kit-rodwell2For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Kit Rodwell. I bought my first Dane in 1967. She became CH Dinro Keep Me Mystified and I went to the dogs literally. I was licensed by the AKC, handled a good portion of the working group, married a noted handler, Doug Rodwell; and handled for 26 years. Doug passed away and several years later I started dating a dog show photographer. He became quickly tired of having me gone on circuits handling, so one day he put together a camera setup and told me to follow him around the rings to see if I had that illusive quality – an eye for a dog. The handlers and owners apparently think that I do, and here I am into my 15th year of shooting dog shows. I average around 73 all breeds, 45 specialties and 5 Nationals a year. So much for my qualifications.

Now, have you ever had a special win, and when the picture came, you wanted to cry because it was so horrible? I have. A Best In Show in Mexico where the photographer wanted to get through the border check point- so he took one shot- so tragic that I couldn’t even send it to the Judge let alone advertise it or even put it in a frame!
There are great photographers around the country, there are a lot of pretty good ones, several so-so ones and the “point and shoot” so called photographers who never reset a leg or read a breed standard.
Before I get into how to improve your odds of getting a great photo vs. a so so photo- let me give you a little background on show photography.

Fact – 90% of All Breed Judges HATE picture taking time! AKC allows them no time for this “courtesy to exhibitors”. They are expected to do this in their “absentee time” with no regard to their need for a personal potty break – their need to get off their feet for a few minutes before the next hour or so of judging – the need for a drink of water in the 90+ degree heat or a cup of coffee to warm their icy hands before checking testicles on that poor 6-9 month puppy – or even god forbid – glance at the standard for the next breed in the ring.

Put yourself in the judge’s place for a moment- you have to pee so bad that your eyes are turning a very unattractive shade of yellow and some idiot is ignoring the photographer’s stacking direction to tell you thanks for the second place ribbon out of three ad how important that win is because you also gave her great grand aunt 8 years ago at the strictly pet kennel club show in Minnesota and you are planning on breeding her to “going to die with the one point I won by default” that you placed fifth in a class of 17 last year in San Antonio. Now you can readily recognize that glazed look on the judge’s face from your last picture. You will be remembered kindly, believe me, if you keep it short and sweet. “Thank you for this nice win – we’re number 2 and every breed counts”. Next time blabber mouth and you are in the same ring with equal dogs, guess who will win.

A photographer’s job is very similar to a handler’s fault hiding. While you are walking out to the sign board, we are glancing at your dog to see where we need to be physically to portray the best angle and assets of your dog. Here is the best thing you will learn from this article. If you have a drop dead show photo of your dog – have a wallet size copy made up of the dog only, laminate it and carry it in your grooming supplies. On your way to the photo setup, show it to the photographer and say “this is what I would like please”. Photographers are visual creature – a picture tells us EXACTLY what body angle and head angel to strive for. If you tell me “I like a three quarter angle” and I think ’s from the shoulder and what you meant was from the head- you aren’t going to like my picture and think I am an idiot because I don’t know what ’s is. “profile” to most means seeing the outline of the far left form leg where on a Dobie or old English, profile means seeing only two legs total. If you get a photo that you r really have (and not just because you didn’t look good), take it to the next show where the photographer is and show him/her the picture (first thing in the morning before the show starts, at the lunch break or during groups when things are slow) and point out the things that need changing. If we have no concept of why you are returning pictures, several things are going to happen. Either we will refuse to shoot your picture In the future, won’t bother to send them out to you or the clubs for their archives at specialties or even worse, keep shooting your dog the same way. Communication is a win win situation here. Photographers want to give you what you want; most of us aren’t on an ego trip where we know it all!

If you’ve moved recently, never got your judging schedule via the post office – chances are great that your address is wrong in the catalog. Photographers aren’t mind readers and have no way of knowing you had the entries sent to Aunt Greta’s house. All we can go by is the catalog, so if you didn’t buy one – stop by the superintendent’s table before you leave the show and check your info in their free “look at” catalog.

Location, location, location. Take a moment at your next all breed show and really look around the outside of your ring. If you show mainly indoor, the wall are line with crates, peeling paint, chairs with overweight spectators, trash cans ect. Outdoors you have the added benefits of umbrellas, port a potties and advertisements on fencing for tractor sales. A photographer’s criteria for where to take the photo is to try to find a level piece of ground where the grass isn’t so long there are no feet, only stumps of dog’s legs arising from the greenery; hopefully where the sun is behind us. We try to make sure that poles aren’t growing out of people’s heads, trees aren’t growing out of the dogs croups and another dog running in the next ring doesn’t show up under your dog’s chin.

Here’s where you need to take some responsibility. As you’re walking up to the sign board – take a really good look at the background. Are there trees there? If so you’re going to lose your black dog’s head or dog’s black mask as those nice green trees turn black as a background. That beautiful lattice work at the photo area – just wait until you see what shadows they made under your dog’s chin – same thing with that whitewall. Solution? After you stack your dog, step forward to put yourself behind the dog’s head – and that means don’t wear black. Feel free to ask the judge to back off your dog’s nose if your photographer doesn’t. Gals, if it’s a really really big win and you have to wear big ugly chunky white hiking boots to run in please think about carrying a pleasing pair of shoes with you to change into for the photo session. Nothing ruins a picture more that size 17 white shoes in a picture.

