Camera, Action!!! The Art of Hunting Shots
The hardest images to capture on film are action shots. In the
last year or two, Ive been photographing hunt trials. This is some of the most
demanding photography Ive ever done. Live events like hunt trials are difficult to
photograph. The action is fast, and the focus is on getting the dogs qualified, not on the
guy with the camera taking pictures of everything. You are a secondary thought, if a
thought at all, but if you are able to get a great image, you will be appreciated.
The key to getting successful images when photographing any dog
event is to be in the right location and to know what you want to achieve. Again,
its a good idea to do your homework, so attend training, live hunt trials, or
whatever the event may be, before your actual photo shoot to get an idea of what goes on.
Yes, I recommend not taking your camera to your first hunt trial.
Having no camera to think about and fiddle with will force you to study the dogs, the
sequence of events, and the light at different times of the day. Again, lighting makes a
difference. It determines whether you get flat or rich photographic results. (An upcoming
article on Photography and Light will provide more detail.) Being "sans
camera" will also free you up to talk with people and introduce yourself. If people
know you (and like you! <grin!>) they will be more comfortable with you
photographing their dogs and even go out of their way to help you get positioned to take
The first hunt trial I attended was a Chessie Fun Day; a day
dedicated to dog training. I wanted images of dogs swimming with birds in their mouths,
and I wanted classic water entries as they went out to retrieve those birds.
Before I ever took my camera from my photo pack, I studied the actions of the dogs on
site, took note of the location of the sun, and studied the different angles for possible
photo compositions. Since it was a "fun day" and not a serious competition,
people were more relaxed and therefore, extremely cooperative about letting me get into
different positions to photograph their dogs.
When photographing a dog
event, it is of the UTMOST importance to get permission from the organizers to do so. In
this instance, I am talking about hunt trials, but the policy applies to any event, dog or
otherwise, where you will be poking around with your camera. A future article called
"Dog Event Photo Etiquette" will be posted on my website discussing this and
covering Hunt and Field events specifically.
After securing permission from the organizers of the hunt
training, I set myself up along a bank where the dogs were entering the water. I wanted to
get a side profile of a dog with an impressive, enthusiastic entry. For those of you who
want technical details, I used a 600mm lens, 100-speed Fuji slide film, and my Minolta
700si camera body. The long lens gave me enough working distance so I did not disturb the
dogs, which is crucial.
Working dogs are very focused on doing their jobs, but just as
aware of their environment, so I wanted to blend into the scene, rather than stand out and
distract them, for the courtesy of the people working their dogs and for my own selfish
reasons! A dog fully focused on doing his job is going to enable me to get exactly what
Im hoping for; a unique and impressive image.
Timing is everything when photographing dogs in action, so I used
a motor drive in my camera which is a device that speeds up the film advance feature and
lets me take frame after frame continuously, allowing me to shoot five frames per second
as opposed to the usual one frame per second. This increases the likelihood, by five, that
I will get some real striking moments of action on film.
One of my favorite images from
a hunting event is an exciting shot of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever hurling himself into a
lake to bring a fallen duck back to his master. I started shooting as soon as each dog was
released. One method I use to avoid blur is to pan along with the action of the dog; in
other words, have your camera move with the dog, following it.
It is important to keep in mind that to capture the action, your
lens has to be pointing to a spot ahead of the dog, to the viewing area the dog will soon
be entering. Most newer cameras have some kind of predictive auto focus. This allows you
to start shooting before the dog is fully in the frame. When the shutter is depressed, the
slight delayed reaction will capture the dog more in the frame (viewing area) than you
|Ideally you want to have the dog at the beginning,
rather than the end of the frame. That is why its necessary to start your exposure
(prepare for your shot) before the dog even enters the frame. Have faith and try this
technique with your action shots. By doing so, I captured just what I wanted that day, and
aptly named it Leap of
This photograph certainly shows the eagerness of
the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and does my breed justice.
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