Posts Tagged ‘Polarizers’

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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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So, are you intrigued? What do penguins and Schutzhund (IPO) dogs have in common. Quite simply, they both can be tricky critters to photograph as they move fast and sometimes in unanticipated ways. While on our trip to Antarctica, I was thrilled (on the inside, of course) when experienced National Geographic photographers grumbled that photographing penguins swimming is very difficult, much to their annoyance. I think they much preferred photographing the ice, as ice moves at a glacier pace, if you’ll pardon the pun. More about ice in a future post.

Their advice for photographing penguins confirmed my own approach to Schutzhund dogs. First, you must understand and learn their behaviors. And, then you must learn to anticipate. As with Schutzhund dogs, penguins are often the darkest part of the image, especially if they are hanging out on an ice berg or snowy area. At times, they are on rocky beaches, which offered welcome contrasts. So, like Schutzhund dogs, choices must be made as to whether to expose for the penguins or the background. We were blessed with marvelous weather – clear, sunny and very little wind. Temps were in the 30s. Simply lovely by Antarctica standards. Days were 23 hours long!

Penguins on land are funny – really – they’ll make you laugh at their antics and awkward ways of moving and stealing each other’s rocks, used to feather their nests. Even penguins look down and watch where they are walking in the rocky, icy, snowy landscape that is Antarctica. And, sometimes, they slip and lose their footing. Photographing penguins on land is more about capturing their expressions and funny behaviors.

Penguins hang out in flocks, as there is safety in numbers, but they also are sometimes alone, which makes for a very poignant photo. They fuss at each other, play, walk about, and are very curious. They also create highways in the snow to the water, and if you stand in their way, they’ll just wait for you to move.

Penguins in the water are elegant and fluid; such a joy to watch. I had a lot of fun and success one day photographing penguins swimming. I was on deck, which gave me a birds-eye view. The water is so clear that the penguins showed up very clearly. They dart about, but they also display flock behavior. Not being a birder, I had to watch and learn. They are very, very fast in water and unpredictable, so I tended to frame wider rather than trying to follow on particular penguin. And, I used a fast shutter speed – 1/750 or better – and burst mode. Yes, they are that fast!

On another note,  I asked several of the National Geographic photographers, who also act as guides and skilled zodiac drivers (inflatable rubber boats with outboard motors that got us up close and personal to the ice, penguins and landings), did they compensate for the bright light and white ice / snow. One fellow say he did not use exposure compensation, but tended to shoot in neutral. That, too, was my experience. While some like to over compensate (add light to light), I found that neutral worked very well. I still will try to add light to light when on a Schutzhund field to see if that helps.

We saw, by they way, four species of penguins – Adele (blue eyes), Gentoo (orange beaks), one Emperor, and Chin Strap (have a chin strap). We also saw many whales, including Humpbacks, Minke and Killer Whales. After one day’s shooting of nearly 700 images, I had to ask myself how many images of dorsal fins did I really need – more about that in my next post. Also, an upcoming post will focus on ice, which is really a discussion about exposures and other camera settings for Antarctica and how what I learned can be applied to Schutzhund photography.

Until then – Happy New Year – and thanks for visiting!

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This week at the Greater Atlanta Schutzhund Association club field, I experimented with using as wide open aperture and high shutter speeds to freeze the action, and adjusting the ISO accordingly to get reasonable exposures. As with the photos in my last post, I shot with a Canon EOS 7D camera, a Canon 70-300mm DO IS USM 1:4.5 – 5.6 lens and a UV filter. This time, I decided not to use a ProMaster Digital Circular Polarizer filter, to see my results without the filter.

During the early part of the day the photos in the shadier areas of the field came out better without the polarizer filter, as shown below.  This image was shot at 1/1000 at f 5.0 and ISO 640.  The focus on the dog is a little softer than I like. Part of the challenge is to be sure the lens is focused right on the dog or else it tends to focus on brighter areas of the image. Also, while camera shake is not as big an issue at higher shutter speeds as it is at lower speeds, photographer movements can affect focus, such as when you move to following the dog. Some days, my focus targeting is better than others. Hmmm – maybe I need more focus training, except I really don’t care too much for hot dogs.

Moving on…This next image was shot at 1/1000 at f 6.3 ISO 640. The dog is sharper, which is due to the lighting being more even (no shady area), and probably better focus targeting on my part.

