Behind the Shot: Listening for Owls

This isn’t a spectacular before/after, or even that fantastic of a shot, it was just a moment that I’d like to remember as clearly as possible.

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Wild @ 6.5 months

We had just gotten onto the main part of the trail, only one of three cars in the lot and it was quiet. I had planned to pose Wild somewhere in this area, it’s a favorite spot of mine, when movement just above our heads caught our attention. I saw striped brown contrasting with the dark green of the forest and knew it wasn’t a typical sparrow or the like that we normally see skittering about. It landed in one of the trees just out of focus in the shot above and we were able to really look at it.

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I was only able to snag this one super far away shot before Mr. Owl took off again, deeper into the forest. If we hadn’t seen the motion of his wings, I don’t think we would have noticed him at all; owls are such silent fliers. I’ve hiked this trail dozens of times and I’ve never seen or even heard an owl in the distance, it was definitely a magical moment.

As often as possible when out with him, I try to watch Wild watch the world. If he stops to peer into the dark, I usually do too. Partially because I love to watch him inspect his surroundings, but also because he sees things much before I do. His ears will twitch and his head dart to one side, I’ll follow and see a deer moving cautiously in the woods behind us. I’m usually pretty quick to spot wildlife, but I’m nowhere near as accurate as he is!

On this hike I tried a couple of different things for photos (and video, which I’m still editing). I typically have him on a thin collar and then I’ll just attach one 4ft leash or two 4ft leashes attached to each other to him and some sort of “anchor”. This hike I decided to go with an even thinner collar and I rotated between a flexi leash (listen, they’re good for maybe two things, and this is one of them) and a super thin but strong string (a type of fishing line for large fish). This shot in particular was done via flexi. I locked it in place and attached it to the tree just behind him. Why did I switch things up? To be honest, I was tired of editing out thick leashes! I don’t let Wild off leash outside of one or two known locations, so the leash is gonna be there. I just have to figure out the best way to get it out of the shot afterwards.

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Before/After post-processing in Lightroom

As you can see, brightened his body, took out the leash, cleaned his legs up a bit, and that’s basically it!

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Training Tuesday: Review

I’ve been trying to decide on what to write for today’s post for several days and it’s just not coming to me! I thought that maybe instead of a traditional post, I would just review a bit on what Wild “knows” vs what Wild will do when “bribed”.

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Wild @ 6 months in Colorado

Known – What do I mean by this? Basically, I consider a behavior “known” if the animal will perform it without the promise of treats, or other such reward, and without physical manipulation in a variety of settings. There are a lot of dog people that think their Fluffy “knows” a lot of things, but if asked to perform those things away from the cookie jar, they’re met with a staring dog. That’s not to say that Wild is 100% consistent, because he’s definitely not! But, when in higher distraction environments, these are the behaviors I generally feel confident he will perform even if somewhat stressed.

Sit/Stay – Pretty simple, right? Usually the first thing puppies get taught so it’s usually the most reliable, same for Wild! I use it a lot when we’re out, just to help us stay out of the way of bikes or people passing closely, but also as a sort of “grounder” if I notice that Wild is getting a bit overwhelmed.

Down/Stay – Used similarly to the above, the down/stay also happens to be Wild’s favorite position to receive pets in! So it’s a win/win.

Step Up – This one is definitely more performative in nature; probably 96% of my photos of Wild are taken using this command. Some people say “mark”, but I’ve taught it as this simply because that’s what I’ve always said. He’s getting better about holding the position on smaller and smaller things, but generally there is a rock or a ledge that he’s actually having to step up onto.

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Wild @ 6 months in Colorado

Place – I use this all the time! It’s the quickest way to get Wild out of the way if there’s any sort of bench/table/chair/rock nearby. It gives him a bit of higher ground, but it also gets him some distance from whatever might be the distraction. It helps that it’s also great for photo ops!

Load Up – This is one you won’t see photos of, but it’s the phrase I use to get Wild into the car. Now, he doesn’t love riding in the car always but if the crate door is open, and I say those words, he jumps right in. Some days he’d prefer to jump right back out..

Touch – Just a simple nose-to-hand that I use sometimes to reconnect.

