As I begin a new equine series…

I felt like I was looking into the souls of these beautiful horses.

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The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to pursue a series that has long been on my mind…photographing horses. It’s one of those win-win situations where even if the reason why I am shooting this doesn’t pan out; I’ll still be fulfilling a personal dream.

Like many little girls, I was obsessed with horses and pretended that my mustang bicycle was the most wonderful, surefooted steed that ever was. I believe that I might still love to ride a bicycle today if I could once again conjure up those daydreams!

Today I was surrounded by the gentlest herd of horses that I have had the pleasure to meet. Their docility and expressions of affection were at first a little unnerving but quickly grew into one of those moments that I will remember with a smile.

They were an inquisitive lot, nibbling on my camera pack and at my hair. Each one wanting it to be their turn as I focused the lens on another. This was a preliminary shoot to get a feel for what might work for a series of monochromatic shots but for today I chose to leave this shot in color. It had a softness to it that just seemed to capture the mood and as I shot it I felt that little shiver of excitement that I get when my camera becomes my paintbrush.

When that happens I know that I’m on the right track and I can’t wait for the next session…

My name is Sheryl: I paint with my camera.

In a perfect world, getting a dog…

would be a commitment that would last for the lifetime of that dog and not just until it was no longer convenient…or… why I buy from a breeder.

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The chief ingredients in the composition of those qualities that gain esteem and praise, are good nature, truth, good sense, and good breeding.

Joseph Addison

I can’t tell you how many times I get a look of disgust from people upon finding out that my puppy did not come from the shelter but that I in fact waited over a year for him to be born and that was after I had done my research and chosen a breeder who was breeding the lines that I was looking for and doing the appropriate genetic testing for hereditary conditions. Even more appalling…this is NOT the first time that I have done this nor will it be the last. On each occasion I have received exactly what I was looking for at the time.

Do I not feel guilt when thinking about the dogs already born who are looking for their forever homes? Of course I do.  Perhaps the guilty feelings come from my compassion for all animals and if I walked into a shelter would I be likely to come out empty-handed? No, how could you look into those eyes and not want to make their world better?

I do however have strong feelings about the need to preserve breeds that have been in existence for decades and in some cases, centuries. Breeds that have been developed to serve a myriad of purposes ranging from home and livestock guardian, search and rescue, hunting, companion dog, and like my current breed, all-purpose dog just to name a few.

Take the bloodhound for example. After completing my own personal training and being certified by the National Association of Search and Rescue I was ready to find my partner to work with on our team. We did not have any bloodhounds currently working tracking/trailing so I searched high and low for a conformationally correct bloodhound. They are scenting marvels with every part of them designed to fulfill a specific purpose. The neck must be long enough to comfortably reach the ground, the ears are designed to waft scent towards the nose, the skin must be loose in order to slip through underbrush more easily, the drool helps to rehydrate the scent and that nose! A human’s nasal cavity is about one and a half inches square while the bloodhound’s comes in at roughly twenty-two and a half square inches. Their testimony is admissible with proper training documentation, in a court of law. From clear across the country I bought a puppy from a Chief of Corrections, a breeder who knew from many years experience exactly the dog that I would require to do the job that she would be trained for. She was utterly fabulous and at the age of 10 months was running 24 hour aged tracks at a flat-out run during a law enforcement training seminar.

For me this is just one experience among many and one excellent breeder among many that I have met. Are all breeders good? Certainly not but this is where doing your homework comes in. It’s been my experience that the breeders who are doing it right, are not making money off of their litters. They are testing for genetic inheritable problems and like the breeder above, working towards producing excellent dogs that are a credit to the breed and this does not come about by cutting corners. Does this guarantee that I will not go through the heartbreak of any health-related issue, certainly not, but it gives me a known starting point. I filled out a lengthy questionnaire before I was even “allowed” to make a deposit on my current dog. My buyers contract was several pages long. Am I happy with him? I am thrilled, he is exactly what I was looking for. Will I show him? More than likely but only if he also enjoys the process. Will he be first and foremost a family member? Absolutely. Another wonderful thing are the friendships that have developed with these breeders who actually care about what happens to their dogs and what they accomplish in their lifetimes. They are an endless source of information and insight on the breeds.

These days when confronted by someone who is appalled that I did not go to the shelter for my dog, I ask a question of them.

Do you have children? If the answer is yes, I then ask why they did not adopt a child who needed a home instead of having one or more of their own. More than 250,000 children enter the foster care system in the US every year. Not adopting a child who needs a home is readily forgiven but with rescue organizations being very PC, not adopting a dog from the shelter and buying from a good breeder somehow makes you a bad person.

