Last week my good buddy Brad Fitzpatrick contacted me about taking some photos for another article he’s working on. Brad is a freelance journalist who has written articles for magazines such as: Gun World, Gun Digest, African Sporting Gazette, Sports Afield, and the list goes on…
My wife and I have taken photos for his articles before, but this particular shoot presented a unique challenge: photographing coonhounds on a hunt in complete darkness. Since racoons are nocturnal, the hunt takes place in the middle of the night. The dogs were English Coonhounds from Woodstock Kennels in London, KY.
My goal was to capture these coonhounds in action, but with a unique look. As Brad showed me, most photos of coonhounds at night are taken with a harsh, bright direct flash, leaving the background completely black. This is understandable because you can’t take studio lighting out on a coon hunt. I decided that in order to get any kind of unique shot, I would have to bring better lighting than simply a direct flash.
I packed three speedlite flashes: 580EX, 580EX II, and a 430EX. I set the 580EX II to “master” and the other two flashes to “slave”. The master was mounted to my camera, and the other two were held on either side of the subject(s). I set the light output ratio of the master:slave to 1:4 so my direct flash would just be fill light. High speed mode allowed me to shoot at 1/400 seconds, so the quick dogs would be sharp. When the master flash fires, it triggers the slave flashes via infared signal, similar to a TV remote control.
Even with a fairly simple plan in my head, the actual shoot was still quite a challenge. Once the dogs were loose, there was no stopping them! Once they had “tree’d a coon”, they would put their front legs up on the tree, and howl and bark at the animal they had trapped. My plan was to stand on a bucket (for the added height) and shoot down wide-angle on the barking dog. The problem was, the dogs would revolve around all sides of the tree, mostly on the opposite side of the tree as my bucket. Also, every time they revolve to a different position, my lovely assistants would have to change their positions to achieve the 3-point lighting scheme I described earlier.
The article will appear in Outdoor Life later this year, or at the beginning of 2011.