And that’s pretty much it for what I would consider reliable! Part of the reason why the above are so reliable is because I use them all the time. While I do ask other things of him in training sessions, if they’re less practical behaviors, I generally don’t ask for them in the real world.

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Wild @ 6 months in Colorado with Scully, Dude, and Blake

Now, for commands that require “proof of payment”, I consider those only reliable when “bribed”. Sure, I could say “lured”….but if the food must be present, and the dog isn’t just following your hand/motions without food/toy, it’s bribery still. For me, these are either behaviors that I’m still working on getting to a point where the food can go away, or they’re just silly things we do in the middle of feeding sessions. Sure, he’ll perform them occasionally without the food, but because it’s not truly reliable, I tend to not ask for them in most settings. There are also a couple on this list that he will perform without food, depending on the environment.

Spin – This is one that he will mostly do without food, but if we’re in a super distracting environment, he doesn’t like turning away from the stimuli. So because there are more instances where he won’t perform this behavior without food than where he will, it ends in this category.

Roll-Over – I’ll be honest, I don’t ask for this one a lot anymore! He’s so big that it takes up a lot of space!

Cop-Cop/Leg Weave – This is where he stands between my legs and walks on my feet/goes through my legs. We definitely don’t ask for this in public as I might fall over…. Because it’s sort of a “scary” position, he still needs that promise of reward to get into position.

Chin – I really only started truly asking for a chin rest recently, so this one should move up soon!

I think that’s just about it! We do of course work on other behaviors, but I think this is a good overview. I like to be as clear as possible when talking training and I don’t want people to see photos of Wild and assume that he’s this magical beast with zero need for continued training. We still work for every single meal and we still treat every outing as a training opportunity. If you think you’re dog is “done”…you’re wrong!

Behind the Shot: Sand Sprint

Run for your liiiiiiives!

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Wild @ 6 months in Colorado

Okay, so maybe we weren’t running for our lives here, but we were certainly having the time of our lives! This was taken at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in Colorado; one of the few National Parks in the US that allows dogs! It’s a gorgeous landscape: mountains as the backdrop to monstrous sand dunes that look like they’ve been dropped via Jumanji board into the Coloradan wilderness.

The sand was definitely something new for my dogs; they’ve seen it in small doses at like lake “beaches”, but never anything like this. The light was harsh and the sand reflected the heat back at us as well. Thankfully there was a strong breeze, so the dogs stayed pretty cool, but they definitely weren’t used to how difficult running was on the thick sand! This shot was in one of maybe three bursts Wild had while we were there. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s kind of a lazy creature at heart, so after a few good runs…he requires a snack and a nap.

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Before & After post-processing in Lightroom

 

As you can see in the B/A, he wasn’t totally free here. While dogs are allowed in this park, they’re supposed to remain on their leashes. Wild was on a longer leash than I typically walk him on, so he was able to get up quite a bit of speed. While I took out the leash in Lightroom, I left the sand trail…a mistake but not something I’m all that upset about. I ended up desaturating this shot quite a bit because I knew editing those shadows would’ve been a pain. I still lightened his body separately, and reduced the shadows there, but otherwise I didn’t do a whole lot! A fun day with a dramatic scene and a happy running pup ^^

Is it too soon for Memory Lane?

Wild is still very much a puppy, I know, but I can’t help but think back to earlier this year when he was small enough for me to carry around the room. He grew so quickly, and even though I was prepared for it, it’s still surprising somehow.

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Wild @ 5 weeks

There are certainly a lot of things that I’m grateful are gone along with the tiny puppy days: razor sharp teeth, potty breaks every 5-10 minutes, pulling like a freight train on the leash…

Dog people talk a lot about “Puppy Fever”; it’s this incurable disease that most of us have been infected by since early childhood and unfortunately there is no long-term cure. We suffer long stretches of time as our youngest dogs start to grow older and the symptoms return. It’s not that we want only puppies all the time, at least I don’t. Puppies are stressful and exhausting! But, there’s nothing quite like watching a puppy go from that “slug” stage of just eating and sleeping into a gorgeous animal that can interact with its environment in a variety of ways. It’s magic and it’s hard to turn down when you see a cute puppy needing a home.