Dog show photographers are looking at the dog when we get ready to take the picture. Legs move heads turn, ears flick back, tails that should be up droop and believe me the viewfinder we are looking through is hardly as large as a quarter – so we don’t see if you make small movements like blinking, frowning or have a silent sneeze – so if you did any of these things or don’t see a flash – SPEAK UP!!! Say to the photographer “I screwed up my face - please take another shot”. The dog is still set up it’s a matter of another second to throw a toy and get the shot you can show everyone. Don’t walk off muttering “I know that was a lousy shot” –photographers are human too (despite what we say about each other) and we want to make you happy so you’ll pay us fast and make huge reorders! Also with the digital cameras, we can take a quick peek at the image and know whether we “got it” or not. SO really, there are no acceptable photographic excuses for sending out bad pictures.

Scenario – it’s over 90 degrees – you’ve just won a major – you eyes are burning from the sweat running in them and your dog’s tongue is out so far it’s banging against his knees. Now is not the time to take a picture! Go cool your dog down, let him have a drink while you go to the restroom and wipe down you face. Check the judging schedule – 15 minutes before the judge is scheduled to start his next group of dogs, go back ringside and ask the steward to call for a photographer. Now you’re first in line for pictures with a cool, refreshed dog and you can actually smile with the knowledge that you’re improving the odds of getting a great picture.  Shooting etiquette – who goes first? If there was a breed judged before yours – they do. In order BOB-BOS-WD-WB, if the handler or you need to get to another ring – speak up and usually everyone will let you go ahead. If your bitch is in season – no matter the win – go to a far corner away from the dogs and go last – please.

Listen to the photographer – what a concept! Do your talking to the judge as soon as you stop at the sign board while you are stacking. Then pay attention to what the photographer is telling you. We are all on a limited time frame- this is not a training class for either you or the dog and if we haven’t gotten the shot in two tries – believe me – it’s going downhill from there to disaster. Come back later and try again – the judge will appreciate it.

Which leads me into a major correction most novices learn right off – collar control? Besides ugly shoes, nothing ruins a picture more that the of look skin hanging over the collar. SO before you start moving legs reach under the dog’s chin, slightly slack off the collar and pull it toward the dog’s nose. Letting it slide back toward his throat – resulting in a clean neck to show the arch of neck and throat line. Part of handling lesson should be stacking you dog in front of a mirror that is great for Beagles, but hardly practical for Danes. Instead go downtown early before the stores open and find a store window you are reflected in. Stack your dog and look to see that you aren’t racking those front (racking is stretching the front legs too far out in front creating an “A” frame effect). This by the way is the most happenstance I usually have to correct after cleaning up a dogs neck area. Look to see if you dog’s top line is staying firm or if you need to tickle your dogs belly to keep it up. Make sure the hocks make a straight line from heel bone to the back of the pads. The better you learn to stack your dog will not only make for a better, quicker picture taking; but will make the odds that you’ll win even better – giving you more opportunities for picture taking!

More on fault hiding – If your dog has a few more inches in body length that you would like – don’t ask a profile picture – showing more front shortens top line. Young and not quite developed in the chest yet – ask to be shot “just behind the shoulder”. Feet needing more calcium – shoot in the grass, not indoors on cement. Straight in stifle – turn in hard the dogs rear toes toward each other – best done in Grass.

About once a month I come across a dog that has whatever reason, become traumatized by picture taking. Whether it was a sign board falling over on him, a loud noise when the flash went off, or an impatient judge who tried to help stack and scared him – These are things that need to be worked on at home – trying to force the issue at a show only makes it worse. Dobie breeder start their little puppies to be real food – oriented. They stack the puppy – show him the bait, give him a little taste – then throw it out in front of the puppy while telling him to “watch”. After a second or two of the puppy staring at the bait, ears up, alert expression – the command “OK” is given and the puppy allowed to go get the bait at the end of the lead. Stretch the time period out and the end result is show Dobies who never put their ears down at picture time, are always up on their toes look alert over their fronts. Even if it’s a toy that motivates your dog – the command “watch” will give you great shots.

As for the flash problem – this can be solved with the help of a friend and a flashlight. Have the friend shine the flashlight on and off to the picture side of the dog and you immediately reward them with a goodie and or lavish praise for being a good boy/girl. Soon the flash of light will be associated with good things and not the initial trauma.

Remember you need to communicate with the photographer. Saying “Oh I forgot to tell you he’ll jump after a squeaky toy” as you go chasing your dog racing into the next ring with my toy in his mouth doesn’t endear you to either me or the judges.

In closing, I want to say that dogs are like people in that some are photogenic and some just aren’t. I’ve taken pictures of what I consider mediocre dogs who when the toy is thrown, turn into superstars with pictures that look like Best In Show Material; while other dogs I’ve admired greatly come across on photographic paper like real duds. In this digital age of fraud graphy – never ever breed or buy a dog that you haven’t seen in person. One day at lunch sitting with the judges, one of them remarked “I judged such and such breed today and had the number one dog for the first time – I wish he had brought the magazine picture into the ring instead of the dog”!

90% of photographers today are digital and there no excuses for sending out a bad photograph and expecting to get paid for it. Sure there are some puppies that just won’t work or can’ work, but those picture go out of my office down charged appropriately. I personally have a no return policy except for color corrections on my work, but the phone line is always open for discussion. Here in the west we have “choices” at shows with multiple photographers. If someone isn’t happy with my results (and there have been some dogs that I just didn’t “get”), exhibitors are always free to go elsewhere to another photographer. In other parts of the country I realize you don’t have this option, but you do have the option of sending an email or letter to the show chairperson and informing them of your interface with their show photographer. Show chairs sometimes no longer show dogs and take the job so they can be impartial. They have no clue that their photographer who perhaps came with the job, is rude to exhibitors, fails to get pictures out in a reasonable time period, or has not a clue in the world that he/she is expected to help and not just point and click!

Best of luck with your dogs and your picture taking at the show.