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Tips For Photographing Dogs - Action Shots

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Photographing Dogs – Action Shots

General Hints and Tips

Action photography is more often than not down to timing and being ready to press the shutter at just the right moment and you can often take hundreds of action shots in order to get just a few really good ones where it all comes together. You don’t have the time you do with portraits to double check shots just before you press the shutter so a bit of advance planning, setting up and making sure you and the dogs are in position and primed can pay dividends if there is a particular shot you’re aiming for (as opposed to just randomly snapping).

There are countless ‘almost but not quite’ action shots – probably more than there are really good ones - and the usual things which are wrong with them are: not in focus or focus on wrong part of dog i.e. not eyes and face; dog caught in awkward pose or with odd facial expression; cut off part of dog’s anatomy, usually ears or paws; poor colour metering; dull or distracting foreground or background and finally, the shot just not being interesting enough.

Lighting conditions are vital, with bright but overcast skies being ideal. Too bright and you’re going to get too much contrast, it’s difficult enough to meter a fast moving object so adding harsh sunlight just compounds this – with black dogs in particular you’ll end up with a black blob. Don’t shoot on dull days either – dull, grey weather will make for dull, grey photos! You need a bit of light to add interest and bring out the colours, especially with dark faced dogs...

Think about your background – good places to capture action shots are open grassy fields, stubble fields and beaches but the possibilities are endless. However always check the background for ‘clutter’ such as people walking along, other dogs, parked cars, rubbish bins etc. which will ruin your shot.

If you’re taking photos of dogs running in fields of long grass beware of grass strands in front of their faces, you may well get a shot of the dog bounding along but the focus will actually be on all the grass strands between it and the camera so it’ll be no good. Keep the background as simple as possible but try to make it reasonably interesting – a dog running through a field of mud or dead grass is going to look dull no matter how good your efforts but other 'plain' coloured backgrounds can be striking...

Always ensure the horizon is straight, when you’re trying to capture a moving target this can be easy to forget but it’ll spoil the photo, beware of this particularly on beaches where the horizon is especially clear, if it’s squint it’ll be very noticeable!

For the vast majority of action shots you want to be down on the dog’s level so get used to kneeling or crouching down for periods of time. Try not to take action shots standing up looking down on the dog, from their level gives much better perspective.

There are two kinds of action shots - set up shots and spontaneous shots which just happen. The first are obviously easier to control, with the second you just have to be watching the action and be ready to press the shutter at the right moment - often you don't quite get the perfect shot you could have done but they can be fun and you can sometimes capture that elusive really good photo.

A good sit/stay command is vital for set up action shots, especially if you have a specific idea in mind of the shot you want. Set up shots can work really well - position the dogs, get them to sit and then throw something or get an assistant (if you can rope someone into helping you) to throw something in the direction you want the dog to go, either into water or just out across the field/beach etc. Then get yourself into position to capture the action, get the camera up to your face, do a sweep along the route the dog will take, adjust the zoom and the focussing points if necessary, keep your finger on the shutter and keep it primed and then release the dog to go for the retrieve so when they go you're ready to click at just the right moment and have your focussing etc. sorted...

Having someone to assist you can be helpful, especially if your dog isn't keen on running out to fetch things – position the dog and get someone to stand about 50 yards or so from them and then position yourself between them at an angle to the path the dog is going to run along to get to the assistant when they call them. This means that you can concentrate on capturing the motion and get a nice, dynamic angle to the shot...

