My husband and I have a small dog. From eyebrows to tail she is black, but has some brown on her ribs, and her underbelly is mink white. Sanding on her hind legs, she's just tall enough to lick my face when I bend from the waist. Until she begins to hunt, that is. Then, she pumps herself up like a wave rolling ashore. When I took her out walking at 6 am one Sunday morning, I was relieved she was not swallowed.
Dodging potholes, we crossed the parkway. The light on a metal lamp post glowed orange behind us, its dim light outshone by the line of walkway lights ahead. Mist hung over the pond, and at the edge of the water, given a lack of rain, mud was exposed. Shanti strained at her leash. She hunted in silence, sniffing, and wanting to reach the water's edge: "let me go, I smell, I can smell something in those reeds just out there, let me go Dad!" Thankful for her yaplessness, I held the leash but let her out just to its end.
She ran down toward the water. Inhaling the pond decay aromas, I thought back to one early morning on our live aboard catamaran, when I was pumping out the starboard head. It had been a month since our last septic tank pumpout. I opened the wrong valve and many days worth of well-you can geysered up and, unlike in Yellowstone, unfaithfully landed on the bathroom floor and walls. As the memory tapered off, I glanced ahead at the dog, grateful that this pond's odors were almost pleasant in comparison.
The dog was on point.
Peering ahead of her in the near dark, I saw why Shanti had paused. Just a few dog lengths from the muddy bank, two motionless vertical slits hung side by side just above the water, their hue a deeper red than the carroty colors of the lamplight behind us. The slits flickered in the lambent lights along the trail. Althought song birds were warming up their tunes in the damp Florida air, I heard only a fast thumping sound in my ribs. I looked at the dog. Shanti was still, snuffing the darkness, mouth agape, her back legs splayed apart as if her rear was a divining rod.
Dawn brighted. Scales appeared around the eye slits: two eyes, bright, hovering. The ridges on the tail's surface were the texture of a cheese grater. I wondered if Shanti heard me scream, though I thought I heard myself whisper “Back, get back Shanti.” I heard a splash. Perhaps it was a turtle, diving. Shanti knew better.
As the pond's surface began mirroring the coral-colored cirrus clouds above, the two slits became four. In the growing light of daybreak I thanked my dog for her clever nose. I was thankful for the alligator. Thank you, alligator, for not breaking my family apart.
1. Wear purple or blue clothing to photograph dragonflies.
2. To put six to nine feet between my lens and a dragonfly, I use a telephoto of 400 to 500 mm focal length, and place an extension tube between camera and lens.
Dragonflies and damselflies are colorful, active hunters. They depend on their vision to fly, hunt, and thrive. Dragonflies possess a finely tuned visual system with globe-like, genetically evolved eyes that empower them to catch their prey, and see a variety of light wavelengths, in ways that are quite beyond our vision.
We learned in school that our vision works with red, green and blue sensitive cells. We may know that our vision also depends on the chemistry of our three visual opsins, or our eyes light- sensitive proteins. For instance, the first half hour after you walk into a dark cave, your eyes adapt, using an opsin called rhodopsin, a light sensitive chemical that improves your night vision to let you see detail.
Enter the dragonfly. It has evolved a wider range of vision. One study of 12 dragonfly species genetics found that each one has 11 to 33 different visual opsins, thanks to dynamic gene multiplication (Ryo Tahashi et al, Proceedings National Academy of Sciences, USA, 2015 Mar 17; 112-11). Tahashi and colleagues found the evolution of the diverse opsin genes in dragonflies is relevant to their ecology. In the daytime, brightly-colored male dragonflies make a territory at an open space around riverside, pond, forest edge, or tree canopy. There, they patrol. With flight faster than we can see, they defend the territory against other males. They attempt to mate with females.
True dragonflies, but not damselflies, tend to have a twilight flight just before and after sunset. At that time, they dine. They pursue mosquitos, midges, flies and other insects that emerge after sundown. Thus, we can thank the over 1500 species of dragonflies for ridding us of numerous biting bugs.