This next photo shows great action. It was shot at 1/800 at f 5.6 with an ISO of 400. Notice the little mushrooms near his front feet and the blurred area at the front and back of the image. The photo following this one is my favorite of the entire day’s shoot. It’s composition is spot on, the dog’s expression adds drama and it looks like the dog is about to run me over, which he was. This one was shot at 1/1600 at f 5.0 with an ISO of 640. To get both of these shots, I sat on a beach chair on the side of the field. I do not do well with squatting – don’t have the knees for it – so a beach chair gets me low. I propped my elbows on my knees for stability, or you might try using a monopod.

The next set of pictures are a before post processing and after. You will notice the background in the first image seems brighter and the dog darker. With a few adjustments in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, I was able to achieve the balance I wanted for this image. As I mentioned in my last post, this is a useful technique with dark-coated dogs. It also works to compensate for shadows cast by the handler onto the dog, another persistent challenge on bright, sunny days. This image also was taken at 1/1600 at f 5.0 and ISO of 640.

The next image illustrates a problem all photographers have with shooting into the blind. The interior of the blind is often shaded, with the sky very bright. This photo was taken at 1/000 at f 4.5 and ISO 400.  I really like the composition and the action, but what I don’t like about this photo is the sky. It looks artificial to me and the trees to the left of the blind, although nicely blurred, do not look natural. Photoshop can help here, but when you’re in the field, try focusing in as tightly as you can on the blind. It will help the camera get a good exposure and limit the amount of annoying and distracting background elements. This image was taken midday, which in Georgia during the summer is the worst time of the day to taken photos. The light is harsh and there are a lot of particles in the air, which reflect light.

The following three shots again demonstrate the effectiveness of getting low and zooming in. The first and third images were taken at 1/1000, f 5.6, ISO 640, and the second one at 1/400, f 5.0, ISO 640.

In conclusion, the results of this week’s photo shoot taught me that getting low and using the power of my zoom lens really works for me, especially with a wide aperture and faster shutter speed. Shooting midday in the Georgia sun isn’t fun – too hot and humid – and the results are not what I’d like to see. On the other hand, that’s when protection work is most often done, so…I gotta continue figuring that one out.

And, finally, I want to try going even higher with shutter speeds to see what happens. I was at family wedding last weekend. The ceremony was held on a beach. I took a peek at the settings on the wedding photographer’s camera. Shutter speed was set at 1/4,000! Couldn’t get a good look at the aperture or ISO settings. If that works for wedding photography, it might just yield some interesting images in Schutzhund photography as well.

I will close out this post with another favorite shot of the day – a handler and his dog heading onto the field for a little work. Until next time, thanks for visiting!

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Taking dramatic photographs of Schutzhund dogs at work that stop the action cold, in focus and with the proper exposure is no mean feat, as all Schutzhund photographers can attest. For any one photographic opportunity, there are many challenges, such as lighting conditions, dog coat colors, handler clothing colors, background distractions and the nature of the sport. Understanding the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed, and not just relying on your camera’s automated settings, will allow you adapt to changing condition while capturing creative and dramatic images.

After taking tens of thousands of images of Schutzhund dogs over the past six years, I still get confused about this relationship. It’s a concept that just does not come easily to me. My cousin, Nick Piesco, referred me to CameraSim – The Online SLR Simulator where you can adjust the lighting, distance, focal length, ISO, aperture and shutter speed in aperture priority, shutter speed priority or manual modes. After you make your adjustments, you can “take the photo”, see your results and then go back and try again. I found it extremely helpful. I also refer you to several previous posts that address the aperture, shutter speed and ISO:

To cement this concept in my brain, I am experimenting with keeping ISO, shutter speed or aperture at one setting and varying the other two settings. This week, I used aperture priority, which kept the aperture at f/4.5, f/5.0 or f/5.6 (most photos were at f/5.0). My goal was to try different ISO and shutter speeds to confirm which worked best under bright sunny summer conditions in Georgia at these aperture settings.

Photography experts recommend keeping the ISO setting as low as possible to minimize noise in the images. Ideal is between 100 and 400. Great advice, but fast action requires fast shutter speeds, which also means pushing the ISO up. These same experts say that 1/500 shutter speed should be sufficient to stop action.  Experience has taught me, however, that I get better results at 1/640 or higher, so that’s where I started the day.

On this particular day, I shot with a Canon EOS 7D camera, with a Canon 70-300mm DO IS USM 1:4.5 – 5.6 lens. In addition to a UV filter, I also use a ProMaster Digital Circular Polarizer filter on sunny days, which I find helps cut the glare on the Schutzhund field and enhances the colors.

The first photo below was taken with an ISO set at 200 and 1/640 shutter speed at f/5.6. The photo is in focus, but it’s dark and the color over saturated, which may be a function in part of using a circular polarizer to cut the glare on the field. I adjusted the photo in Lightroom (second image below), but the dog’s face is still a bit fuzzy and muted.

