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Old 05-18-2011, 04:55 PM
Mike Mike is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Hillsboro, OR
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Default Agility

For a number of years, my main shooting was done at different events, the majority being at dog shows and herding and agility trials. I've been particularly busy shooting dog agility, something I really love. Those that haven't seen a high level agility trial probably don't realize just how fast those dogs go as they work their way through the maze of equipment. Several dogs we have bred have gone on to be champion agility dogs, with one having achieved the #2 ranked agility dog in the US and in the top 4 or 5 for a number of years. She's also the most AKC titled agility runner for Bouvier des Flandres and also the most titled in one of the non AKC groups. And it is so much fun to watch her blow the pants off the traditional fast agility runners like Border Collies. Even going on at 12 years of age, she was still leaving most of them in her dust. She was one fast and accurate dog.

So I really enjoy shooting agility. But it's not something that you just go out, stand by the fence and fire away... not if you expect to get very many useable images. Since most are so fast, they aren't on the field for very long. And most of the time they are weaving and turning and dodging back on themselves. You have equipment in the way of good shots, lousy and very busy backgrounds and people all over the place. Most agility trials are either outside in harsh daylight or indoors in piss poor lighting. I've shot in snow, freezing rain, temps almost too hot for the dogs to run in, dark barns and arenas and under just about every type of light you can think of... sometimes all of it at the same time. You can't use flash or it might distract the dog. You have to learn how to move around the outside of the ring when the dogs are running or you might distract the dog. You have to be concerned of being close and pointing a big lens at the dog or you might distract them. In other words, as the photographer, I do not want to be the cause of any reason that a dog might get distracted and blow a run. While the dog's will surely forgive you, if you make a habit of it, the owners/handlers, judges and supporting family and friends will never forget.

When a agility field is set up, it's almost never set up the same way twice. Sometimes they are so contorted that the computers that create them can't do it and one of the demented agility members will do it. When I get to a site, the first thing I do is look the field over. I check for best side to shoot based on where I'm shooting, indoors or outdoors. When the dog handlers do their walk through prior to running the course, I'll watch them so I can see the pattern of the course. Then I start looking for the best place that will give me a good shot of most equipment. Sometimes with a step or two I can cover several different pieces of equipment. Sometimes because of the way they set it up I pretty much have to pick one or two pieces of equipment and stick with that. If I'm lucky I can cover the more exciting pieces (weave is high on the list followed by jumps) and still cover the finish spot. The finish is an important shot with the owners... and if I can get the time clock in the picture as well, even better. But as it usually goes, they do not set up the agility course with a photographer in mind. I've talked to a number of other agility photographers and we all agree, if we were setting it up, we'd do it a lot different.

As I said, I've shot in all kinds of weather. The following two shots were taken in St. Louis at a big dog show a few years ago. The first day was cold with almost a freezing rain falling. They had a big cover for people to be under, but to get pictures I had to be out at the fence. So I stayed under the cover between runs. Luckily the few good angles were only about 6' from where I was standing, so I didn't have to walk very far. The dogs loved the cooler weather, but all of us humans thought differently about it.

These shots are of the table. The dogs have to run and jump up on them and stay until the judge has counted to a pre-determined number. Each runner had a different way that they had trained their dog to know they had to sit and stay until give the release.

This guy looked like he was having a real heart to heart talk with his dog:

While this woman looked more like she was saying... "I'm cold, you're cold, just do what you are suppose to and we'll be outta here and into the warm car in no time."

The talk must have done some good, because here is the same dog wasting no time getting through the rest of the course.

This isn't the same Border Collie as the first one, but this gives a good example of some of the harsh light that has to be considered and the very busy backgrounds that you can't do anything about. I always shot for the shadows and let the highlights do what they will. Since the dog was usually in the shadow, I would usually get a good exposure on the dog and then not worry about blown highlights.

Even if us humans sometimes find conditions less than ideal, the dogs always seem to love it. But most every one has a great time at agility.

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