Wear darker blue or purple clothes and skip the bright colored fabrics, when you try to get close to a dragonfly. Dragonflies have a dorsal visual system and a ventral visual system that are sensitive to different color wavelengths and their visual system, in general, is more sensitive to the 500 to 700 nanometer wavelengths, and somewhat less tuned to the 300-500 nanometer wavelengths, those of dark blue and purple.
Pic Your Pup l 7 Ideas for Photographing Your Dog l Jim Austin Jimages.com
1 Game Time: Catch her at Play
2 All Eyes: Get Closer
3 Go High, Go Low: Choose a Better Angle
4 Story: Tell a Tail in Just One Shot
5 Emotion: Show How Others Feel about Him
6 Water Everywhere: Get Them Wet
7 Contrast: Try Light and Dark Backgrounds
With my basenji Shanti leading the way, I'll share seven ideas you can use to take fun photos of your dogs.
ONE: Game Time
One of my dog's favorite games is catch the ol' tennis ball. For this portrait of her wearing her life jacket, I threw the ball high many times, and tried to release the shutter just before the tennis ball came into the frame.
TWO: All Eyes
Most iPhones, iPhone Pro models, mirrorless cameras and large sensor cameras have close-up or macro settings. For instance, the macro mode may look like a flower on your camera Mode Dial. Some cameras have 'macro' on the lens or Mode Dial. Try Macro shots of your dogs eyes by manually focusing your camera lens if possible. Turn the focusing ring on the lens to the closest focusing distance, then move to get closer to your dogs eyes. Or, use the macro setting on your camera phone or an inexpensive clip on lens for your iPhone 12. Getting close in works a lot better after a romp walk, or when your companion is a bit tired. Your dogs eyes are the window to their soul.
THREE: Different Angles
Shanti, my basenji, is a hunting dog. She adores chasing crabs in the sand. She not only hears them a couple feet down, but can smell them when she get close by digging furiously with both paws through soft sand. It was fun to lie on the beach and catch her expression as she was joyously digging crabs. My point: for dog action pictures, try low and high angles to catch your pup doing something they love.
FOUR: Tell The Story
A story and a moment make a picture stronger. Thinking of unusual camera positions, I often imagine my camera phone as a 3D spaceship. Instead of keeping it on the launch pad for a standard eye level landscape shot, I will 'fly' it around to get a 'feel' for how the light changes. The idea is to portrait your dog's character or a story idea. For this tender training moment between two best friends, the shadow knows.
We were walking our dog in Governor's Harbour, Eleuthera, Bahamas, just as church school let out for recess. Shanti, irresistibly, always runs to greet kids with a bright, clear, joyful enthusiasm. What is an dominant emotion your dog expresses clearly, and how can you photograph that feeling?
SIX: Wet Dog, Dry Camera
Got a dog that loves the water? Go for it. For this shot, we tossed a homemade rope toy out into the water from our boat. Our Corgie loved the game and the two leggeds and four leggeds all got cooled off on a hot day. A water resistant camera is a useful tool to have when you get wet, and remember to dry your camera thoroughly after you shoot. Camera's are precision instruments and last longer if they avoid getting too wet or overheated.
SEVEN: Contrasting Backgrounds
To help your dog stand out, choose a background that's the opposite tone of your dog. I like to use light toned backgrounds for my dark dog, and I choose darker backgrounds when I'm hired to photograph lighter dogs. Also, think about the shape of your dog against that background. BONUS IDEA: In closing, there are superb images of dogs photographed in black and white, so try a B/W setting on your camera and see what you think.
Special Thanks: The author is grateful to Teresa J. Rhyne, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of The Dog Lived (and So Will I): A Memoir and host of the Dogs and Books Facebook Page, for her inspiration to go deeper into helpful tips for dog lovers.
My friend asked me to shoot his beloved Jeep. Sport model, 4wd, 6 cylinders, 242 cubic inches, naturally aspirated, Chili Pepper red. Their adventures together had spanned more than 20 years, two hundred thousand miles, and hours on America's open roads listening to songs on an in-dash radio cassette player. Now, he was letting go, selling his 1998 Cherokee and he wanted pictures for his sales ad.
