Friday, September 19, 2008

Candid Pics vs. Formal...the Challenge of Photographing Dogs

I am very active in the dog show world, and if we are lucky enough to have a nice win, we will have a formal portrait taken with the judge to document the day. Below was the first time I handled a dog to a Group Placement. This is Ch. Winsor's Ultra Violet of Glentom (Violet) taking a Group 2 under judge Joseph Gregory in January 2007. And boy was it a surprise! Violet was quite young, entered in the 12-18 month class at the time, and she was full of beans that day. Or should I say "full of fire", which is actually part of the Bull Terrier AKC standard. It can be very frustrating for the bull terrier fancier to handle a BT at an all-round show and have a judge that actually seems to penalize our dogs for just this trait. I'm not talking about truly unruly dogs, but dogs that show spunk and a bit of chutzpah - we like that in our bullies. Anyway, she had won breed and I was very nervous about showing in Group and actually considered asking someone else to handle her, and to their credit (Thank you Freeman and Kerry), they basically brow-beat me into staying on the lead. Typically an inexperienced dog coupled with a handler inexperienced in the Group ring is not a winning combination. So into the Group ring we went. She moved around the ring quite well, but when it came time for her to free-stack in front of the judge, she seemed to be enamored of something going on Behind her in the ring. To judge Gregory's credit, he told me to just let her turn around and indeed, she free-stacked beautifully, baiting off of whatever smells or sights were attracting her back there. My friend RC Carusi, a well-known handler, was given Group 1 for his Welsh. Violet was awarded Group 2. RC's wife, Shari, another handler I greatly admire, was handling her Wheaton and was awarded Group 3. Now, this wheaton was (I believe) the #3 Terrier at the time. Freeman, my son, had worked for RC and Shari, so I knew them quite well. I was physically jumping up and down (small jumps, but excited movement just the same). As I stood between them, all of us waiting for the judge to bring us our ribbons I said "I know this is old hat for you two, but this is my first Group placement and I'm very excited"! As if they couldn't tell. Let me just say that I could feel Shari's eye's boring a hole in the back of my head. I don't think she was very pleased. If I were handling the #3 Terrier in the country and was placed after an unfinished puppy, I would have had my own moment of frustration too, I am sure. But as they say, any win is really just a snapshot in time. 

The photo is OK but I can pick it apart. She is doing something funny with her lip, which I was not aware of, her front legs were placed square, but do not look like it because her body is not perfectly perpendicular to the camera....and I am looking at the camera. After studying many ads and formal show pictures, after this one was taken, I realized that the professional handlers are usually looking down at their dog. The picture, after all, is supposed to be about the dog and by keeping an eye on their charge, they can make sure that the dog is set up as well as possible. I still find posing a dog for a formal picture to be a huge challenge. When there is a platform, I find it even harder; some dogs seem to be particularly uncomfortable on them, so then there is this extra added factor. A few months later, still in the 12-18 month class, we brought Violet all the way down to Maryland in April 2007 for Freeman to show her under judge Peter Green. Peter had actually done a fair amount of bull terrier handling at one time and in fact had littermates to some of Marion Dussault's dogs and they used to show against one another all the time (and Marion would win, but that's another story). The point being that Peter had seen Violet in January (not at the show mentioned above) and had followed me from the ring back to our grooming set-up and was going on and on about how That's what a bull terrier should look like, and how much he liked her. When a judge does that you make a Huge mental note. He also likes Freeman and at one point had asked Freeman to come work for him. With information like that, you get in the car and drive to Maryland! And it paid off. Peter put her up over a champion to give her breed that day. Here is that picture. Freeman, apparently, knows well enough to make sure she isn't doing that funny lip thing.

Taking pictures of dogs and handlers moving is another matter all together. I am in awe of sports photographers, and indeed, there are some great ones out there specializing in
dog show photography. Check out Chris Halvorson and Louis Ruediger for some fabulous examples of dog pics.

