Recently I had a client suggest to me that I should consider going to agility contests and doing photographs of the dogs competing. I thought “that’s a great idea” and I had done it in the past but it had been a couple years and I just needed someone to remind me of it. So I headed online to do a little research and find out when the next event in our area would be. Luck would have it there was one over New Years weekend at the Quad City Dog Center in Davenport Iowa. My biggest concern with doing something like this is getting good quality images and with my past experience I know that getting good quality images of dogs moving fast indoors with poor lighting is hard. My god is it hard. I decided that I would rent a lens to try and help me with this task a Nikon 70-200 2.8 and paired it with my D600. The D600 isn’t the best sports camera but it works ok. With trying to get action shots in poor lighting you end up taking a lot of photos and most of them suck but I think I came out with some decent ones.
The first events were held on Friday December 30th and those started at 6pm. Doing this event my plan was to go home that night and edit the photos then send them off to be printed so that I would have prints the next day for the contestants to purchase. I knew Friday was going to be a late night but I figured I could suck it up buttercup and power through. After a couple hours of shooting I realized I had over 2000 photos and that would take awhile to download to my computer then upload them for printing. So I decided to leave before the event was over that night. Also I knew that if I stayed I would just be taking the same photos over so I wasn’t that concerned about missing something. By time I got the photos downloaded and sent offto print it was 2 am and I needed to be in Davenport at 9 am. I ended up getting about 2 ½ hours of sleep. But we made it and had photos to sell that morning. My wife Alysia was a huge help by working the table and answering questions. We had a lot of interest in the photos and everyone seemed happy that we had prints to sell at the event so they didn’t have to wait.
Saturday was a full day with many events. I don’t really know what all the different events are but Saturday had more jumping in it that Friday did. The jumping shots are always fun but extremely difficult to get. Some of these dogs are moving like lightning and many of them have dark faces without much detail in their eyes so grabbing focus is tough. The reason it’s so hard to get photos of black dogs is because black absorbs light as where the lighter colors reflect it. I have no problem getting good photos of black dogs during normal photo shoots but in a situation like this I have no control over lighting. I can’t use a flash during competition so I’m at the mercy ofwhatever lighting is available.
Sunday was the last day of competition and it felt like the people were warming up to us. My wife had talked to a few of the people and it turned out that there have been other photographers there in the past and some of them took orders for prints but never fulfilled the orders, so they took the money and ran. Doing an event like this is a grind and if your not prepared for that your going to fail. There’s a lot of being kneeled down which is why I need to remember to bring my knee pads next time. The biggest challenge to an event like this is dealing with all of the photos and editing them. On the second day I slowed my shooting down and tried to only take photos I thought would be good and people would want but still I ended up with 1500 or so that day. I’ll probably change my workflow a bit to see if I can speed up the culling process my thought is I will use PhotoMechanic to cull the photos down to the keepers and then use my normal Lightroom processing to edit them.
On Sunday a couple of the competitors won an award. I can’t remember what the award is called but it is an achievement award based on many past competitions. I know they were pretty happy to win them and from what I understand it takes awhile. I wish I had known they were going to receive them after whichever run gave them enough points to win because I would have liked to be in a better position to get a reaction photo. But lesson learned I will try and pay closer attention to that next time.
My plan is to try and make this a regular thing I do. I really enjoy watching the dogs compete and it seems like a nice community of dog people. I have a few things I want to try for next time including renting a longer lens for tighter shots and a different camera that is more capable at shooting indoor sports. I have a pretty high standard for what my photos should look like but in a situation like this I have to know that the quality I expect is going to be hard to achieve because I have little control over what happens. I do like having prints the next day to sell and will continue to do that but people can also order photos through my site after the event too. I also want to learn more about the sport knowing what your photographing is a huge help. Thank you to everyone who supported us and hope to see you soon. Don’t forget I am available for private photo sessions.