Photographing dogs and using flash outdoors.  

When my friend Jo McAvany told me she wanted to do something the combined her love of photography and love of large breed dogs I was intrigued. She said she was planning to make a photograph book of big dogs that live in the Kamloops area.

Jo intends to spend the next year photographing the dogs in all seasons and at different locations throughout the year.

For the past two years that I have known her I’ve been pushing her to use lighting when photographing people indoors and out. She began by attending my lighting workshops and eventually became my ever-helpful teaching partner.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when she said. “Will you help me with the lighting on my project”. I readily said I would.

Flash technology made quite a leap from the manual settings we once used to when Nikon added TTL in the early 1980s. That was when I sold all my Pentax and Canon equipment and “jumped” to Nikon. (I am pretty sure all modern cameras have TTL flash capability)

Flash took another large step when digital cameras became the norm. TTL was already almost foolproof and digital technology offered added control. Then it again matured and “High-speed Sync” was introduced and mastery over light in any environment and condition became easy.

Manufacturers began offering portable wireless units that, unlike the dedicated speedlights a photographer usually purchases with their camera, are much like those powerful units used in serious studios.

For readers that aren’t familiar with flash, High-speed sync means a photographer is no longer limited to the normal 1/200th or 1/250th second flash sync most speedlights use. HSS allows a sync speed up to 1/8000 of a second.

When I teach workshops on Flash I tell participants that the Shutter controls the ambient light and the Aperture controls the flash power. And remind them that increasing the shutterspeed allows us to widen the aperture.

When Jo walked out in the white, painfully reflective snow on a bright cloudless day to photograph those dogs this past week the contrast between the shadows and highlights were enough to ruin the pictures. However, I added flash and moved around to change the direction of the light fell on her subject. All she had to do was reduce the ambient light by increasing her shutterspeed and change the flash brightness by stopping down or opening up her aperture. Our goal was to balance the light on the dogs as evenly as possible without Jo’s final image showing that a flash was even employed.

Jo worked with the owners to pose the dogs. She’s very precise when it comes to how she wants them to be for the photograph. My job was to pay attention to the flash-to-subject distance and keep checking to make sure the light wasn’t to bright or to dark.

Confining oneself to only natural light means there will be elements beyond control. Natural light limits when and where one can shoot during the day. With the sun high in the sky at noon, there will either be a backlit silhouette, or the bright light will blind the subject and create black shadows. And if it starts snowing or raining, there usually won’t be enough light to shoot indoors.

Flash gives a photographer 100% control over the lighting. Whether completely doing away with the ambient light in the studio or adding flash with natural light outdoors, the photographer is in charge and can get the light to look exactly the way he or she wants it at any time of day.

Photographing people and their dogs.  

This August has been one of those months that most people I talk to are looking forward ending. This quote from “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd, easily sums up my feelings, “The month of August had turned into a griddle where the days just lay there and sizzled.”  The dry lifeless heat and the all-consuming smoke from all the wildfires here in British Columbia have left me with little interest in wandering outside with my camera. That said I hope I won’t be to boorish by again returning to my mid July’s trip to Washington with it’s cool mornings and gosh, (no smoke) fresh morning air.

Dogs have become, actually I think they always have been, part of the family. And on my trip to the city of Anacortes there were dogs everywhere.

There were there dogs taking their owners on stop and go walks along the streets and alleys, There were dogs patiently waiting outside of grocery stores, restaurants, bars and shops along the main street, there were dogs lounging in the shade after a strenuous day of helping their people look for treasures at the giant flee market, and when I got up to leave for home in the morning I saw dogs excitedly stepping out of their motel lodgings and wait anxiously for vehicles to be packed.

Photographing dogs is always fun. Well, that’s my opinion.

Walk up to some stranger and ask if you can photograph them and all to often they will either say no or silently and quickly turn and walk away. But ask that same person if you can photograph their dog and you’ll usually be met with a smile and “sure”. People are proud of their dogs.

The accomplished street photographer and blogger, Han Dekker always includes at least one photo he calls “street dogs” in his posts each week. And it’s his photos that got me thinking I should spend some time photographing people with their dogs as I walked the streets of that small coastal town.

I like dogs, so photographing them and complementing them and their owners is always a pleasure. I did do street candids of some people and their dogs. However, mostly I would walk up and say, “I gotta take a picture of you and your dog.”

One will find lots of artistic dog photographers on social media. I would call some of them portraitists when I look at their creative depth of field and soft focused images. Others are more candid with their distant captures, and some are surely making social statements. However, my approach is as always, to just have fun as I move from subject to subject.