I think that we all should be allowed to choose who we live with without criticism or judgement. When adding to my “family” I owe it to those that are part of it already to choose someone who will be the right fit.  I hope that the small time breeder, who goes that extra mile to produce purebred dogs with not only the traits that we have come to expect from that breed, but also ones sound in body and temperament, will be allowed to continue producing dogs of merit and will not be legislated into the ground.

I think that our efforts would be better served attempting to weed out puppy mills as I believe these to be the source of many shelter dogs. These poor animals are treated very poorly as breeding stock and no thought goes into producing sound dogs. As a contrast to my puppy, their first very formative weeks of life are not filled with excellent care, appropriate socializing and the astute observations of the breeder to match puppy and future owner. The uneducated, perhaps soft-hearted buyer then comes along and finds that he has a nightmare on his hands and the dog is turned into the shelter for aggression, destructive behaviors, and a host of other potentially avoidable traits. Ahead of him then lies a long road to try to “fix” these issues so that he may one day become adoptable.

That’s not the life that I would choose for any dog and when I look into the eyes of my puppy, I think he knows that he’s one of the lucky ones to have come from a good breeder.

Update: There remains a huge difference between puppy mills and responsible breeders. The responsible breeders that I know rarely come out ahead monetarily when having a litter. I will never condone having a litter of puppies for any reason other than a strong belief that a sounder dog can be produced. Going one step further, I believe that my next dog will come from a shelter.

 

A “pawsitive” few weeks…

in the press for my breed!

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Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment.

Caroline Knapp

As a lover of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed my spirits have been buoyed the last few weeks by the press sharing some of the wonderful deeds with these dogs in the starring role. So often it seems that they only make the news when something horrendous happens and sadly I’ve often found the breed in question to not even be the SBT.

The AKC has this to say about the breed “the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is known for its character of fearlessness and loyalty. This coupled with its affection for its friends, its off-duty quietness and trustworthy stability, make it first and foremost an all-purpose dog. The breed is naturally muscular and may appear intimidating; however, because of their natural fondness for people, most Staffords are temperamentally ill-suited for guard or attack dog training.”

In Gloucester, United Kingdom,  police Stafford Stella won at the Animal Hero Awards in London for her role in finding 25,000 pounds stolen in a heist. She was a rescue dog fortunate to have had someone take the time to see her potential.

In Sydney, Australia, family pet Stafford Leala is credited with saving her two year old charge after he fell into the water and was drowning. When attempts to rescue him failed she went and got the father who performed CPR for half an hour until help arrived. The boy is making an excellent recovery.

We are quick to judge a book by its cover and often without all of the information that should be required before making that judgement. We rail against that same act when it comes to skin color so why not when it comes to our furred friends?

Sharing your life with a dog brings untold rewards and it is my opinion that when it comes to bad deeds performed by dogs we need to look at the other end of the leash. 

Fall colors are peaking…

and what did I love?

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I think style is just the end result of personal experience. It would be problematic for me to photograph in another style. I’m drawn to places and subject matter that have personal connections for me and I photograph in a way that seems right. Where does it all come from, who knows?

Michael Kenna

On a fabulous fall day with near perfect temperatures it seemed like the ideal time to criss-cross the county and photograph some beautiful fall color. The aspens glowed a brilliant yellow against the evergreens and wild turkey and deer added that pastoral feeling to the landscape.

I’ve been doing a lot of night photography of late and more often than not for me, those final images remain in color. Deep blues, purples, and pops of color from a handheld torch that I like to call my paintbrush. I suppose it would only be natural that I would slip back into my comfort zone of monochromatic landscapes.

Today we found vibrant yellows, deep oranges, and glowing pinks but what did I like the best at the end of the day? A backlit water scene that with its trees and stark remains of a bridge were reminiscent of our lengthy and punishing fire season.

Without the distraction of color I find these scenes to be so much more tranquil and meditative. My eyes are drawn to the patterns and nuances of the shading. Michael Kenna’s work is simply brilliant and his observation of photographing in a way that seems right is exactly what I strive to do.

Developing personal style in photography or other mediums I think just comes with time. I can remember early on sitting on the floor and with my eyes closed trying to change lenses and dial in particular settings. This learning to do things by feel and knowing which way the dials worked to make changes in my settings has held me in good stead for night photography. Once the tools were learned it seemed easier to play with the camera and capture the images that seemed right to me.

