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Finding Focus During the Dog Days of Summer

The official start of summer is mere weeks away.  Schools are drawing to a close.  Seniors are getting ready to graduate, and with that goes the majority of this photographer's work!  

High School athletics have kept me pretty busy these last few months since I started freelancing for Owings Mills Patch, but now that the 4th quarter has ended, I find myself without a lot of inspiration or events to cover.  Sure, there are still plenty of opportunities for Viewfinder articles, but it can be pretty darn difficult to find the motivation to wander outside, away from the air conditioning, and snap photos of the sights and sites of Owings Mills.

How do I find the inspiration to keep shooting?  How can YOU make the best of the summer months?

  • Take your camera with you, everywhere you go.  This seems like a no-brainer, right?  Chances are pretty good that you're not going to leave the house without purpose this summer, so having your camera with you at all times ensures that you'll be prepared to capture any moment that might surprise you during your endeavors. 
  • Branching off of #1, Don't be afraid to take a few risks.  Recently, we (my fiancee and I) took a trip out on a boat.  Tiny little boat, tons and tons of Chesapeake Bay, and a large sum of monies' worth of camera equipment.  Seems like a recipe for disaster, right?  With the proper precautions, and a little bit of spatial awareness, these points become moot, and allow for some great shots in places that wouldn't normally warrant photography. 




  • Get out of your comfort zone.  Personally, I prefer sports photography and people photography.  In Owings Mills, there isn't a lot of the first type during the summer, and I'm too busy planning my own wedding to worry about other people's engagement photos.  No Seniors anymore, means no more Senior Portraits and I just can't seem to convince people that it's a great idea to hire me AND take me along with them to be their personal vacation photographer.  Shucks.  What this means, is that I have to think outside of the box and be willing to take photos of things I wouldn't normally shoot.  The summer provides a lot more hours worth of light, and can leave us with some absolutely breath-taking sunsets.  Landscape photography also LENS itself to some excellent HDR shots which seem to be all the rage these days.  Getting out of your comfort zone not only helps you keep that shutter finger busy, but it also expands your range and experience, which always helps to improve your technique!

While, at first, I worried greatly about keeping the rust off of my camera this summer, after reviewing this list I don't think I'll have any problems snapping shot after shot.  What are some of the things YOU do to keep motivated to make great photos during the lull periods?  Feel free to share in the comments below, and keep on snapping!


Shooting Man's Best Friend

Awful title, isn't it?  Hear me out, though!  

As far back as I can remember, I've always had at least one dog in the house.  When I went to college, it was really tough for me to not have a four-legged friend around with me, so adopting a dog was one of the first things I did when I graduated.  Now, I can't go anywhere without having a litte, 30-pound ball of fur hot on my heels.

Because I'm around dogs so much, they naturally become the subjects of many of my photos.  They're some of the best, and worst, subjects to shoot, so I thought this might give me a chance to impart a little knowledge on you dear readers on getting great shots of dogs!  

A note:  I'm fairly certain these tips are applicable to cats, as long as they let you take photos of them, but my main focus is on dogs because they're way more friendly and loveable.  This is opinion, folks.

One of the hardest things to do when shooting a dog is capturing outside of its four main "modes":

  1. Sleeping
  2. Eating
  3. Sleeping
  4. Playing

Because of this, capturing a pup when it's not paying attention to you requires quickness and stealth.  My first tip for shooting dogs is...

1. Use a fast camera and shoot in ideal conditions!

I know, this is pretty much a cop-out "tip" but it's true.  If you want to get great shots of dogs, you need to use a fast camera in an environment with a lot of light (or lighting, depending on your use of flash).  Using a fast camera is the difference between a blurry shot, like this:

And tack-sharp, action-oriented shots, like these:








Set your ISO to an appropriate speed, so as not to get a ton of noise, and make sure you're shooting the dogs in sunlight.  Doing this, along with an appropriate aperture, will allow you to capture the animal mid-jump, or running right at you, instead of get a blur o' fur coming at the camera.  Another way to make sure you're getting the dog sharp in the image is to make sure the focal point is on the dog.  I realize that this might sound like a no-brainer, but if you're using AI SERVO to focus, you run the risk of catching an incorrect focal point.  For anyone that doesn't know AI SERVO is a Canon feature that continually re-checks the focus and ensures that the camera is focusing on the correct point, no matter if the subject is moving, or remaining still.