Here is a photo of the same handler and dog taken with ISO set at 400 and 1/640 shutter speed at f/5.0. The dog’s ears and muzzle still are not as sharp as I would like, but the photo overall has a more balanced, pleasing look.

The softness of focus, however, adds an interesting, impressionistic touch to this image of this dog zipping down the field, which was taken at ISO 400, 1/640 at f/5.0.

Just for kicks, I upped the shutter speed to 1/800 for the first image below. ISO was set at 400 and the aperture was f/5.6. This second photo was also taken at the same ISO and shutter speed at f/5.0. In my experience – and it may not make intuitive sense – I find that even at higher shutter speeds camera shake becomes an issue, especially when I shoot in burst mode and follow the dog (pan).  An upcoming post will look at the pros and cons of using a monopod or tripod in Schutzhund photography. Conversely, the third photo demonstrates my results at setting the ISO at 800, the shutter speed at 1/640 at f/5.0.

Another significant challenge we all face is changing lighting conditions. A dark cloud passed over when I took the photo below, with the sun shining on the background. The ISO was set at 400, shutter speed at 1/640 and aperture at f/4.5. Only thing to do is to be aware of the cloud cover and get ready to make some quick adjustments to compensate! Knowing what settings work for a cloudy day will allow you to make quick adjustments, without missing a shot.

The final two photos demonstrate a technique for photographing dark-coated dogs that has served me well time and again. In the first photo, the dog looks great, but the background is a little over exposed. The second photo illustrates the results after making a few adjustments in Lightroom. The lesson here is to set the camera for the darkest element in the photo, in this case the dog, and adjust the rest via photo editing. Be careful, though, not to over expose the rest of the photo so much that you won’t have anything to work with later.

I must confess that I welcome the chance to photograph dogs that have lighter coats, as shown in these two images. They really stand out!  But then, you might say, “Where is the challenge? And, besides most working dogs have darker coats.” Okay, you got me there!

Seriously, I would be very interested in hearing from you about your experiences! Please post a comment or send me a message. Thank you for visiting.

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Master Photographer Peter Lik takes his best pictures just after sunrise and just before sunset when the suns rays are barely visible and the lighting is very soft and full of color. He also bemoans shooting midday as the light is harsh, colors wash out and it is difficult to capture detail. While Peter will get no argument from me about shooting in the midday sun, we Schutzhund photographers do not often have the luxury of photographing our subjects in ideal lighting conditions or standing still.

A challenging scenario is bright midday sun and dark sable or black dogs, especially at trials. It is enough to make even the most stable photographer go barking mad! The following offers some tips that I hope will be helpful and keep you from howling in frustration.

My thanks to Betty Lindblom of 5 Dogs Photography for her advice, which is reflected in this post. By the way, if you’re not familiar with Peter’s work, I recommend checking out his website or better yet stop in at one of his galleries to view some amazing landscape photography. We have visited a couple of them in our travels; truly inspiring.

Always be aware of the sun’s angle and the background.  More so than any other time of the year, your position relative to the sun and the background are critical considerations for getting great shots. The sun’s rays are stronger, vertical during midday hours, more intense in the summer and reflect off of everything! See the photos below. Notice how the detail of the dog is lost among the brightness of the wood background in the first photo and how the grass and sky serve as massive reflectors in the second photo to wash out the helper and the dog. In addition, the very bright sky throws off the camera’s ability to produce a balanced exposure. I often use a circle polarizer filter  or neutral density filters to minimize the glare and enhance colors. Also, try to shoot at a slight angle to the subject. Take a lot of photos and be patient. Between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm, there really is not much you can do about the harsh lighting. Resign yourself to taking a lot of photos, with slightly different settings, and realize that more photos than not may turn out over exposed, with focus problems or the dog will be a black blob.

Focus in tight. The next photo shows how going for a tighter shot takes away the problems produced by the sky and large reflective backgrounds, such as grass, buildings or wood platforms, leaving a much better exposure with good detail, color and contrast. A little touch up with the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop was all that was needed to give this photo a little extra punch. The dodge tool allows for selective lightening, while the burn tool allows for selective darkening. Very useful for toning down bright spots or adding in some color depth, without having to do a lot of detailed selections and time-consuming layer adjustments.

More About Angles. Shadows produced by the blind itself are a major challenge especially during the summer months. The first photo below has many of the same problems already discussed, but by shooting from a position where the lighting is fairly even in the blind – more from the side – the shadows are minimized. With cropping and some adjustments with the dodge and burn tools, the second photo is much better. Another reason why I like the dodge and burn tools is overall adjustments do not work well when part of the image is very bright and part is very dark. To me, the results seem to mute the color and vibrance of the photo.