How well do you know your camera? Turn the lights out and see!

As the leaves turn…

and the mornings have a chill to them, I begin to wonder when that first snowflake will fall.

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

Albert Camus

I love that the mornings are darker and that I can slip outside and revel in the darkness knowing that dawn is just around the corner.

The skies have been overcast, thwarting my plans to shoot the Draconid meteor showers that peaked this past Thursday. As the clouds scudded by one could occasionally see a patch of stars in the night sky and I was at least lucky enough to see four meteors.

The hours between sunset and sunrise have become my favorite hours to shoot. If you haven’t tried it I would encourage you to go out and soak it up. There is a meditative quality about these hours. The tranquility and lack of interruptions is something that I don’t usually find in my daylight hours and that outweighs those brief moments that intrude when I hear a branch snap or see a bat fly by.

This morning I reflected on another loss to our small community that occurred when a Cessna crashed into Round Top mountain killing two pilots and leaving the third passenger, at this point in time, unaccounted for. I suppose that it could be said that they died doing what they loved but for those left behind I am not sure that is enough of a consolation and my heart goes out to them.

I grew up being afraid of the dark so find it empowering that I can now be out in it; finding enjoyment in searching out the photographic opportunities it has to offer.

Although I’ve shot this birch tree before it never occurred to me to try it at night and now I wonder… what took me so long?

 

Additional images of light painting can be viewed by mousing over and clicking on the galleries idaho… after dark and idaho after dark lunar eclipse on this link to my website.

Painting by moonlight…

literally.

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I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

Pablo Picasso

Light painting…those words today probably bring to mind the fabulous wakeboarding images shot by Patrick Rochon in conjunction with Redbull but did you know that the earliest light painting was photographed in 1889 by Georges Demeny and was titled “Pathological Walk From in Front?”

Then again, Picasso is also an artist that one wouldn’t necessarily equate with this form of painting but he was apparently intrigued after seeing the figure skaters shot by Gjon Mili and in 1949 collaborated with him during a Life magazine shoot. These images were later displayed in early 1950 at MOMA.

I find painting with light to be both energizing and soothing and while planning my shots for the eclipse last week I indulged in a little painting by moonlight. Usually I have at hand an assortment of torches and filters to use as my “brushes” but I thought that moon is looking pretty bright… why not!?

The shot of the day might have been if someone had been photographing me wildly waving my camera through the night sky while trying to keep track of my lines! Is this a work of art? Perhaps not but I liked its energy and just like last week’s eclipse, when social media was filled with cookie cutter images of large orange orbs, I again found pleasure in shooting the moon just a little bit differently.

Nothing is ever new but when almost everyone now carries a camera, at least a phone version, it becomes more difficult to create something that stands apart. Are you up for the challenge?

Additional images of light painting can be viewed by mousing over and clicking on the galleries idaho… after dark and idaho after dark lunar eclipse on this link to my website.

An eclipse night trifecta…

or having a plan come together!

the eclipsed moon, the milky way, iridium flare 65
the eclipsed moon, the milky way, iridium flare 65

Everything that you can imagine is real.

Pablo Picasso

On this special eclipse night, the fourth eclipse in a tetra, I wanted to do something more than just photograph a large frame filling blood moon. I kept being drawn to the idea of photographing the stars AND having a full moon in the shot. It just doesn’t happen very often that you can see the full moon and not have the stars washed out by its glow. I also knew that at 8:11 there would be an iridium flare visible for a brief moment. Not a very bright one but having shot these before I hoped that it would be bright enough. Could I capture this trifecta?

A great deal of planning needed to take place. First there was scouting out a location and figuring out where each element would be at that one moment necessary to capture all three. For this I turned to a wonderful ap called Photopills. It gave me all of the tools necessary to plot the placement of the moon and the milky way in relation to the direction and elevation of the flare. Taking some test shots showed me that shooting at 11 mm on my wide angle lens should just barely squeeze these three elements into the shot. What settings I would be using needed to be decided close to the time of the shot as I really did not know how much light would be present.

The one thing that I was certain of was that I would have one shot, just one frame, to get this. The girl likes a challenge though and certainly I filled my time before and after with capturing the beauty of this extra large moon, the likes of which will not occur again until 2033, as it rose behind the mountains, already partially eclipsed.

blood moon rising
blood moon rising

It was a beautiful night, with perfect weather and even a shooting star that exploded during a test shot. How lucky can one girl be? Or is luck when opportunity and planning come together…you be the judge!

More images can be viewed in the gallery idaho after dark by clicking on this link to my website.