Working DogsThe Spirit of the Working BreedsPhotography
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Capturing the Spirit of the Working Dog
in Photographs:  Part IV

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By Dennis Glennon, Wildlife, Nature & Dog Photographer

Every dog has ‘spirit’ -- an individual energy, personality, and character. This is what gives each dog its uniqueness. The key to capturing spirit on film is to study the breed AND the individual dog you’re going to photograph.  Assuming you have some basic photographic knowledge, you can achieve superior results.  Even if you don’t possess a professional model camera, the good news is that you don’t need one, or a Ph.D. in Dogology, to capture the spirit of the working dog on film.  This is how I do it…  Click for Part IV of the article.

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CAPTURING THE SPIRIT, Part IV   [ Dennis Glennon ]

Light, Camera, Action!!! The Art of Hunting Shots

The hardest images to capture on film are action shots. In the last year or two, I’ve been photographing hunt trials. This is some of the most demanding photography I’ve 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, it‘s 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 better shots.

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 I’m 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 think.

Ideally you want to have the dog at the beginning, rather than the end of the frame. That is why it’s 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 Faith.

Click for a large image of Leap of Faith,  Dennis Glennon

This photograph certainly shows the eagerness of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and does my breed justice.


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