When positioning the dog in the frame the rule of thirds still applies, the best positioning for running shots is to have the dog running into or out of the frame so positioned slightly to the side and/or coming across the frame at an angle. This can make the photo much more dynamic than having the dog right in the middle of the frame, particularly if you're going for a less tight zoom and want to include some background in the photo (also see the photo above)…

Capturing Motion

For action shots, as with portraits, you want the dog’s eyes and face to be in focus. As to the rest of the dog being in focus that depends on the kind of photo you want – some shots you want as ‘freeze frame’ where you freeze the movement and for others a bit of blur in the legs and body is extremely effective at conveying motion, however you ALWAYS want the eyes and face to be sharp, if they are not then discard the photo and try again! To keep the eyes sharp and get some blur in the legs you can manually set the focus points on your camera and keep these level with the dog’s eyes/face and keep them primed as the dog approaches your ‘shooting spot’ i.e. the positioning where you’re going to take the photo…

Panning is an excellent technique for conveying side-on movement in a photo and can produce some very striking images. To take a panning shot stand still with the camera up to your eye and smoothly turn your upper body to move the camera along with the dog as it runs – it’s vital to move the camera as smoothly as possible keeping the dog in the frame and the focussing points primed on the face and then press the shutter in a smooth motion as you keep moving the camera. Beware of camera shake when doing this, you don’t want any up and down movement, just as smooth a sideways sweep as possible or you will blur the face. It can also help to manually set the focussing points on the camera to just the ones at the front of the frame and keep them primed as you pan the camera (by pressing the shutter button half down) so that the focus is certain to be on the dog's face...

Side-on running shots generally convey an excellent sense of motion but it helps to try to have at least the dog's head turned slightly towards the camera to provide a bit of engagement for the viewer. For a freeze frame photo you want the dog to be in a strong pose, preferably head up and looking out a bit as said - the dog looks like it has a sense of purpose and there's something going on in the photo which captures interest. This is particularly important in shots with simple backgrounds and where the dog really dominates the frame, the total focus is on them so you want to capture them really striding out with a strong, attractive body position and good facial expression. Needless to say these photos must also be sharply focussed to work properly...

Photographing dogs running directly head-on towards the camera is difficult. It’s difficult to get these shots properly in focus and it also tends not to be the most flattering angle for the dog as they often have either the jowly look with their face and ears flying forwards or a scary face pulled right back look, usually with their tongue flapping in the wind as well. It is possible to capture in-focus head-on action shots but try not to have the dog running at full pelt, make sure you're down at their level, focus on the eyes (manually adjust if you have to) and it helps to try to capture a slightly more engaged and pleasing expression than the rather manic mouth gaping jowly or scary face look - something in the mouth can help with this. The dog should also fill the frame as much as possible in shots like this or they usually simply don't hold enough interest to be worthwhile as the dog is so small in the frame...

For taking shots of dogs jumping into water being able to set the photo up in advance and get yourself into position with the dog waiting and ready to go when you release them really is invaluable as to get these kind of shots consistently (as opposed to the odd ‘lucky shot’) you have to be ready to click at the exact moment when they are airborne and it’s also vital that you get the focus right – the photo is really no good if you’ve managed to capture the dog in mid air but it’s out of focus or the focus is on its side rather than its face. When these shots come together with the action, the composition, the lighting and the background they really can work well though...

To photograph dogs swimming try to get down to the water level if possible, in fact if it’s possible get into the water as far as you can and if you can almost rest the camera/lens on the surface of the water, this makes a big difference to the results you get. Try to capture the dog swimming towards you and/or at a slight angle rather than fully side on as it can be hard to capture the eyes that way and a bit of engagement with the camera is nice...

Silhouetted action photos can be very effective but keep the background simple and the shapes as strong and clear as possible…

Lastly, always be ready for that unexpected shot, funny action shots can literally come out of nowhere!

© Nicola McClure 2009 for Cockersonline (Not to be reproduced in full or part without the author's permission)

brilliant  ;) :luv: 


--- Quote from: livercake on September 24, 2009, 02:48:10 PM ---brilliant  ;) :luv: 

--- End quote ---

Says it it!

Fantastic advice again - are you a professional Nicola?

Great tips and photo's again Nic :shades:

The jumping and motion shots are something I'm going to have a go at :D thanks for explaining so well how to do them ;)


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