Photo Essay: Old Dominion Hounds (September 11, 2010)

The photo essay is posted at KLM Images.

Shadow as second subject

Creative use of shadows

Always be alert for unexpected bonuses.  I did not deliberately frame this shot to capture the shadow, too; I just tried to place myself in such a way that the subject was well lit.  But when I looked at the results afterward, I was pleased to see two subjects striding along the horse trailer, not just one.

Picking hounds out of the pack

A study of hound heads

There’s a lot of action in a pack of hounds, but many complications as well.

No matter how small the group, at least one (usually right in the center of the frame) is doing something you don’t want to record for posterity.  Even when they are all well-behaved, they may be arranged unhelpfully, with heads buried, shadows cast on each other, and so forth.

Conventional composition

The only solution I know is to move around and, as always, take many photos so that some will be attractive.

Classic pack shots with hounds clustered around the huntsman don’t always present themselves.  One solution is to zero in on small groups or details within the pack, such as a cluster of well-lit heads.

Another approach is to look for pack outliers in isolation, especially if they’re doing anything interesting to take your attention away from the banality of the composition.

If you take enough shots you can often capture isolated hounds with personality and movement.

Greater compositional interest

Take what comes by

If you car follow a foxhunt, there’s going to be a certain amount of standing around waiting to see any action, but don’t put the camera down — things may turn up.

Canada geese obligingly pass by in perfect light

On this occasion, a pair of Canada geese flew overhead perfectly lit by the strong sun, and I was able to get a series of shots.  The lighting is up to nature, but getting the shot is up to you.  This is what runs through my head when this happens:

  1. It’s not a shotgun — don’t lead them
  2. Oh, no — I only have a single focus point activated.  Try to hold that tiny box on that far away object
  3. Man, this long telephoto lens is heavy!
  4. Wait a minute — can’t I get closer with this lens?  Oh, too late…

My lens goes out to 400mm but happened to be only at 235mm when the geese came by.  Assuming I had had enough presence of mind to pull the lens out further to get closer visually, it would have been that much harder to find and capture the moving object in the lens and hold on it for focus.

Given reasonable camera quality, the only impact of that is that the final cropped image is smaller than it might have been, so I’ll have to be happy with smaller prints instead of larger ones.  Fair enough.

Handling chaos

Oh my gosh - they're coming through the back yards into town

The starting point for this meet is near the village of Orlean, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that the hounds headed in that direction on the trail of one particular fox.  Even so, sometimes the action is sudden enough that there are limited ways to try and get better lighting or position to capture it.

This scene combines amusing activity with bad lighting, unanticipated placement, and in one case some inappropriate camera settings.  All you can do is capture what you can and sort it out later, hoping that at least some of it will be both usable and entertaining.

Challenging lighting

It’s a classic case of wanting to show something where the quality is not up to my standards, so how do I improve it overall?

In this case, I started with the hounds running through the back yards.  Most shots were blocked, and many didn’t “read” as yards vs miscellaneous grassy patches, but the presence of the bird feeder helped with that, and keeping the running hounds a bit more distant helped mask the fact that the camera wasn’t set for fast motion.

A reasonable quality shot

I wanted to show the traffic stop in the middle of the village, with the staff leading the hounds through it, but the lighting could hardly have been worse, a combination of closeup silhouettes and brightly lit distance with foreground figures drawing the eye to an unfocused area.  Still, I wanted to show some of the amusing chaos, so I chose the best I had and let it ride.

To cleanse the palate, as it were, I found some reasonable quality shots still in the town setting, like this hound returning to a whipper-in, to keep the scene from turning into mere snapshots.

Finally, I made sure to end this sequence with some better controlled shots to put a clean end to the scene.

Order restored

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