For a lot of us, having multiple dogs at various ages sort of helps stifle the symptoms. Obviously, with my job I get to have little “shots” in the form of new puppies in training quite often, so that’s helpful! With wolfdogs, though, having multiples is much more challenging. Of course, it can be done and there are many people that have whole packs of them just fine!

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Wild @ 6 months in Utah with Chess, Dude, & Scully

If, however, you’re wanting to raise your wolfdog so that it can go to as many places (legally allowed) and do as many things as possible, multiples become much more complicated. Six and a half months in and I’m still trying to take Wild out at least every other day! It’s a lot of time, a lot of planning, and a lot of work.

People ask me if I want another one and my answer is always “I have to raise this one first”. I’ve never been one to utter those words; my oldest dog is 12.5 but the rest of them are less than 2 years apart! I like chaos, I like a challenge, but I also like my sanity.

I may talk about missing tiny Wild, I might feel a tinge of Puppy Fever trying to rear its ugly head come puppy season, but ultimately I know that I’m nowhere ready to share my time between two wolfdogs. Both because of the work involved, and my desired quality of training going into one. Sure, we would probably survive…but I don’t want to just survive, I want to thrive.

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Wild @ 6 months in Colorado

Behind the Shot: Tumbleweed Trot

Okay, so there’s not actually a tumbleweed…but I feel like there could be!

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Wild @ 6 months in Utah

For this shot, we woke up before the sun and drove about half an hour from our campsite to a dead-end road. The light was super soft and I really wanted to give this a go. Obviously, the Wild-child wasn’t off leash, and he wasn’t running into the void here. I had him sit on my side of the road, and my friend had the end of his long line on the other and just recalled him across. She was watching traffic (as was I) but, the whole time we were out there prior to this shot, we only saw one other car and it was gone before we attempted this.

While I wish he had looked a bit more at me, we did two street crossings trying to get the shot and this was the one I felt looked the best.  Wild was in a posing mood that morning, so it made for an enjoyable shoot! If I could photograph Wild in the American West for the rest of my life, I think I’d be perfectly content.

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Before/After post-processing in Lightroom

Not a lot immediately apparent in this edit. I really just upped the exposure on his body, took out the leash, and tweaked the lighting of the sky to more accurately depict what we were seeing in real life.

All-en a Day’s Work

I’ve been taking weekly photos of Wild with a stuffed raven since I brought him home and it’s become a favorite photo op for me as I can assign some random feeling to Allen (the raven) and also see clearly how much Wild has grown in the last week.

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Wild @ 6 months with Allen

Recently, though, I’ve been struggling a bit with the Allen shots. Wild isn’t changing as drastically as he was before (thank goodness!) and I find repetitive shots boring…both to look at, and to shoot. There are only so many pictures of Wild attempting to destroy his “friend” that one can post. And he does try to destroy him most outings with the not-so-feathered friend.

I took Allen with us last week on our road trip with grand intentions; we were going to get so many epic Allen shots! We saw a ton of actual ravens and I was tempted to just try and pose Wild with one of those in the background but for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen. I only took Allen out once that whole trip and it was on Allen-Day for a cell phone picture.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that no matter how magical a life can seem online, or how many epic shots you can see in your own mind when you look at somebody’s instagram feed…sometimes inspiration just doesn’t hit or you fall into a creative rut. I often see people talking about not wanting to pick up their camera and feeling uninspired and it’s tough from the outside because you can so clearly see so many different ways that person can reimagine their surroundings. But, ultimately, it’s not you who gets to reimagine and it’s up to the individual involved to find that inspiration, reignite that spark, and put their metaphorical raven on a stump and capture something beautiful.

No new Allen picture will go up this week, but I’m working on my own reimagining and hope to give this flightless bird a better view…even if only for one shot.

Training Tuesday: Travel

We’re back! I had intended to have posts going up while we were out of town, but time got away from me. Last week, we went on a pretty epic adventure. We traveled through 9 states and hiked all over Colorado. It was a long and sometimes stressful journey but we made it and now I get to share some photos and things we learned along the way!