2) Get Low!

Except for my friend's 160 pound Great Dane, there aren't many dogs that can look a photographer in the eye.  If you don't want to take hundreds of pictures of dogs looking up from the ground, don't be afraid to change your level.  Get down on the ground, the lower the better, and shoot square at the puppy.  Heck, get lower than the dog and shoot up!  Few things create a cooler (or cuter) effect than take a wide-angle lens and sticking it right in a dogs face.  You get to see what it's like to be a dog, and see things from their angle.  In addition to this, there are few things more attractive to a dog, then sticking their nose in the front of a camera lens.

Have fun with the pup while you're down at their level, and make sure you show your appreciation for their help.  You certainly won't need to get a model release from them, but they won't turn down a nice pat on the head and a quick scratch on the belly!


Why, Again, Do I Carry All of This?

Well you made it through the title and, if you've decided to stick around for the post, congratulations.  My name is Zach, and this is my generic, introductory "first post" in the newly created Local Voices section of  My hope is that, through this blog, I can describe my adventures in learning this trade, share with you what I've already learned, and document the trials and tribulations of becoming a photographer.

To get the boring stuff out of the way, a little bit about me that you might not be able to discern from my bio:

I'm an IT Professional who has lived in the Owings Mills area for the last four years.  In the last few years, I've also started dabbling in photography and officially threw my hat (or lens) into the "freelance" category about six months ago. There's a good chance that, if you've been a frequent Owings Mills Patch reader, you've seen some of my photos on the site. I also do some sidework in the engagement/family/baby/pet photo world.

What started out as a hobby has now become a source of income, which is great, because on top of all of this work, I'm also about 50 days away from marrying one of the most amazing women in the entire world; an adventure, I assure you, that continues to take me by surprise almost daily.

I really hate writing "introduction" posts on blogs.  I can think of about a half-dozen other things I'd rather do than write intro posts. The worst part of that fact is that I've started a decent number of blogs and you always have to start them with that type of post. While contemplating this outlet, I really wanted to come up with a fun way to approach the introduction post and, considering the primary focus of this blog will photography-related,

I figured that a great feature would be a "What's in my bag?" type post! I won't go through everything, at least not this time around, but I will point out a few things I carry with me, eventually getting to everything in later posts.

I think it's important to note that, in my brief time as a photographer, I've tried to minimize the equipment that I carry as much as possible. I don't think most people realize how heavy a lot of this stuff can be if you throw it all in one bag and have to carry it around with you. That being said, I decided to weigh my bag, in much the same way parents weigh their kids' backpacks full of books, to determine how badly I was going to have back problems in the future.

My shocking conclusion?  I carry around 18.7 pounds of equipment (See the image of my house scale for proof).  This has been exacerbated as of late by the replacement of some of the lighter equipment with more professional glass (glass being the vernacular used by photographers to describe lenses).  I also carry around a lot of ... crap.

As this is an introductory post, the obvious first piece of equipment to reveal is the actual camera with which I do all of my shooting.  I learned the basics on a Canon Rebel XTi that I bought with my very first "big boy" paycheck out of college. After realizing that the Rebel just wasn't going to cut it if I wanted to continue to shoot for Patch, I decided that it was time to scrape together some money and upgrade my camera body.  

Enter the Canon EOS 7D.

Some highlights from the 7D?  This bad boy sports a Magnesium alloy, weather-sealed body.  What does that mean?  It means you'll probably see me outside in the rain and snow shooting photos of the dedicated Owings Mills high school atheletes. Inside, there sits a Dual DIGIC 4 image processor, housing 19 mega pixels capable of delivering tons of color and sharpness to the finest details of the images.  

My favorite part about this camera, however, is the fact that it's capable of shooting 15 still images per second.  Shooting that quick almost allows me to put together a flipbook of photos taken over a few seconds.  It's blindingly fast, and always gets a great reaction out of the crowd when it sounds like a machine gun going off!

I'm really pleased with this camera.  It's a small disappointment to not have a full-frame sensor (I'll go into what that means in a later post), but the build quality and technology are amazing.  I continue to learn new and exciting features while using this camera, and have a pretty good idea that it'll be my go-to device for many years to come which, naturally, will my make future wife pretty happy.