Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Going to the Dogs!

I hate being sick. It puts such a crimp in your plans. I'm reminded of my grandmother's expression, "if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans". OK, my grandmother never said that but it sounds like something she might have.

So getting the flu (again! Twice in one year. Damn) last week messed up a dental appointment, and more to the point, the field trip to Niagara Falls (slowly I turned. Foot by foot... I had to say that. Knee-jerk reaction. If you don't know where it comes from, Google it. And tell us which version you like best!). I haven't heard back from any of the participants, but it had to be a great trip: hotel suite for a weekend, lots of stuff to photograph, good friends, good food... FWIW I was able to re-book the hotel for mid-February but not a suite. At least I didn't lose my payment.

The flu also slowed me down. I really didn't do anything for a week. I spent a lot of time napping in the computer chair or bundled up in a blanket in front of the fireplace. By Saturday I was bored out of my mind and although I was still congested and coughing, I had to get out. Then I remembered that the Niagara trip had conflicted with another event: the Haliburton Sled Dog Derby. So I bundled up warm in my down jacket and snow pants, and went out to see what's what.

I didn't stay all day, although I shot from 3 vantage points: the staging area, the start/finish line and out on the course. I shot a bunch of images of sled teams running away in the distance, into the setting sun but I didn't like any of those shots. One thing I DID do was to stick to one lens (except for a brief swap to my 70-200 because I wanted to use the shallow depth of field). All of the other shots were with the 120-400mm lens and all at 400 mm.

For you technical types, I set the camera to shutter speed priority because I don't get good results with that lens over 1/500 second. Keeping the ISO at 400, I was able to shoot at f/5.6 with one stop of exposure compensation dialled in (snow should be white, not grey). I was using a monopod which helps but if I'm going to use one, I need a better one. The issue I'm having with that lens is that I like to focus, then recompose the shot, but shooting in continuous focus mode (moving subjects), that messes up the focus and the exposure as well.

In talking to a friend who shoots birds and wildlife and action, he says the trick is to stay on the subject with the focus point, don't worry too much about composition and re-frame the image (crop it) later. That goes against what I've been trying to do, so I need to practice more. He did tell me one encouraging thing: he (and other action shooters) bang off a lot of frames and have a much lower success rate. I have to learn to hold down that shutter release and bring home 800 images instead of 200.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I'd like to hear back from others about how to shoot this stuff.

Anyway, here are some pictures from Saturday. I hope you like them. None of them are HDR's, they're all from single images but they've all been toned and sharpened in post processing.


This is that one shot with the 70-200 at f/2.8. It's cropped and toned. I find the extreme effect of the toning makes it interesting.



He's one of the race organizers. Toned again, of course. I use Topaz Adjust 5, mostly.


Team on the last leg to the finish line, about 1 km to go. These dogs are exhausted and the driver is encouraging them to run. But they're athletes and you can tell they love doing this. Picture a human athlete in a race, totally pumped!



Sometimes they don't make it. This dog collapsed in the harness a couple of hundred meters from the finish and was being dragged along on his/her side by the rest of the team at full speed. The driver had to stop, unhitch the dog and load him/her into the sled for the rest of the way.




This dog was running in a ski-joring event: two dogs harnessed to a cross-country ski racer. Wild eyes! They actually looked like that but I had to clean them up because they were too noisy.



The dogs are gorgeous. I shot this in the staging area just before the dogs were harnessed up for the 8-dog team race. The Huskies and Malamut's sometimes have such compelling blue eyes!



This was my favourite shot of the day. Again in the staging area, you could tell that this dog was aching to get out there and run!

The races continued on Sunday but I thought it was a better plan to stay indoors and continue to recover from the flu. I did have a good time and I was glad I was able to get out for at least a couple of hours over the weekend.


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