Featured Photo: Dog Shaking Off

We were at the South Fork American River in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and I wanted to create a fun image that conveyed the joy our dogs were having playing in the river, and the fun we were having watching them. If you’ve ever been with dogs at a river (or lake or creek or almost any body of water), you know the most dangerous place to be is right next to them when they come out of the water. So creating an image of a wet dog shaking off seemed like a universal experience someone could relate to.

A golden retriever puppy shakes off after getting out of the South Fork American River, California

I wanted to catch the dog mid-shake with the action blurred to both convey the motion and make the image a little less literal. The day was bright, so I would need to stop the lens way down to get a slow enough shutter speed to blur the spraying water.

Using a wide angle lens would let me get in really close physically, giving the viewer the sense of being right in the middle of the action, and also distort the dog a bit to give the image a more fun feeling.

Shooting into the sun would help make the image bright, and highlight the spraying water with backlighting, especially if the background was dark. If I had the sun to the side or even behind me, I still could have made the image bright by overexposing, but the spraying water would have been more difficult to see.

Catching a dog mid-shake is really just a matter of observation and timing. Each dog seems to have his own routine when exiting the water, and with just some casual observing it’s relatively easy to predict when and where he’s going to shake off. Our older dog Holly likes to either go into the brush to shake off or first roll in the sand — neither would work for the photo I wanted. Our younger dog Jasper likes to head straight toward you like a bull and shake off right away. Perfect.

So with these technical specs ticked off in my head (some consciously, some not), I positioned myself for the shot. As Jasper came out of the water, I got down to his level and moved to crouch right in front of him (the driest spot to be next to a shaking-off dog, by-the-way), but still shooting into the sun. Easier said than done, of course. It took multiple tries to get the shot I was looking for, with a good balance of composition and blurring. The large water drop on the lens was an added bonus.

Of course, to get the full feeling I had to get a person in the image, too. My “lucky” wife to the rescue. . . .

A golden retreiver shakes off on a woman after getting out of the South Fork American River, California

Final image specs:

Nikon D300 with Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6
Exposure: ISO 200, 1/50s @ f/16

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