Show Photography: Part One

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.”

~ Ben Williams

I’ve been promising to share a lot of show photography concepts this summer but life keeps getting in the way. So here’s a solution. I’m going to take the chapter on show photography that didn’t make it into my book, break it down into two parts, and publish it here.

My writing in the book is a bit tongue in cheek because I wanted to make it different from most photography books which are as technical as a car manual and about as easy to understand. Don’t get me wrong…the concepts of animal photography are well explained in the book, but it is light and easy and well, fun. I think life is tough enough without ruining your favorite activity (photographing your pets) with a lot of mumbo jumbo that’s written for professional photographers when all you want to do is get better at your photography and enjoy the journey. That said, I’ve had quite a few professional photographers tell me they gained a lot of tips from the book.

So here’s Part One from the chapter on show photography that didn’t make it into the final cut. This part is on photographing outside at a show.

You know, it’s hard enough to get up in the morning and groom yourself without worrying about having to groom your animals for photographs. So let’s multi-task and plan to photograph Fluffy during a show. She will be perfectly groomed and so interested in what is going on that catching great expressions and alert ears will be a cinch.

That’s the good part. The bad part is lighting you can’t begin to control and backgrounds with carnivals, carousels and crates.

But hey, we’re good! We can do this! Plus we just ran out and bought an SLR (single lens reflex) camera with a built in flash plus an external flash because we know a point-and-shoot won’t make the cut. See a point-and-shoot will only work in limited situations because it doesn’t have a long enough lens to isolate your subject from the overwhelming clutter at a show plus it doesn’t have enough flash power.

Nuf said. If you are using an SLR, you are ready to tackle the lighting problems at a show. Let’s start outdoors. Up to this point, I’ve stressed that planning your shoots around good light is essential. But obviously you can’t put your knowledge of when to photograph into practice during an outdoor show because, drat it, Fluffy’s class is scheduled for high noon.

Well we can deal. First a deep breath, then on to plan B. Plan B means we aren’t among the amateurs snapping picture after picture of their darlings prancing around the ring in, for heaven’s sake, harsh light.

No. No. Nooooo. We’re going to take several shots for record purposes, and then we’ll wait until the class is over and take Fluffy to the spot we scouted out earlier that has a better background.

Fluffy is groomed to the nines, click, click, click. Her ears are up and she’s watching all the show activity…click, click, click. The evergreens are a perfect backdrop…click, click, click. Life doesn’t get any better than this. Well maybe life. But not animal photography!

If you absolutely can’t find a good background that avoids all the clutter, go for a tight shot and just focus literally on the animal and the handler.

The first photo is a good record image, but the second image is much better. Move your subjects if possible, then use a long lens to isolate them from the background and block out the clutter around them.

It’s good you had some success with the outside photos, because the indoor arena is a photographer’s nightmare. It’s dark, dark and dark and where it’s not dark the lighting is poor and uneven and the cavernous ceilings swallow flash bursts faster than a fire-breathing dragon…

Ok. Cut. How’s that for keeping you coming back for more? Stay tuned and next week I’ll publish the second half of this chapter on show photography.

Meanwhile, try out a few of the ideas suggested here at your next show.

Good shooting!