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Posts Tagged ‘shutter speed’

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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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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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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!

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Depth of Field-8

Depth of Field-4

Depth of Field-7

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Striking a balance so both the dog and the field are properly exposed is a continuing challenge for Schutzhund photographers. While this topic has been explored in earlier posts, one aspect that has yet to be discussed in any great degree is contrast. What is contrast and is it friend or foe to Schutzhund photography? The Digital Photography School blog has a very good post about contrast and explains the concept very simply:

  • Contrast: The difference between dark and light
  • High Contrast: An extreme difference between dark and light
  • Low Contrast: A gradual or lesser difference between dark and light
  • Colour Contrast: Tonal differences, as well as Saturation levels, of colours
  • High Key: Mostly light including whites
  • Low Key: Mostly darks including blacks
  • No Contrast: Is a Whiteout in the Antarctic and very dangerous. Best advice is return to Base Station.

I really like that definition for “No Contrast”, having just been to Antarctica and photographed floating ice (see images below). These images show how different floating ice can look in different lighting conditions and contexts.

In Antarctica as on the Schutzhund field, it is important to remember that white reflects while black absorbs light. Schutzhund fields often are very bright and reflect light, while dark sable and black dogs absorb light. On cloudy days, when everything seems murky, dark sable and black dogs can turn out very muddy and blobs – again they are absorbing available light, which on these days isn’t very much. There is not enough light to provide contrast. Photographers love light overcast, which tends to neutralize the very bright sunlight and provide more even lighting.

Reflective light may play games with color balance, such as a bright blue sky may add more blue to the picture. This was certainly true in Antarctica, where some photos seemed too cool and needed to be warmed up with respect to white balance, in other words remove some of the blue (see Images 5, 6, 8 and 9, which show before and after adjustments). In other photos, in order to get the rest of the photo properly exposed, I elected to let part of the floating ice be very white and reflective (see Images 1, 2, 4 and 10). While it would be nice to have toned some of this down, it is – in fact – pretty close to what we saw.

It is easy to assume that ice and snow are all white, but in actuality ice has a myriad of colors, especially glacial ice, which has many shades of blue, some of which seem to glow!  Also, ice and snow pick up debris and sometimes have penguins and seals handing out. Images 7, 11, 12 and 13 are good examples.

I really like Image 3 as it offers an excellent balance and a lot of detail. It was taken later when the sun was low, providing a very colorful sky and soft light on the ice berg. The sea was dark, which offered a nice contrast.

Going back to the Digital Photography School blog post, here are a few practical tips for “getting the most contrast in a scene”:

  • Shoot with the narrowest aperture possible for light conditions
  • Shoot with the fastest shutter speed possible for light conditions

Also, use your camera’s exposure compensation, adding dark to dark and light to light to help with getting proper exposure. Some photographers also rely heavily on histograms. The next post will take a more in-depth look at histograms and will be up in early March, following the Greater Atlanta Schutzhund Association annual trial on February 23 and 24.

Until then – Happy Shooting!

Floating Ice 1

Floating Ice 1

Floating Ice 2

Floating Ice 2

Floating Ice 3

Floating Ice 3

Floating Ice 4

Floating Ice 4

Floating Ice 5

Floating Ice 5

Floating ice 6

Floating ice 6

Floating Ice 7

Floating Ice 7

Floating Ice 8

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Floating Ice 9

Floating Ice 9

Floating Ice 10

Floating Ice 10

Floating Ice 11

Floating Ice 11

Floating Ice 12

Floating Ice 12

Floating Ice-13

Floating Ice 13

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, enjoy the highlights and happy shooting!

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