Indoor dog shows: lens advice for my 60D

Started Dec 28, 2012 | Discussions thread
mrteacherdude
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Re: Indoor dog shows: lens advice for my 60D
In reply to linzybel, Feb 27, 2013

I ran across this post while searching for any experience people may have shooting at dog shows with shorter focal length lenses. The original post and the replies are a bit on the old side, but thought I would throw in a couple of thoughts since I am here; maybe someone will benefit from it.

I have been shooting at indoor dog shows for a couple of years now and have made my kit purchases specifically to improve my chances of getting good shots. I shoot with a 7d, and my primary lenses for this purpose consists of a 70-200 f/2.8L (non IS) and an 85 f/1.8. I typically sit or kneel right and ringside whenever I can to be close to the action and down at a level that is more even with the dogs. I don't like to shoot with shutter speed less than 1/400th if I can get away with it as anything less than this increases the possibility of introducing movement from me and introduces motion blur in the feet of the faster moving dogs. A little motion blur doesn't look horrible, but I prefer a clean picture if I can get it. Camera shake always looks bad

The bulk of my shots are captured with the 70-200, but I break out the 85 when the lighting gets really tough. I prefer the 70-200 when I can use it because the auto-focus is incredibly fast and accurate. I always shoot with the hood on, even though it seems unnecessary (and may actually be unnecessary), but there are often strong sources of light coming from a set of big glass doors, open doors, or underneath doors, and I've noticed that this can contribute to awful chromatic aberration. The optics of the lens helps minimize this anyway, but I think the hood also helps unless the strong light is coming directly into the lens. When I get the camera dialed in for the lighting conditions, color of the dogs I'm shooting, and the speed they are moving, I hardly ever miss a shot (by a lot anyway). If I get one that is really out of focus, I know I really screwed up somehow. I also like the flexibility the zoom gives me for framing purposes; I can fill up the frame with a Chihuahua, or I can (sometimes) zoom out to include the handler as well, depending on the location in the ring and my relative location.

Overall I generally find myself needing to set my ISO to 2500 to 3200 with this lens to get a decent shot. These ISO's yield anywhere from a fair amount to significant noise in the photo, depending on the lighting on the dog at the time and how dark the dog is. White dogs generally come out pretty clean, but if the handler is wearing something dark, the clothing will be noisy. In really bad lighting that requires ISO's higher than 3200 I give up with this lens and go to the 85. Even though the camera will shoot at higher ISO's, I find the amount of noise to be unacceptable and too difficult to remove without making the dog looking very unnatural.

The 85 is a beautiful lens, and I love it for its ability to gather twice as much light (or more) than the 70-200. This allows me to increase the shutter speed and/or decrease the ISO, or at least compensate for really bad lighting and really dark dogs. However, I mentioned that it doesn't get used as much as the 70-200, and there are a couple of reasons for that. (1) While the lens has very fast, very acceptable auto-focus, I get a higher miss rate with it for some reason, especially with dark dogs. (2) Chromatic aberration in areas of strong contrast (strong light from open doors, etc.) can be significant and difficult (sometimes impossible) to remove with post-processing. (3) There is not as much flexibility in framing as with the zoom. Sometimes the lens cans be too short, sometimes it can be too long, all depending on my position relative to where the dogs are. This really wouldn't be an issue if I had freedom to move wherever I want, but that's rarely the case at a dog show. That being said, I do use it at some time at probably every other show I attend.

There are some ergonomic and aesthetic benefits to using this lens over the 70-200 also. The lens is much smaller and lighter than the big white. This doesn't affect me too much because I lifted weights for 40 years just so I could carry big lenses around. Well, that's not why I lifted weights, but it helps. Also, you're not as conspicuous and can avoid the inevitable comments such as, "wow - I see you brought your rocket launcher," or "wow - you must take great pictures because your camera is so freaking awesome," or "I like a man with a big lens." <roll eyes>

Other 'tidbits' that may help...

Shoot manual if you can, you will have much greater control over how your camera operates and how your photos look; you will likely find improved consistency in your photos. Use AI servo focus and lock onto your subject and pan with it momentarily before you fully depress the shutter button. I configured my camera to have a back focus button and that helps (me) a lot in this regard. I aim for the face of the dog in the general vicinity of the eyes, and don't worry too much about locking on an eye. If I can see the eyes, and they're not bouncing around too much, I go for it and try to keep up with it; otherwise, the face is likely to be good enough because you are not likely to get really sharp eyes in bad lighting anyway.

Use your highest burst speed available on your camera. In low light with dark dogs your camera will probably struggle to get more than a few photos before it pauses, but it increases your chances of getting a good photo. If I time everything just right, I can generally squeeze off 4 to 6 photos of a dark dog as moves down the diagonal. This increases your sorting time afterwards, but it's easy to throw away the bad ones.

If your camera's AF system can handle it, and I'm not sure if the 60d can, set your AF point in the camera to something other than the center point to help with framing. I generally select a focus point that is at least one to the left of the center, sometimes two or three to the left and one below, depending on the relative sizes and proportions of the dog and whether or not I want to try to include the handler in the photo. If you're AF system's peripheral focus points are not cross type sensors, I would probably leave it on the center point.

I think I was thinking of a few other things, but now they escape me. I hope this helps in some way even though the the original post is old and my response goes beyond the scope of the original post; can't help myself sometimes.

PS - I also have a 50mm 1.8, but I never use it at dog shows. Even though it works wonderfully for getting a lot of light to the sensor and the optics are pretty darn good, yielding great results indoors at parties, the focus motor sucks for action and is twitchy in low light.

Edit:  just remembered, don't worry too much about trying to keep people out of the background and so on, it's probably not going to happen at a dog show unless you are shooting the dog and handler coming at you down the diagonal.  Some of my most interesting photos are the ones that have the people in the background doing something odd or unexpected.  Of course that's not what you intended and don't share those with other people, but it's kind of fun to see.  But you do want to try to avoid strong sources of light coming from behind, like big open doors and windows and such.

Also - be careful of taking photos of female handlers wearing short skirts and showing small dogs when they are stacking their dogs on the floor at the beginning of the "round."  I've seen some things in photos that I didn't want to see because I was concentrating so much on taking photos of the dog that I didn't notice what was behind the dog   Needless to say, I don't post those photos for anyone to see, even if it was a great photo of the dog.  This isn't likely to be a problem for you since you are primarily trying to get photos of your daughter and her dog and not so much all of the other dogs.

Hope this helps.

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