I have to say that one of the best things about owning a Newfoundland is watching them work in the water and seeing that instinct naturally come out. It’s truly beautiful to see them in their element, focused and working, and loving every minute of it! Most of them truly enjoy being out in the water with their owners and you can see the passion and dedication in their eyes, especially if you are the one taking the test pictures. I’ve been lucky enough to be asked by my club to take pictures during several tests and even I catch myself tearing up watching special teams work together. You can really see the love and the trust that they have in each other and that they need in order to complete their Water Dog or Water Rescue Dog titles. (above is Erin with Sterling)
Now, I’m very much an amateur photographer but here are a few pieces of advice I can give on photographing tests. The first is to know your dog and your handler. If you’ve been out practicing with the teams or have seen them test before then you can get a sense of how a dog reacts to you being involved with the test and how fast or slow a dog goes through the exercises. We have one dog that is particularly distracted by photographers so I try to stay as far away and hidden as possible or else she loses her focus on her handler. Other dogs will run right through you or jump so fast and so high that you have to be ready and have your shot lined up the minute the boat is turned. If you know that a dog likes to slide on in to the water off of the corner of the boat then reposition yourself so you are lower and at a better angle to the dog.
I try and get a good shot of each exercise but I’m always pushing a bit to find unique angles or interesting close-ups that really express the personality of the dog. This helps you get through a long, hot day and keeps it more interesting so you aren’t taking the same shot over and over. Use your zoom lens if you have one and get in as tight as possible to catch expressions. You can see a lot of determination or frustration in a dog’s face and sometimes it gives you a clue as to what the handler is doing wrong and the fact that the dog just has no clue to what the handler is asking. This picture is of Sarah goofing around with the life ring, she always starts playing during the test (and inevitably fails) but those moments are so much fun to catch because she is just having the best time being “bad”! And she knows it!!
Here you can see that Maggie just doesn’t understand what her handler is asking and she looks confused and worried that she is doing something wrong. She kept trying but she just couldn’t figure out what her handler was asking with the life ring.
Black dogs are particularly hard to photograph on bright days so make sure that the sun is behind you as much as possible. You may have to do quite a bit of editing to get those shadows to disappear more so you can see more detail. For these shots I used the “Adjust Shadows” in the Adjust Color Curves in the Enhance menu in Photoshop Elements. For the next test I may even ask people to wear a bright color shirt, vest, or even just a hat that will show up well in the water.
Don’t forget to come prepared with a back up battery, card, lens, and even an extra camera. I had a camera die on me half way through a draft test but luckily another club member lent me his but I missed half of a team’s exercises! I use a Canon EOS 20d with a 55-250mm lens although I wish I had a better telephoto to get in closer, but this lens works just fine for most tests. Bring supplies for all types of weather, and enough food and water to last you all day. It can be a very long day!
Don’t forget those extra special moments between a dog and their handler, especially when they’ve worked so hard (possibly for years) and have finally passed. These handlers spend hours upon hours training, sometimes from the time the dog is 8 weeks old, so you want to make sure you take note of their particular bond or celebration.
Ah, the money shot! I love getting a Newfie in flight! This one can be a bit tricky because each dog launches a different way but I found that using a single leg tripod helps to keep your camera steady enough to get a clean picture but still light enough to move with you as you change locations.
Well, I hope these tips will help you next time you head out with your dog or have been asked to photograph an upcoming test. Most importantly though…have fun and enjoy being out with your friends and all those big wonderful dogs!