Teachable Photos

Musher Dennis Kananowicz competing in the World Sled Dog Championships at Campbell Airstrip in Anchorage.

Teachable moments are defined as unplanned opportunities that arise in teaching situations to facilitate learning for students. Whether it is a concept, an event, or insight, teachable moments serve to solidify the learning process in a memorable way that rote instruction cannot. As a photography instructor, I cull or intentionally create photos that I use to demonstrate principles of photography to my workshop participants. I call these teachable photos.

This photo of a musher competing in the Fur Rondy 2018 World Sled Dog Championship is just such a teachable photo. It embodies the primary purpose for shooting in manual exposure mode that I teach in my basic photography workshop; that is, taking full control of the camera by setting the aperture and shutter speed to achieve the result you want rather than what the camera selects in programmed mode. I wanted to convey a sense of motion of the dogs, while at the same time capture enough detail and depth to emphasize the length of the dog train.

Three user selected controls and one focal length choice are at work here to get the desired effect. First, a slow shutter speed, in this case 1/200th sec. (slow for a moving animal), created the motion blur of the lead dogs. Why aren’t the other dogs and musher not blurred? A corollary to slow shutter speeds and motion is that subjects moving across the frame blur more than those moving towards or away from the camera. Furthermore, subjects closer to the camera covering a larger portion of the frame blur more than those further away and covering a smaller area.

Second, a small aperture of f/13 gives a deep depth of field so that everything is in focus from the lead sled dog to the musher and the surrounding forest. It is that depth of field that provides the detail showing each dog in the long harnessed train of dogs. That train is typically one hundred feet or more depending on the number of dogs. The choice of a wide focal length, 24 mm, expands the relationship between foreground and background subjects further enhancing the sense of distance and depth.

Last of the selected controls is ISO, the third variable in the exposure triangle. By fixing the shutter speed and aperture in manual mode, the ISO must be adjusted to properly expose the scene. In this case an ISO of 125 was used to make sure the snow appeared white. Generally between 1-2 stops of extra exposure is needed above what the camera’s meter chooses to properly expose for the snow.

So, a seemingly simple photo of sled dogs is more than just a snapshot; it requires previsualizing a desired outcome and controlling manually a few variables to realize that outcome. Once mastered, these types of photos become the experience base and tools to apply to future photographic situations. In other words, it is these teachable photos that become teachable moments for photographers willing to learn and grow their craft.

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