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Posts Tagged ‘long bite’

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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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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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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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No doubt you’ve heard and maybe even participated in the debate about whether it is better to shoot in RAW or JPEG. One argument, to which I held fast, is RAW is better with static subjects; in other words, no or not much motion. The primary reason is RAW files are much larger and may slow the camera down as it writes the files to the card, thus hampering burst shooting. For fast action, I was not convinced that RAW was really the best option.

Well, I’ve been converted, enlightened, my thinking reshaped. However, you wish to express it, I am convinced after this weekend’s experimenting with this ‘n that camera settings that RAW really is the way to go most of the time. The intensity of the color and the amount of detail really are much better with RAW. Also, in post processing, when I needed to get rid of an unwanted element, such as a leash or a person’s legs, the sampling of pixels and resulting clone was much improved over what I could achieve with JPEG images. Even though RAW may take some extra time to process in that every image must be processed, it actually saved me time in removing unwanted elements. BTW – Adobe Lightroom makes post processing of RAW images a snap (no pun intended). Didn’t really take me much more time than editing JPEGs.

To achieve the best results, I carefully timed my shots and then only took a few in a sequence rather than trying for a full sequence of the entire catch, spin and putting the dog in the pocket, in the case of the long bite. If that is was what I was going for, then RAW may not have been the best choice. It’s a pick your battle kind of thing, or better yet, pick your priority, and then select the file type that will give you the best chance of success. Having a fast card helps.

I also experimented with my camera’s auto focus system. The most interesting tweak was to slow down the camera’s tracking setting, which gave the camera more time to lock in on the dog and set the focus. I found this very helpful when tracking a dog running for the long bite or during a drive. A recent forum post from Digital Photography Review I read as a part of my research offered some great advice:

“With Servo AF I find better results by NOT using the center autofocus (AF) point (regardless of whether the lens is f/2.8 or larger). With most action shots of dogs you can count on the head being in the upper third of the composition so choose one of the AF points above the Center AF point. This will also help keep the splashing water from getting in the way of good AF tracking. I know this (non-center point) advice goes against conventional wisdom but if the 30D is similar to the 40D and 7D in this regard my experience is you will have better tracking with the points surrounding the center point. Learn to use back button AF and keep that AF point on the dogs face! This is key to getting good tracking.”

This advice applies to Canon DSLRs, but the principles are applicable to Nikons and other manufacturers cameras as well. If your camera has an auto focus system, suggest researching some of its finer points. Minor tweaks here and there could make a big difference. I’ll have more to say about auto focus settings in an upcoming post.

And, finally, I kept the aperture for the most part between f/4.5 to f/5.6. The ISO for the day was set at 400, and I let the camera adjust the shutter speed. It was a bright, sunny day, so I also set the exposure compensation to negative 1/3. The good news is the exposure was very consistent across the nearly 300 images I took. Although the images were at times dark, color and detail were preserved in most cases. JPEG images of black and dark sable dogs or dogs with dark masks came out a little muddy. As you might expect, recovering detail and adjusting the image’s exposure in the RAW images produced better results than with the JPEG images.

The slide show above shows some highlights of this past weekend’s experiments. See if you can pick out which ones were shot in RAW and which ones as JPEGS!  Enjoy and thanks for visiting!

Next up: Mastering Auto Focus! This post may not appear until early July due to other commitments.

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In taking photos at the Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club‘s Spring Trial, I had an insight regarding the use of burst mode during the long bite. In Schutzhund (IPO) photography, I believe there is such as thing as a too fast a shutter speed, especially shooting in burst mode. Consider that when you are tracking a dog down the field for a long bite and your camera’s burst mode is clicking away how the light changes from one end of the field to when the dog and helper engage. When shooting in aperture priority mode, the camera is adjusting the shutter speed and focus to create a good exposure and create a sharp image. Now also consider that most Schutzhund (IPO) fields are grass and act as one big reflector, especially by the time the protection phase begins, and that the dog is a significantly darker element running down the field.

What I have noticed is very often the camera (even very good ones with fast lenses) often produce images with exposure and focus problems in the middle of the burst series, risking not being able to get the engagement in focus. I think it is because the camera is adjusting for the entire scene and the dog is just too small an element. I also have noticed this when I  zoom way in on the dog. So, my plan is to still use aperture priority as the camera can adjust the shutter speed faster than the aperture, but instead of shooting burst mode all the way down the field as I sometimes do, I will wait until just before the moment of engagement and then begin the burst series. I also will use shutter speeds more around the 1/640 to 1/800 – maybe 1/1000 – at the very most. This is a working theory that still needs to be tested. I’d be very interested in knowing about your experiences and how you adjust to ensure you get the long bite shots you want.

In the meantime, enjoy the highlights of the trial. If you would like prints, please contact me. Thank you Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club for a great day!

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