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These past few weeks have been restful and fun using digital painting, textures and other techniques to create unique photographic art. Below are some examples:

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There is so much you can do with these techniques to enhance images. So far I’ve primarily done head shots, but I think they will work well with action shots, too. The key, I’ve discovered, is to work with close up images that have a lot of detail, clarity and strong colors. I am not sure images with blown out highlights or deep shadows will yield good results, as there is not enough detail.  While I am in-between classes, I am accepting commissions and running a special, which you can view here.

Last weekend, I attended the USCA Southeast Regional Championship. The weather on the first day of competition was an awful (rainy and dark); better on the second day for photography. While I did not shoot the event myself, I did spy several other photographers snapping away. Remember when shooting from the sidelines, you need to zoom in to catch the action. In general, the camera lens does a much better job of focusing when it is zoomed in on the dog rather than trying to catch a more panoramic shot of the entire field. There are not many clear focal points on the IPO field so the lens will often focus on something other than the dog, especially if it is lighter than the dog’s fur. It takes some practice, but being able to anticipate the dog and handler allows you to zoom in, which in turn greatly increases the chance of snapping sharp images.

Next up is preparing to shoot the Chattahoochee Schutzhund Club trial the end of April and more digital painting. Until then…Happy Shooting!

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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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If you look at the thousands of IPO photographs gracing Facebook, Pinterest, Intagram and other social media sites, they pretty much look alike, especially with respect to color. The style of photography is photo journalistic; that is, photographers capture the moment as it happened. This isn’t a surprise, given the nature of the sport and of where training and trials are held.

Although IPO fields look monochromatic on first glance, they really are not. They are plenty of colors all around. And, even if a variety of colors are lacking, such as in winter on a gray day, much can still be done with the tones and hues that are present. As noted in Part 1 of this series, color communicates an emotion or message in an instant. It also creates a mood, draws viewer attention to or away from a part(s) of the image, or adds an interesting highlight. In short, color is an important part of the story.

The following list of colors and meanings and feelings associated with them is adapted from Latrice Eiseman’s book Pantone® Guide to Communicating with Color. PANTONE® is recognized worldwide as a standard in color management among printers, artists, painters and designers. The Pantone Institute studies how color influences human thought processes, emotions and physical reactions. So, this seems like a great place to start!

RGB color wheel

RED:  Seeing this color creates a physical response with the release the hormone epinephrine, which causes people to breathe faster, raises blood pressure, and increases the heart rate and perspiration. The human mind connects RED with excitement and high energy. Red literally turns people on. Latrice writes, “It has an aggressive nature, commanding attention and demanding action.”

PINK:  “Vivid, shocking or hot pinks share the same high energy and spirit as mother red,” Latrice notes. Pink is associated with energy, youthfulness and creates “a feeling of movement and wild abandon.” Pink is fun, but it can be faddish.

ORANGE: This color is among the hottest of all colors. It brings up feelings of glowing and vitality. “In its most vivid intensities, it is perceived as a color that shouldn’t be taken too seriously; a dramatic exclamation point…It’s seen as playful, gregarious, happy and childlike…Orange contains some of the drama of red, tempered by the cheerful good humor of yellow.”

YELLOW: A color often seen on the IPO field from the sun, to blinds and the one-meter hurdle. It is “equated with splendor and heat of the sun…light and warmth.” It also is associated with imagination and enlightenment. As noted, yellow is cheerful and energetic. The human eye sees yellow before any other color. Good reason to use yellow for blinds and jumps as this color makes them stand out from the background. I’m not entirely sure the dog cares one way or the other, but for the handler and spectators, yellow pulls the eyes to these key elements on the IPO field.

BROWN: This color “is the ultimate earth color associated with hearth and home, substance and stability.” It also is associated with durability. Some view brown as dirt or dirty; not necessarily a positive response. In the IPO world, dirt and being dirty is a way of life, but for spectators or people not familiar with the sport, too much brown may be a negative. The key here is to bring out the connection with the earth – not a hard thing to do, since IPO is an outdoor sport.

BLUE: This color is a constant in our lives and “is strongly associated with sky and water…Blue is seen as reliable, trustworthily, dependable and committed. It inspires confidence.” Blue is also restful. “Humans are soothed and replenished when they view blue, and there is some evidence that when blue enters our line of vision, the brain sends out chemical signals that work as a tranquilizer.” Darker blue communicates power. Brilliant blues are dynamic and dramatic, a stark contrast, that can be used advantageously.

GREEN: This color in its many hues and tones “offers the widest array of choices.”  Blue greens are thought of as cool and clean, but also can communicate warmth. Mostly, green is associated with nature, and communicates freshness.  Deeper, richer greens are identified with money and prestige, safety and security.

PURPLE: A color with many meanings “from contemplative to regal…It is both sensual and spiritual.” Purple is not a color typically seen in the IPO world, although sunsets and sunrises are, and they can have purple shades. Consider, for example, a dog tracking early in the morning with a hint of purple in the sky or a silhouette of a dog working at sunset.

NEUTRALS: There are a lot of neutral colors, such as beiges, grays and taupe, in IPO. These colors are “seen as solid, enduring, timeless, and above all, classic.” They are safe and non-offensive.

WHITE:  Most often, IPO photographers encounter white as blown out highlights (joke!).  Seriously, this color “imparts purity and simplicity.”  It is not a color seen very often in IPO, except on handlers who wear white on hot summer days.  As it is a very difficult color to photograph, I encourage handlers to avoid wearing white.

BLACK: The most popular color in all of IPO! Many dogs are black or have a lot of black in their coats. Handlers love to wear black! Black “is associated with magical mysteries of the night.” It also communicates power, elegance, sophistication, expensive and dramatic. All good qualities of IPO dogs and handlers. Yet, it too, is difficult to photograph.

For more about these and other colors, I encourage you to look up Latrice’s book. It’s a quick, easy read. Part 3 of this series will look at IPO images and how color was used to highlight the action and to enhance the viewer’s experience. Until then, 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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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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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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