Contrasting handler’s clothes with the dog’s coat color. Many handlers think it’s cool to wear black slacks when training or showing their dog in trial. This is not necessarily the best costume for garnishing great photos, especially in the summer. Think about it! Dark or black dog against black pants, how is the camera to distinguish one from another? Encourage handlers to wear slacks that contrast with their dog’s coloring. Blue jeans and tan khakis work very well for dark sable or black dogs. See the photo below.

Portraits in the sun – well maybe not.  This time of year is ideal for taking portraits. Look for even lighting conditions, such as shade with maybe a little bit of sun coming through the trees for a dappling effect. Again, be aware of the sun’s angle and shoot at a slight angle to the dog with the sun over your shoulder. If you are shooting in bright light, again shoot at an angle. Try not to have the sun directly front light the dog as you may lose color and detail. Dogs, especially dark sable or black dogs, look great in green grass, but watch out for color reflections on their fur. If at all possible, take portrait shots early or late in the day. See below for several examples.

Do you have any tips you can offer? Share them here or let me know for a future post. Thank you for visiting!

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At last we come to the final exercise in the protection phase, the Courage Test, also know as the Long Bite. The dogs’ courage and soundness are truly tested during this exercise, as they must come through the threat of the helper (decoy) raising the stick and attack the sleeve with all the courage of their convictions. Some dogs barrel full speed ahead, launching themselves spectacularly at the sleeve with all the force they can muster. Others tend to gather a bit and carefully target their strike. The helper then deflects the dogs’ energy by spinning the dogs around and as quickly as possible and putting them on the ground in preparation for the drive. It is thrilling to watch and often terrifying to photograph!

While there is a strong element of luck to capturing high quality dramatic shots of the Courage Test, you can increase the chances of getting a great shot by paying close attention to tips of composing the shot covered in previous posts. This is one exercise where it really helps to watch the helper and see how he moves in order to position yourself to get the shots you want. Consider, do you want to focus on the moment the handler releases the dog, the race towards the helper, the moment before the strike, the strike itself, the spin or placing the dog on the ground? In my experience, you can’t shoot the entire exercise of a single dogs well, so targeting one aspect increases the chances of getting the shot.

In trials, photographers often are relegated to the side lines, but sometimes you can shoot from the top or bottom of the field. As long as you are far enough away so as not to distract the dogs, this position can yield fascinating photos, particularly if you focus on the dogs face and capture the concentration and determination in the dogs’ eyes. What also may be interesting is to focus in on the helper’s face. It takes a lot of courage on the part of the helper to catch a dog headed straight for him at top speed, with only one thing on its mind – striking the sleeve and taking the helper down. It takes a great deal of skill and finesse to safely catch dogs and drive them. The interplay between the dog and helper is intriguing.

With the courage test, there are great opportunities to create a series of photos, showing the catch, spin and putting the dog on the ground. Be sure, you are not zoomed in so far that you cannot capture the entire sequence, yet not so far back that the action becomes a small part of the image frame. If you start with the dog and helper being a small element in the frame, you will not end up with a sharp image when you crop in, but if you are zoomed in too close, key elements may be cut off or missed completely. It is a balancing act that can only be mastered with a lot of patience and practice. The slide show above starts with a sequence of images.

Also, be very mindful of the power of your zoom lens, backgrounds and the position of the sun. A powerful zoom lens is very helpful for capturing crisp images, but there’s danger there as well. Can’t tell you how many misses I’ve had because the lens decided it was more interesting to focus on the bleachers, a fence, grass, a bush or a goal stand (brighter elements than the dogs) even though I thought I was aimed directly at the dogs, with Auto Focus locked in and my trigger finger poised to get off a burst of shots. In my experience, the best shots are those with the sun behind me or at a slight angle, front lighting the dog. Also, my best shots are taken early in the morning or late in the day.

Midday for these photos is really tough, especially in the summer. The sun reflects off of everything, and dark dogs tend turn into black blobs, with not enough definition of detail or contrast for photo imaging programs to work with. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity to shoot with slower shutter speeds and try for more abstract images. Of course, cloudy, dark days present their own set of problems. Flat lighting tends to translate into flat photographs, with soft focus. And, again zoom lenses may wander off the mark and focus on the brighter elements in the photo, rather than on the dogs and helper. Might be a time to try shooting with the goal of creating black and white images.

