First, I have to tell you one of the most important things (something obvious) in Dog Photography....if you can, you should always choose a nice location to make shots. Is it easy? Not always :)
Then, you have to know the dog you will take in photos. It's important to know how much it jumps high or how it runs.....if it moves head up and down during run or not.....if it jumps too early or too late catching the disc and if its energy is more visible after the catch or before.
Each dog has its own style and this could make each photo unique.
The color of the dog is very important too, and it make me choose the right position in field to show the dog at his best with nice coat and nice eyes color or if i want to shot him while he's staring me. Black dogs are completely different from black and white or brown one and it's important to know how will be the result with background and the light. Dogs with brown coat are more easy to shot and focusing. Black dogs are much more difficult.
Colors and light in background are very important to create a nice final effect. Light through leaves is fantastic to create a magic bokeh.
Another thing i like to do is choose the right lens. I love to use Nikkor 70-200mm f/2,8 VRII or Nikkor 300mm f/2,8 VR....each time i don't know what will be my choice for the shooting because i choose on field at last minute and i often change it during the shooting session.
Focal lenght aside, the results that i look for, is very different. I will use 70-200mm f/2,8 (200mm) to take perfect photos without mistakes, but if i want to create a magic photo i will use the 300mm f/2,8 that give me the possibility to separate dogs from background better with a 3D effect. In this case, pay attention to the micro camera shake also because i don't use a tripod but only free hands.
After choosing lens i proceed setting the camera; this is very important and i do it meticulously every time. People underestimate the importance of settings in camera and lens. This is one of the secret to have good photos !
Then it's time to shot ! Do you know that there is a magic moment to make a shot to a dog in action? I'm not referring to the catch in disc dog ! .... remember that each photo should tell a little story :)
I’ve always thought that the best advice for the success of a photo residing in smaller details, so don’t underestimate the little tips.
Many times I’ve often spoken about “communication” of a photo that should always tell a story; for me it's very important to freeze an instant able to tell what the dog has done until the moment of the shutter release and what he is going to do showing a dynamic situation (the action). I want to leave the observer of the photo to think about the photo more than two seconds….I would like the observer to be interested about the photo. The only way to try to do this is try to tell a story….think about this please! This is not philosophy :)
Taking for granted that you know the dog and his play mode, I want you to make a good positioning in field taking the sun as you prefer….the light is important and terrible at the same time, but you can do fantastic photos with sun in every position so choose the one you prefer remembering that a direct sun on a white and black coat (ex: border collie) could burns white and black tones on photo, especially if there is a part of a dog under the sun (white side for example) and another part on the dark shadow side (black side for example). This is not a nice situation but during competitions this is normal because you will shot from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and you will face each type of light condition :). If possible try to don’t have car, house or bad things on background because these don’t change during the day and you will find it in each photo! :)
Now, an important point: many lens has an optic stabilization….should we use it? Always? Never? Sometimes? Let’s speak about this applied to dogs in action photography.
I prefer to don’t write specifically the name of the brand I’m speaking about beacuse I want to make a general and technical discussion.
The optic stabilization is a system to reduce camera shake and prevent any micro blur of the subject. It quite often works with a sampling system to 1000Hz (1000 times in a second) detecting the angular velocity (by means of two sensors ... one for horizontal and one for vertical mixing them for those diagonals) imprinted to the camera from our hands every millisecond and it’s not completely uncorrelated the shutter speed. And it’s confirmed that the data can be read more accurately to half the sampling frequency, and then we can undo only the movements of shake-smallest of 500Hz (500 times in a second ... 1/ 500s). So taking faster than 1/500s we do not need any added optic stabilization also because this sometimes results in a “dirty” bokeh (it happens sometimes on the grass at the edge of the frame but not only) that is not so pleasant to see besides the fact that might arise micro movements of adjustment of the lenses by the optic stabilization system that still has not stabilized the lens due to the faster shutter speed (and this results into a loss of sharpness as a small error of focusing) . Before pressing completely the shutter button, the system performs a re-centering of the lens of and this means that sometimes the shot slightly change from what we had seen in the viewfinder or sometimes the magic moment is lost. So I would say faster than 1/500s the optic stabilization should be off. And if you are over 1/1000s you will avoid also even motion blur of the subject and you're set! :))).
Remember that if you want to use the optic stabilization you have to track the subject, pressing half the shutter button, a little before and this is not so nice for us that follow a dog that is continuously changing his position and his run mode on field asking us to change AF mode during the action with the joystick managed by the thumb (yes, you have read right).
I find optic stabilization useful when shutter speed are lower than the focal length (for telephoto lenses) with static subjects (portraits), but not in the macro photography because the system often makes lose a bit of sharpness and in macro eye jump. We can discuss whether it is helpful turn on the optic stabilization on a helicopter or on a train but that's not the case we are discussing :))
I hope you are not angry with me because I’ve not spoken about the magic moment to shot but I’ve thought to tell you some tips about optic stabilization before you go to try the new settings on field :)
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