After a number of years without much photographic activity, the bug slowly started coming back during the mid to late 1990s. The advent of the digital camera era got my curiosity aroused, but the high price of the cameras kept me off the playing field. That is until Kodak came out with a reasonably priced 1MP camera, the DC20, which retailed for $299. Yes, times have changed!
The DC20 was capable of taking either 8 shots at full resolution or 16 at half resolution and had a fixed focal length lens. To get the images off the camera required attaching it to a serial port and waiting for the bits to flow! It was fun for experimenting and some very basic shots, but produced horrible artifacts.
The Olympus C960 (IIRC) came next in 2000 and it allowed me to start doing some actual photography with a digital camera, such as the Halloween shot of my daughter Teegan (left) and her friend.
During this time, the volume of my shooting went up dramatically, as the results were a bit more controllable and pleasing to the eye. My education in photography was getting back on track, as I started paying closer attention to composition and light conditions; a lot of this was still trial and error, but if I look back at my images over these couple of years, there is a progression.
In 2003, I needed a camera upgrade and found the Minolta Dimage 7i, which was a big step up at 5 MP and much more control. The improvement in image quality and the added control with the optical zoom enabled me to start exercising more control over the final look of the image. This accelerated my learning and provided the stepping stone to the next level.
Going to the dogs
In 2004, my wife, Kris, started competing in agility with on of our Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Darwin. Going with Kris to these competitions, I brought my trusty Minolta with me to get some shots of Darwin in action. Of course, I would get in a couple of practice shots of other dogs, so that I had an idea what I could expect and where to get the best possible shot of Darwin. And, because during these competitions most of your time is spent waiting for the next time Darwin gets to run the course, I got bored and started photographing other dogs’ runs.
Pretty soon, people started asking me, if I would consider selling the pictures I took of their dogs to them. I wasn’t ready for that yet, particularly since my camera had a slight problem: shutter lag. If you’re familiar with the Minolta Dimage 7i, you might know that there is about 1/3 second between pressing the shutter and image capture; not bad for photographing a posed group, but tricky when you try to get running dogs at just the right time.
You get the idea: upgrade time to my first Digital SLR, the Canon 10D. This immediately solved the shutter lag problem and gave me full control over all the functions of the camera. Now the learning had to go into high gear, as my plan was to pay for this camera with photo sales from agility competitions. I convinced a couple of clubs to let me photograph their agility trials and found something out very quickly: people love photos of their dogs in action.
Looking back at the images from the first couple of trials, I have to admit that they were pretty rough. The first step was to learn what the limits of my camera and lens were in terms of the exposure triangle. Stopping motion of a dog in mid-flight requires a reasonably fast shutter speed. And with this camera, I couldn’t push the ISO too high, as color cast would appear due to the graininess.
By early 2005, I had a decent handle on my camera and was able to produce shots, such as this Basset Hound doing a superdog flight over the final jump (there is a story behind this shot…). The key learning piece was all about learning to master the equipment, so that to a casual observer it would simply look like all these shots required was a simple press of the shutter. I learned to estimate exposure values, adjust for the difference in reflected light off different colors, compensate exposure depending on the color of the dog, and anticipate what the dog would do.
During this time, I did start buying photography books to accelerate my learning. One of the books that I found invaluable is Brian Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, which covers much more than just exposure, as he spends quite a bit of time on composition as well.
In terms of learning, photographing action was an excellent school, as the goal is to not miss any great shot and be prepared for anything. I learned to shoot with both eyes open, as my non-dominant left eye can pick up on what is outside the right eye’s field of view through the lens. I studied a tremendous amount about exposure, and learned how to look at a location to quickly analyze where the good vantage points are.
What was lacking from the dog-sport and other action photography was a sense of artistic expression. The next step was to expand my range of photography and skills, so that I could take on new challenges.
In the next part, we’ll go over the range of skills and artistic expansion exercises that have led me to where I am today. Hope you’re enjoying this little journey along my photographic path.