Please let me know if you have any questions and if this series of posts on Composing the Shot have been helpful to you. Upcoming posts with look at coping with lighting, including how lighting changes from season to season. Another post will offer specific tips for how to photograph dark or black dogs, a challenge for all Schutzhund photographers. And, more in the series “In Their Own Words”! Thanks for visiting!

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This next segment in a series of interviews with accomplished Schutzhund photographers features Vahneesa (Vinnie) Norberg.  Vinnie grew up in suburbia where she inherited not only a love of nature and animals from her father but also a love of art and creativity from her mother.  In 2003 she opened a small freelance photography studio in rural Minnesota under the name of Black Dog’s Photographer in honor of her dog who had been the subject of many of her photographs. He is considered the CEO (Canine Executive Officer) of Vinnie’s business.  In the beginning, Vinnie did portraits and freelance photography.  Eventually, she dropped the portrait end of her business to focus exclusively on freelance work, which allows her the freedom in photography that she truly enjoys. Vinnie is a probationary club member with St. Croix Valley Schutzhund Verein in east central Minnesota and intends to become a full club member in the spring of 2011.  To see more of Vinnie’s work, visit her photo blog.

How did you get started in Schutzhund photography?  What was your inspiration?

About a month after getting involved in Schutzhund training, a fellow club member asked if anyone knew how to take pictures.  No one else volunteered, so I offered.  I explained that I was a nature and still life photographer and had done some portrait work but had little to no experience in sports or action photography but would give it a try.  I was handed his camera and shot a round of tracking photos for him.  He was happy with the photos I took, so I asked if I could bring my own camera the following week and take pictures for everyone.  I was looking to gain a little experience photographing action shots and an additional avenue in which to learn more about Schutzhund.  I thought of it also as a way to contribute something back to the club members who were so willing to share their knowledge with me.

I have to give credit to my club members and friends for inspiring me to continue to take pictures week after week.  Not only do they continually enjoy my photographs, but they also challenge me, give me helpful suggestions, new ideas and they share my work with others.  Even when I think I’ve had a bad day, they are still thrilled with the photographs I’ve taken.

How long have you been taking pictures?  What events have you taken past and future?

I started in photography while I was in high school in the 1980s, back in the days of film.  I first took an elective course with a phenomenal teacher, Mr. Newhouse, whom I remain in contact with to this day.  After taking this course and with Mr. Newhouse’s encouragement, I joined the high school yearbook staff as a photographer. I have continued to enjoy photography ever since.

I have taken photographs for friends at local trials and a regional trial, but I mostly enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere of Schutzhund training.  I honestly am not sure that I’d want to do any big events as the paid photographer in the future, but I’m always more than happy to tag along with friends and photograph their dogs competing at trials.

What is your philosophy about photographing Schutzhund dogs?

For me it’s twofold:  One. I try to capture the true dog: the beauty, strength, determination, focus, power and pride of the dog. Two. I hope to take photographs that people can learn something from whether it’s the dog’s owner seeing their dog progress or an outsider gaining a better understanding of Schutzhund; sort of like documentary photography.

What equipment do you use?  What is your favorite piece of equipment that you use for Schutzhund photography?  What are “must haves” for any serious Schutzhund photographer – aspiring?

I use a very old digital camera body, a Minolta Maxxum 7D.  I’ve grown really attached to the old gal, and I really dread the day I have to give her up.  So I guess you could say the camera body is my favorite piece of equipment I own. After all without the body, the lens is pretty much useless.  I have several different lenses, but mostly use the 70 – 200mm f2.8 zoom with a circular polarizer for outdoor shooting and a 35 – 80mm for indoor.

A must have? A good padded shoulder strap for carrying around that brick of a camera is nice, but seriously I don’t think it’s necessarily a piece of equipment but rather an understanding of Schutzhund that is a must have.  If you don’t really understand the training, sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between a good shot and a bad shot.

What is your favorite type of picture to take?  How do you go about taking the picture?  What is the most challenging picture to take?  How do you tackle it?

I’m always looking for something that’s new and different maybe with a bit of fun or humor.  I guess I’d say this is my favorite and the most challenging for me.  I don’t want just the standard same ole same ole serious Schutzhund photographs.  I want ones that really capture the spirit and attitude of the team and that haven’t been seen before.  That’s why I really liked the recent post on “Using Aperture and Shutter Speed Settings Creatively.”  This posts talks about some of the ways I tackle something new; for example, just experimenting with aperture and shutter speeds can result in some really unique shots.

Other tips for new and/or experienced photographers?

Enjoy yourself.  Be original.  You don’t have to take the same picture as everyone else to be good, and you don’t need the most expensive equipment.  Use your own vision and show the world the amazing sites you see.

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