January 8, 2008

The big picture: why sheepdog trial photos make me kind of insane [and how to fix that]

Back in the day: my Bracken at the drive gates. Porterville Spring Trial, Montgomery Ranch, CA. [Click on the photo for a larger view.]

Michael McAdoo is a photographer with a good eye for dogs, as you can see by visiting his sheepdog trials galleries at this link. This week he posted a few of his photos on the Border Collie Boards, where you can also see the work of talented photographers like Denise Wall, Laura Hicks, Christine Henry, Melanie Chang, Mark Billadeau and others. In his first post to the Border Collie Boards, Mike wrote:
I've been looking through the posts here and see some fine quality photos, so am asking as "trialers" and working dog owners, what shots do you prefer and which shots have you frankly seen enough of? I understand that some shots which work for me artistically may not convey the action you want conveyed or the sense of why this form of competition/exhibition is enjoyable to you.
I love working-dog photos. What drives me nuts is that a perfect close-up of a great USBCHA Open dog -- for example, a terrific photograph like this by Denise Wall of Bev Lambert's Bill --

isn't always that easy to distinguish from a carefully-cropped photo of a dog that couldn't herd lemmings off a cliff.

Which is why I love shots like this:

This photo [a
nother great one by Denise Wall] shows Alasdair MacRae and Star on the crossdrive of the International course at the 2005 Bluegrass. The dog is just a speck, but you can by God tell this is a real sheepdog trial and not the sort of event where dogs are given titles for following tame sheep down the fence in a small arena.

After all [as I've said a million times], any responsive dog with sufficient prey drive can be trained to move tame stock in a controlled setting. Look at the snaps of American Pit Bull Terrier Dread, who earned ASCA titles on sheep and ducks:

My dogs can do more challenging work than this. So please, photographers, let me see the big picture.

I love the beautiful close-ups of intense dogs at work, and I love the arty through-the-fence shots, and I especially love the photos with both sheep and dog in the frame. If it were my dog, I'd want to purchase them all.

But let me see at least one photo of the 800 yard, uphill outrun or the 200 yard crossdrive -- even if my dog is a just black speck. If I can afford to buy only one photo, that's the one I'll purchase. I can take portrait snaps of my dog at home, but a photo of my dog and me on a course like Edgeworth or the Bluegrass...? Just about priceless.


MikeMcA2 said...


Thanks for the insight! A friend emailed me that I had been "Blogged!" so I came to see and I do appreciate your points. I am so ignorant on the proper "blogger etiquette" that I hope my reply here does not make me appear as a "cyber-stalker" or spammer, but I did want to comment.

Your comments about the outrun or crossdrive are very interesting. So "counterintuitive" to the normal photographic approach which dictates "recognize the subject, see the eyes, isolate, and simplify." I would never assume that a speck of a dog on an 800 yard pitch running away from the camera would be desirable, and out of that ignorance would save that storage for other images. That lack of understanding is why I posted the initial thread on the BC Boards site (which you have referenced above): I wanted to know what the insiders held dear, that we outsiders who just happen to have a decent camera could not appreciate.

In the past year, I have had great success in photography of the drag racing/motorsports world, because I am a racer and talk to racers about what they want to see. Frankly, we have all had enough "starting line" shots to last us until the cows come home. By moving down the track, and capturing action perhaps 300 feet from the starting line where the racers are at their most intent, I have sold stuff, had shots on the cover and center-spread of the racing sanction's periodical magazine, sold images to sponsors and major industry reps, had images used as the graphics for official sanction apparel, was asked to shoot the sanction's annual awards banquet, and been invited to do more this year. But it's only partly because my work is technically decent; it is more because I learned and filled a demand which had been unfilled.

Exactly the result I would like to enjoy in this venue, but it takes research and learning what that void might be.

So please, keep the advice and critique coming. I and many photographers can learn from this. Oh, and by the way, I am glad I was referred to this site, as Porterville and that area of CA is very near Bakersfield where I grew up, and Granite Station/Glenville where I spent every school vacation and weekend helping my uncle on his 10,000 acre cattle ranch. Great to see shots of home.

Luisa said...

Hi, Mike! I've been meaning all week to post in that thread on the Boards.

I like photographs that give a feeling for the countryside [often beautiful] and the conditions at a trial. The first two photos in this post show what I mean. I love the photo of Amy and her dogs taking the sheep up the hill at daybreak.

Have to add that one of my favorite sheep & dog photos is on the ABCA home page. A battle of wills: the ram is thinking, "Can I bluff her? Should I try?" Some dogs will jump away if a sheep turns to face them like this, but Kate is keen and confident. She is looking the young ram straight in the eye, and he'll do what she wants. [Kate belongs to Denise Wall.]

Thanks for writing, and I hope to run into you on the Boards --

[I know where that cattle ranch is! I have an old photo of Bracken that I took in Woody.]