Thanks to the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club of Canada
for introducing me to a new and exciting sport
I had the great pleasure to photograph a hunting dog field trial. These hunting dogs are so well trained, even the dogs in their first working certificate event. The “gunner”, the person with the starter’s pistol, fires a shot and throws the dead duck to the specific spot in full view of the dog at the line. For advanced dogs, a second gunner does the same thing so the dog sees the two fallen ducks in two different locations. The handler sends the dog after one, fetches it back, and it is sent out for the second duck. This two duck trial goes on land first, then the ducks are sent out the same way in the water. Dogs either pass or fail the trial. It is not a timed event, nor is it a question of gaining points. Once they have passed the land trial, the dog and handler do the water trial.
Photographing these amazing hunting dogs is a challenge. First things first, apparently camouflage clothing is a requirement for photographers. The reason for the camo is to ensure that the photographer does not distract the dogs. Positioning is important because the photographer has to be behind the starting line and out of the line of sight.
Lighting is also a challenge because the courses are set for dogs and not photographers. You can bet that the light is definitely in the wrong direction and shadows and highlights are numerous. The object of the exercise is to capture the dog face with a duck so the scene light does not matter. Use spot metering on the dog’s face. When you have shadows use exposure compensation and fire off a test shot on the grass close to where the duck is supposed to land.
Regarding the best images, most people want close ups of the dog with a duck in the mouth. Having a zoom lens is a requirement. I would have liked to have an F2.8 lens to isolate the dog from the background. My lens of choice would have been a 400mm F2.8. A zoom lens of 70-200 F2.8 would work well except for the long distance images. Remember, the photographer is a long way away from the spot where the duck landed. The retrievers, with the exception of poodles, can be photographed with an F8 aperture. Poodles have a longer nose and F11 works well for them.
In summary, buy some camouflage clothes and a camouflage cap, grab a long lens, and enjoy the sporting and hunting dog trials.