The candid shot is something else altogether, and a good one speaks volumes. This following picture was taken of my son Freeman when he was 13 years old, his handling skills belying his age. The woman in the rear right of the pic, Ann Wiggins, is the owner of the dog in the ring, whose name was Finn, Wendigo York's Double Take (he would receive his Champion status later on under Claudia Sharp).  Freeman's bitch had gone lame and he didn't have a dog to show. Ann very graciously asked Freeman to take Finn in the ring, and as is typical with Freeman, he had an instant rapport with the dog. (It is moments like this that make the dog show world so wonderful). The judge is David Harris, in the rear left, inside the ring. This was taken during that year's National Specialty. I absolutely Love this picture. The photographer has put Ann and the judge in focus and indeed, they are both intently focused on what is going on in the ring. Freeman has a relaxed body language, he is in touch with his dog and still in charge. The leash is just taught enough to give Finn guidance. Finn is responding perfectly, ears up, body alert. And, since Freeman knows what he is doing, you can sort of see, although the angle makes it tough, that he has the dog directly in front of the judge, giving him a clear view of the dog's rear movement. All in all, this is a wonderful composition. I have lost the name of the photographer and would love to give credit. If anyone knows, please let me know. 

The next photo is my favorite candid of all time. It was taken right after Freeman and Hope were awarded a Finalist placement at the Canadian Bronze competition. What a tender moment between a boy and his dog. Freeman bending down to give Hope a congratulatory kiss, the Finalist medal clutched in his hand.

Now for another sort of pic, one with a bit of humor. When our girl Hope was 4 months old she was hired to do a Target promotion in the Hamptons. She was "on duty" for hours, greeting celebrities and posing for pictures. One of the funniest things about bull terriers, and it happens with many of them, is when they are really, really tired, their ears start to fall down the side's of their head. As though they are so tired that they cannot concentrate hard enough to keep them up top! Here, David, my partner and Hope's daddy, is carrying her out of the party at the end of the night. Her makeup is smeared from so much hugging and kissing and her eyes and ears clearly show an exhausted pup.

The next two pics are candids and involve movement. The first one reminds me of wild animals crossing the Tundra. In fact, this is just Marion Dussault's yard. The tri bitch in the back is Ch. Winsor's Beton Double Down ROM (Belle) and she is the mother to half of these pups. She and another bitch had their babies within 24 hours of one another and Belle adopted them all, often taking over parenting duties for one and all, including nursing. Here she is taking the pups out for an afternoon walk. Note that although all the babies are the same age, some of the ears are up, and some are not, and this is very typical. The white baby in the center, with the colored ear toward the camera, is Violet (Belle's baby).

The next photo was taken by Freeman. I was standing outside the Westminster ring with Beckett (Ch. Winsor's Damned to Fame ROM) on the leash and tossed him a piece of bait to keep him interested. See the bait flying in the air coming in from the right? Freeman caught the photo during the second it was mid-air. I also love the American Staffordshire on the left, eyeing Beckett's bait. 

As you have probably figured out by now, it is not so easy to get a great side shot of a dog, which are the kind of shots typically needed for an ad or to best show off the dog as a whole. Below is a pic that was taken during a Devon/Montgomery weekend when Beckett was about 2 1/2 years old. I took the pic and asked Glenna Wright to set Beckett up for the shot. Of course Glenna could be cropped out of the photo and that is what I did for some formal ads, but I like being able to see how Glenna is getting Beckett to set up so nicely. She has him flat to the camera, which is showing off his fabulous profile and nice short back to best advantage. The collar is loose and the leash is nicely situated to the back side of his head. She is keeping her hand low, holding bait, so that he keeps his head low as well. And dare I say it...because I dont know whether this was deliberate or not...Beckett is heading into the sun, which is making his nice small eyes all the more extra squinty! Nice job Glenna:) Bet you didn't know there was That much going on in dog pictures, eh?
And just to leave you with a ridiculously adorable photo, below is Violet as a baby showing that great stage, one ear up, one down, the pigment in the nose, still filling in and the paws still pink and tender and sweet. If this picture doesn't make you want to give her a raspberry on that tummy, then nothing will! This picture should also put to rest that age old question, "Do dogs smile?" I say Yes. 

1 comment:

Groomer Ang said...

Violet is not only cute, she's smart, reading BARKS and all! I think my favorite of all you posted has to be Freeman and "The Kiss", what a great shot!
Can't wait to see ya'll in sunny FL in a few weeks!
Angie & the Tsagali Bullies