We planned the shoot for morning light in a local park. I promised him 15 images, and gave him a download link in advance. Then, I did some thinking. I thought about a Guy Tal webinar I saw, and ideas from Guy's book called More Than A Rock. A powerful idea reappeared: a photograph is both 'of' something, and, significantly, it is also 'about' something. I pondered what the experience was about for my friend.
After I photographed the images for his ad with my Nikon, I asked my friend a favor. I told him to sit in the driver's seat and hold his hands just above the wheel as I raised my Leica to my eye and made this photograph. It's titled "Letting Go."
Our photographs are "of" things, but they can also be "about" memories, emotions and our life experiences. And those of our friends.
Florida, Punta Gorda, Waterford Estates 2021: On May 8, the community development corporation cut down our "forever wild" area. As homeowners, we were told the purpose was to remove invasive species, so we watched a backhoe mow a 40 foot wide swath just behind our home. Like a sword of eternity, its sharp blade struck a gopher tortoise and I found its cleaved shell a few days later. My heart grieved. The next month, after hurricane Elsa's rain, plants grew up and a dragonfly perched next to the turtle's resting place. Seeing its wings shimmer the morning light, I thought of darkness and light, and our ever-changing living-dying moments. Things pass away. Others live on. Sometimes, death is the mother of beauty.
A photograph can be about a single subject. When this subject is in the foreground, they way it compels a viewer depends on many elements. One of these is the background. A background that is in spatial and color synchrony with the foreground subject makes for a more effective picture.
When we synchronize watches, we set them to the same time. A compelling photograph synchronizes foreground and background in time, and within the picture space. To achieve this synchrony with nature subjects, it helps to keep moving. Reposition the camera down, back, to the side and up. In other words, keep shifting the vantage point until subject and background synchronize.
Observation, light and editing are the where we live and work as photographers. Strolling through a damp, grassy field by the Peace River, I saw mangroves reflected in the dew drops suspended in blades of grass. In the sky above, slender cirrus clouds hung like translucent wings. I paused along the edge of a posse of white mangroves and realized I did not remember seeing any of the area I just passed by.
I was not hearing the soundscape either. I turned round, went back, and this time I walked along slowly and tuned out the inner dialogue. Details in the mangrove forest began to appear visually. I heard a soft buzzing. A patch of yellow hues came into view. Paper wasps were making building a six inch wide, umbrella-shaped nest on a tree branch a few feet above ground. Since they are a pollinator and feed on garden pests, paper wasps are beneficial; almost every pest insect on Earth has a wasp that feeds on it. A good buzz, indeed.
The wasps were calm and drying off from that morning's dewdrops. It seemed safe to photograph them close up. They are known to sting only when territory is threatened, and as I moved the lens very slowly, light from the sunrise lit their soporific bodies.
Observation. Light. Editing (OLE). To understand these three elements, let's borrow a metaphor from musical performance. Editing is like practicing a song multiple times to embody the timing and dynamics of the notes and phrasing. Light is like the melody. Observation is timing, rhythm and rest. OLE is getting all of it working together. Editing photographs is not about making them perfect, but the process making them express your message. Light has been my sidekick since my childhood; I love thinking about its qualities, direction and moods. Editing and light flow smoothly for me. Observation takes concentration and dedicated practice. Sometimes our art comes not from arriving, but in being almost there.
To look deeply takes practice letting go of my rabbit mind. Easter Sunday came along to remind me to let it go and pay attention to this land.
* Paper wasps have variable black facial patterns that signal their fighting ability. Wasps with more irregular black spots on their faces win more fights and are avoided by rivals, compared with wasps with fewer irregular black spots. These facial signals help reduce the costs of conflict, ensuring that wimpy wasps don’t waste time battling really strong rivals they are unlikely to beat. Like karate belt colors, facial patterns of wasps are like a biological “ornament” that shows the wasps fighting status. Wasps with elaborate ornaments are a greater social and sexual threat than those with less elaborate ornaments (Elizabeth Tibbetts, PhD, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of MIchigan).