Photography at the Kearney Dog Sled Races
Each year the Kearney Dog Sled Race brings the wonderful opportunity to photograph Dog Sled Teams competing over a two day period. Having actively photographed this event for the past few years has given me some insight into the dos and don’ts while out on the trails. The foremost concern should be the safety for humans and animals alike.
In town there is a lot of hustle and bustle of spectators, vehicles, snow machines, dog teams and volunteers. There is a plethora of subjects to capture on camera. When photographing an animal it’s wise to ask its handler/owner before approaching. Some dogs get very excited on race day and are better off photographed from a distance. Others are very sociable. Asking permission keeps everyone safe.
Many amateur and seasoned photographers like to get out of town and along the race routes to capture the teams in action among the forest or along the snow covered open areas. If you decide to go out into the back country, always let someone know where you intend to go, be it a friend or a race volunteer. There is not always cell coverage out there. Walking along the trail is usually easy going but be very alert for snow machines and dog teams coming up behind you. Find a spot off the trail and out of harm’s way with a nice vantage point to photograph from. These shoulders are soft and often deep snow, so dress appropriately with warm winter boots, snow pants etc. I recommend having hot packs for your boots and mitts.
To avoid being a distraction for the dogs, it is advisable to not make sudden movements and not engage them verbally. Let the musher direct his team. You will hear commands such as “On by! On by!” to let the dogs know to keep to the course and go by you without being social. Following these guidelines will help all to have a safe and enjoyable event. The mushers and organizers will thank you for being considerate and courteous.
Tips for Novice Photographers (point and shoot cameras)
- Use either Auto or Sport setting.
- Getting down low, close to eye level with the dogs, will give you more dramatic and eye appealing photography.
- Getting up high, like on a snow bank, shooting down (be careful!) will give you a bird’s eye view.
- Remember the more you zoom into your subject, the steadier your hand has to be for a clear photo.
- Bring your elbows into your body when holding your camera for added stability.
Reminders for Amateur and Hobbyist Photographers (those that shoot outside of the “auto” zone)
- Shooting snow can turn out grey. To get whites white, over expose by one or two stops on your light meter.
- adjust your white balance to the conditions of the day (or shoot in RAW to adjust later during editing)
- Have spare batteries close to your body to keep warm. Extreme cold can drain a battery fast!
- The dogs move very fast. To stop the action your shutter speed needs to be at least 1/250 or better.
- Another technique to practice is panning (moving your camera at the same speed as your subject while taking photos, with results of your subject in focus and background in a blurring effect that shows speed)
By Roberta Janik