regardless of the light conditions, it is always a challenge. As Robert Hirsch notes in his book Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age: “There is no time of the day or year when the sunlight is photographically better than another. However, it may be more suitable for a particular subject. At various times of day and in different seasons, light takes on a range of unique physical attributes, each with its own emotional and tactile qualities.”

With this in mind, this post turns from an earlier discussion of quantifying light as tool for determining camera settings for optimal exposure to using the quality of light as a tool for optimal artistic expression. Yes, Schutzhund (IPO) photography is an art, so artistic expression is applicable and encouraged. It also separates the snap shots from the really great dramatic shots we all love so much and strive to emulate. And, I sincerely believe that the artful expression of Schutzhund through photography helps to promote the sport and make it more accessible to those who are not familiar with it, its purpose, and the marvelous dogs and people who dedicate many hours to it.

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While you continue reading, take a look at the slide show above and consider how the quality of the light changes the mood of the images. Consider how they might look under different lighting. They illustrate what Robert Hirsch calls “The Circle of Light”; that is, how the quality of light changes throughout the day and year, as follows:

  • Before sunrise: The outdoor environment can be seen as black and white, with light showing as cool and shadowy, and with muted, flat and opalescent colors. Colors become more intense as the sun rises.
  • Morning: Early in the morning, the sun’s rays are low. Warmer colors show through. Shadows look blue. By mid-morning, the light begins to lose its warm quality and starts to appear clear and white. This is because the full spectrum of light is able to penetrate the atmosphere, and entire spectrum of light together is white. For a more technical description of light rays, see an earlier post on understanding white balance and color temperature.
  • Midday: The higher the sun rises, the greater the contrast between colors. At noon, the light is white, so colors stand out strongly. Shadows are black and deep, and contrast is at its peak. Subjects can look like three-dimensional cuts outs against the background. Also, at this time of day, the light may be too harsh for many subjects. We all can relate to this when we try to photograph black, white or dark sable dogs.
  • Afternoon: As the sun begins to set, the light warms up again. On clear evenings, subjects can take on a warm, surreal glow. Reds get stronger, and shadows lengthen and become bluer. Also, greater detail can be shown.
  • Twilight / Evening: There is still a lot of light after sunset, although it may be not enough to capture dogs in action without artificial light sources. Light at this time of day is very soft, and contrast and shadow is at a minimum. Again, this is not ideal for photographing dogs, but it is a great time of the day for landscapes. Check out Peter Lik’s work some time.
  • Night: Unless you are under stadium lights, photographing Schutzhund dogs working at night is a feat of extreme courage. The light is harsh and contrast extreme. Long exposures and high ISO settings are needed, which is not conducive to capturing action. Still, it may produce a unique, more abstract image.
The seasons also express different qualities of light. Winter features more muted and subtle colors. Spring brings more daylight and more colors as the sun rises higher in the sky. Summer has the harshest light, and it can be really difficult to get great photos, especially midday. Schutzhund fields are also notoriously reflective. Fall once again is a time of transition with less light, but more color in the foliage as fall leaves display their colors.
The weather also affects the quality of light. Fog and rain diffuses the light, creates a monochromatic look and tends to be cooler or blue. Light is scattered, so colors and contrasts are soft and subtle. Rain also mutes and softens color and contrast. Snow reflects any predominant color, according to Mr. Hirsch. Blue casts and shadows are common. It also can fool your camera’s meter as snow reflects a lot of light. Taking pictures later in the day may be better choice to bring out the rich texture in the snow. Mr. Hirsch has much more to say about light in his book, which as noted in previous posts, I strongly recommend. It has really helped me become a better, more artistic photographer.
Until next time, thanks for visiting!!


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Rectangles, triangles and squares play a big part in Schutzhund. Next time you’re on a Schutzhund field, look around you. The field itself is a rectangle, bordered by six triangular shaped blinds. The scaling wall is made up of two rectangles to form a A-frame (triangle). The inside of the find blind, as discussed in the previous post, is triangular in shape with rectangles forming the sides of the blind. The one-meter hurdle is a square, as is the Group formation in most trials. The tracking, obedience and protection routine patterns also are filled with these shapes. These patterns may be a little hard to show in a photograph, but they can be shown in video.

So, what does this have to do with Schutzhund photography?

Robert Hirsch in his book, Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age, explains: “Shape is often the chief structural compositional element, as it enables a viewer to immediately recognize a face, a structure or an object in a picture…A combination of different shapes can provide variety. For example, an outdoor scene can be made more attention-grabbing by contrasting the sharp, jagged shape of a fence with a soft, smooth curves of clouds and hills.”   According to Hirsch, there are four basic shapes:

  • Geometric shapes, such as circles, rectangles, squares and triangles
  • Natural shapes, such as plants, rocks, humans and animals
  • Abstract shapes are altered to their fundamental essence.
  • Non-objective shapes do not correspond to anything in the natural world but often are whimsical and delightful to view

As visual images, geometric shapes also have symbolic meanings, as follows:

  • Triangle: Three forces in equilibrium, the number three, aspiration, movement upward, a return to origins, sight and light
  • Rectangle: Rational and secure, grounds objects
  • Square: Firmness, stability, the number four

These meanings have direct relevance to Schutzhund, which is all about demonstrating stability of a dog’s temperament and balancing the dog’s performance in three phases, all of which are tied together by firm and happy obedience. And, while dogs are in constant motion, many of the elements that make up the Schutzhund field are very well grounded, which creates drama and “attention-grabbing contrast” as Hirsch points out.

Shapes also can define images by providing a frame. The picture below serves as a useful example.

The picture frame is a rectangle, which accentuates the effect of looking down at the dog and into her eyes. The dog’s face is triangular in shape as are her ears. Yet, the rocks are natural and of varying shapes, which offers a nice contrast with the geometric shapes. The image is both whimsical and soul searching, as any dog lover will tell you, looking into a dog’s eyes is to see h/her soul.

As with lines and space, being aware of shapes and their symbolic meanings, and purposely using them can significantly enhance your photographic compositions. They also can help your viewers understand what you are trying to communicate to them in your images.

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