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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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Aspect ratio, as discussed in the last post, is critical for determining the size of a printed image. To review, aspect ratio is the proportional relationship between an image’s width and height. Different aspect ratios can significantly impact the image’s composition. So, when cropping an image for printing, it’s important to crop to the correct aspect ratio for the print size. Crop tools in most imaging editing software allow you to select the desired aspect ratio.

In selecting a print size and preparing the image for printing, also consider the viewing distance and the image’s resolution (ppi). According to Photography Stack Exchange, “The viewing distance of an image is based on two factors: first is the diagonal image size and second are the pixels per inch (ppi) required at the distance to give a sharp image.”

The rule of thumb is the optimal viewing distance is 1.5 to 2 times the diagonal of the image. An easy formula to figure the diagonal of the print size is take the square root of width2 + height2 (Pythagorean Theorem).

For an image to appear sharp at the optimal viewing distance also needs sufficient number of pixels per inch to “fool the eye in to seeing a smooth image”, according to Photography Stack Exchange. The minimum ppi for a given image is calculated by dividing the value 3438 by the viewing distance. Why 3438? This value is the constant for human vision and correlates to how much resolution a human eye can see.

The following table lists the optimal viewing distance and minimum resolution for some of the most common print sizes. For the sake of argument, the viewing distance is calculated at 1.5 times the diagonal. All values expressed in inches. Note that the larger the image, the greater the distance for optimal viewing and the lower the minimum ppi needed to achieve a smooth, sharp image.

Aspect Ratio

Print Size

Diagonal

Viewing Distance

PPI Needed

1:1

6 x 6

8.49

12.73

270

2:3

4 x 6

7.21

11

313

5:7

5 x 7

8.6

12.9

267

4:5

8 x 10

12.81

19

181

11:14

11 x 14

17.8

26.7

129

3:4

12 x 16

20

30

115

4:5

16 x 20

25.61

38

89

2:3

20 x 30

36.1

54.2

63

4:5

24 x 30

38.5

57.75

60

One more thing: To ensure good quality prints, there needs to be enough pixels in the image itself. Cameras with greater megapixel capabilities can produce image files that support larger sized quality prints, while cameras with fewer megapixels may be somewhat limited in available print sizes. B & H Photo has an excellent reference chart. Also, see the list of articles below for more information on PPI, DPI, print sizes and resolution:

Printing: Which Resolution, Long Answer 

PPI vs DPI: What’s the Difference

Understanding Resolution and the Meaning of DPI, PPI, SPI & LPI 

I hope these more technical minded posts have been helpful. Coming up – back to posts on the Art of Schutzhund Photography. Yes, I know, one day I must change the title of my blog to The Art of IPO Photography. Soon, but not yet. Until next time, Happy Shooting!

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For the most part, Schutzhund (IPO) photography is a digital medium; that is, most images are shared via social media sites. But now and again, you’ll get a great shot, with everything just right – exposure correct, dog in focus, no background distractions and the composition spot on – and you’ll want to have it printed. There is one aspect that you will need to consider in choosing the size of print and that is the image’s aspect ratio.

Aspect ratio is the proportional relationship between an image’s width-to-height.  It is expressed as two numbers separated by a colon, with the width expressed first. The most common aspect ratios in still photography include the following:

  • 1:1 – used in medium format cameras; also known as the classic square and is particularly popular in wedding and portrait photography
  • 2:3 – used in higher end DLSRs, including the professional full-frame sensors and the APS-C sensors, to correlate with the classic 35 mm SLR film cameras
  • 3:4 – used in most point-and-shoot cameras
  • 5:4 – used in medium and large format camera
  • 7:5 – used in large format and view cameras
  • 16:9 – used in cameras that can also shoot high definition video, as it is the standard format for HDTV monitors; also very useful for panoramic images

Sometimes, aspect ratios are expressed as a decimal number; for example, a 1:1 aspect ratio is expressed as 1.0, where as a 4:5 aspect ratio is expressed as 1.25. Dividing the long side by the short side of an image derives this decimal number. Some photographers find this a handy way to compare aspect ratios.

As Kat Sloma explains in her Kat-Eye Studio blog post, Exploring With a Camera: Printed Aspect Ratios, “The higher the number is above 1, the more rectangular the shape of the photo; the closer to 1, the more square the shape of the photo.” To make this a little clearer, the following table, adapted from Kat’s post, provides an excellent reference for the most common print sizes in the US, their aspect ratios and the long side/short side decimal number.

Print Sizes (inches)

Aspect Ratio

Long Side / Short Side

Pixels

1 x 1, 6 x 6, 8 x 8, 12 x 12

1:1

1.00

900 x 900 (6 x 6)
4 x 6, 8 x 12, 16 x 24, 20 x 30, 24 x 36

2:3

1.50

600 x 900 (4 x 6)
3 x 4, 6 x 8, 9 x 12, 12 x 16

3:4

1.33

1800 x 2400 (12 x 16)
8 x 10, 16 x 20, 24 x 30

4:5

1.25

1200 x 1500 (8 x 10)
5 x 7, 10 x 14, 20 x 28

5:7

1.40

750 x 1050 (5 x 7)
11 x 14, 22 x 28

11:14

1.27

1275 x 1650 (11 x 14)
16 x 9, 32 x 18, 54 x 36

16:9

1.77

1920 x 1080 (16 x 9)

By comparison, computer, laptop and/or tablet monitors typically have one of the following aspect ratios:

  • 4:3 (1024 x 768)
  • 16:9 (1920 x 1080)
  • 16:10 (1280 x 800)

The images below demonstrate how different aspect ratios affect an image. For images destined for the screen, cropping to a specific aspect ratio is as not critical. It is critical for prints, however. You can see how the image changes depending on the aspect ratio. If the action is too close to the edge, an important element might get cut off or placed in an odd spot. For this image, I really like the 1:1 aspect ratio. I feel I am right there with the dog, rather than just an observer.

Aspect Ratio As Shot 2:3

Aspect Ratio As Shot 2:3

Aspect Ratio 1:1

Aspect Ratio 1:1

Aspect Ration 3:4

Aspect Ration 3:4

Aspect Ratio 4:5

Aspect Ratio 4:5

Aspect Ratio 5:7

Aspect Ratio 5:7

Aspect Ratio 11:14

Aspect Ratio 11:14

Aspect Ration 16:9

Aspect Ration 16:9

Some cameras allow photographers to select the aspect ratio. Because photo-editing programs also have settings for cropping to a particular aspect ratio, changing the aspect ratio in the camera is a personal choice. If I know I am going to print an image to a particular size, then it makes sense. My preference (though I can be convinced otherwise) is to compose the image to make sure there is enough of a border and then crop for the most dramatic effect in Photoshop or Lightroom. If I am taking a portrait or landscape shot – the subject is not moving – then I do set the camera for aspect ratio. But Schutzhund photography is fast action, so in my experience, leaving some leeway for later cropping is definitely more advantageous.

Next up: More about aspect ratios and resolutions for presentation on computer monitors, tablets and prints.

As always, thanks for visiting and 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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2013 SE Regionals-873

Hello!  Once again life has interfered with my goal of posting every two weeks and sharing my passion of photographing Schutzhund (IPO) and working dogs in action!  I am on deadline with a work project. Yea – that ol’ work thing!  I will have a new post up next week – I hope! Thank you for your patience and understanding.

If you have any questions or topics you would like to see covered in my blog, please let me know!

Until then – 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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