This time last week I was surrounded by the world's finest dogs at Crufts at The NEC Birmingham. This was the second year I had been to photograph the dogs at Crufts.
It can feel a little overwhelming as this is a show on a truly massive scale. There are five halls layed out in a U-shape which should have meant that I started from one end and eventually came out at the other having walked through them all. But this often didn't happen. The amount on showing areas, trade stands, arenas etc meant that it's easy to get disorientated and once you've spun around a few times to look at things, you start heading back the way you came from.
My main aim was to get around and photograph the dogs in the breed showing areas. Here I could wander up and down the lanes where dogs were being prepared, coiffured, brushed and generally made to look their best. There seemed to be a general feeling a openess from the owners I met; they are very proud of their dogs and like to show them off. They like talking about them and are happy to share their knowledge. I tend to ask the name of the dog, note the breed, the image number from the camera and jot it down in a note book. Some owners offer the long kennel name but I always ask for the pet name, as my editing and captioning takes long enough without writing out long strings of names.
Photographically, I tend to shoot in a couple of different ways. I wasn't covering it for any publication in particular, except my own website. I love photographing dogs and mostly this is done when I'm out and about on location and on my dog walks with Barney, my Working Cocker Spaniel. In the confines of an indoor exhibition space, you don't have the nice light, photogenic, natural backdrops, clean space etc. Under these conditions where it's generally dark, with mixed lighting, messy backdrops and generally chaotic with the amount of people in the space (apparently 145,000 vistied during the four days!), I prefer to photograph events like Crufts in a more editorial way. The photos I have picked out as my favourites tend to be storytelling pictures; they often show the interaction of the dog and the owner. As I walk round, I'm looking for interesting situations where there's some little spark of something happening. It doesn't surprise me that so many people have liked the shot of little 8 year old Maddsion asleep on her Labrador Tegan - it's just a lovely moment.
Some owners like to pose their dogs for me when they see me sidling up. They are obviously used to seeing their particular breed posing in the 'correct' manner and start pulling legs back and making ears prick up etc. This can be helpful and it's always nice to get a bit of eye contact from the dog, but often I like to zoom in on a particular feature of a breed, e.g. the way the Poodles get clipped, the folds in a Dogue de Bordeaux's face, a little pink tongue coming from a Hungarian Puli's hairy face.
How I manage to pick a particular dog as I move around is not an exact science. It's the luck of the draw. With around 20,000 dogs on show, there are great pictures to be had everywhere. And these dogs really are the cream of the crop. If any of these handsome, beautiful creatures crossed my path while I was on my usual dog snapping duties, I'd want to photograph them. Sometimes, I think that covering a show like this is impossible and you only just scratch the surface. By mid afternoon, I do tend to lose it a bit and start walking round a little bit zombie-like. Strong coffee usually helps and before you know it you're back on the ball again.
I don't tend to photograph what's happening in the main arena until the Best In Show takes place on Sunday evening. You need a pink pass to shoot at ground level around the edge which is often much better for getting tighter pictures. The Best In Show winner picture is handy for me to have in the library and by putting it up on my website and Facebook Page, it will attract attention.
For me though, I'd rather photograph the dogs the way I do. It would be nice to not have to deal with horrible orange-glow, tungsten lighting, but this can be mostly corrected from the RAW file afterwards. Failing that, you can always go black and white....everyone loves a bit of black and white.
Here's a slideshow of some of my favourite photos of Crufts 2013
Don't forget you can view all the pictures from Crufts 2013 and if you would like to purchase prints or other products, click 'buy' when you are viewing the pictures in this gallery and all the various products will be available to view.
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Cheers and if you're going to Crufts next year, get in touch and I'll make a note to come and see you.