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Wild @ 6 months in Colorado

We intended to tent-camp most of the trip but things don’t always go as planned and while it wasn’t technically peak season in most of the places we traveled, the campgrounds were more full than I anticipated. What difference does that make? Well, when Wild isn’t quite tired (or is over tired), he gets loud. Not in a barking sort of way, just in a “I’m going to flail around growl-grumbling” sort of way. Had we been in more secluded areas, this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but we were most often right next to another occupied site and quiet hours are a real and sacred thing. So, after the first half-night trying to keep him calm and quiet, I opted to move us into the van for sleeping for the rest of the trip. It worked out great, and he settled right away in his crate in the van (whereas in the tent, he wanted the door to his crate open all night so he could flail easier).

Changes in plans like this have to be welcomed when you own any type of dog, but especially dogs like Wild. There are going to be plans that you make that you’re either going to need to alter in order to accommodate, or cancel altogether.

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Wild @ 6 months in Colorado with Dude and Scully

I tend to bite off a lot when I plan things. Traveling across 9 states with 4 dogs (my 3 + my friend’s)? Sure! Traveling across 9 states with 3 kibble-eaters and a raw-fed dog? A bit more complicated when you plan on camping. We had a cooler in the van and we stopped frequently to replenish the meat supply. It might not have been the best way to go about things, but we made it work and Wild was able to stay on his “normal” diet. I had at one point thought we’d go back to dehydrated raw for the trip just for ease, but I’m glad I ended up making the effort. He probably would have been fine with the change, but I know this was the best choice.

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Wild @ 6 months at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado with (L t R): Chess, Dude, Scully, Haley, and Blake

We met up with a lot of friends on this trip and it was so fun watching the dogs that I’ve seen online for years in “real life”. It was also interesting to see how each one interacted with Wild! As I’ve mentioned before, as lot of dogs are weirded out by him; he’s big, he’s floppy, he has weird body language, etc. Several of the dogs we met up with wanted nothing to do with him, and that’s fine! I’m not one of those people that feels that all dogs must be social with every other dog. I know I don’t wanna be BFFs with every person I meet, so I don’t expect my dogs to either.

Making sure both Wild, and the new dogs he met were comfortable the whole trip was key. It’s my job to read a situation and determine if the dogs are going to be buddies or not. If somebody isn’t cool with things, it’s important not to push it and to remove the stressor. You might try again later, but it still might not happen. All of the dogs we met were very clear on their comfort levels so it was easy to figure out who to put where for group photos like the one above.

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Wild @ 6 months in Colorado

Overall, this trip was a great success! We met lots of awesome people, petted lots of sweet dogs, got loads of photographs, and made so many fun memories. There was definitely a shift in working attitude toward the end of the trip, everyone gets tired on the road, but overall Wild did beautifully. He was excited to greet every day and explore whatever new place we were in, and road quietly in the car on the days when all we were seeing were rest stops and mile markers. I look forward to many more adventures with this boy!

 

One of the stops we made was to visit a friend who owns Soul Dog Studios and she graciously took some amazing photos of Wild! Check out her work via the link above.

Six Months: The Journey Thus Far

On October 13th, 2017, my little Wildling will be SIX MONTHS old! Some days it feels like I’ve had him forever, where others it feels like we’ve only been together a week. We’ve both learned so much in the half a year he’s been alive; about each other, about life. I thought today’s post would be a bit of a celebration as well as a listicle of sorts of some of those life lessons!

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Wild @ 5 weeks

1. We learned that posing is fun –
Working with Wild and taking photos at the same time has been challenging! He’s so smart and so quick, getting the perfect shot (or as close to it as possible) started out as a pretty big challenge. Every new environment had a new set of challenges and the week he learned he could bolt as soon as he heard my shutter start was the start of a whole new set of challenges! As much of a hassle as some of the poses were (I have lofty goals, guys), in the end it has been such a rewarding time. We now understand each other in a much better way and nine times out of ten, he’ll give me what I want the first time I ask.

 

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Wild @ 8 weeks

2. We learned that water is the best thing ever –
Having him around other water-loving dogs, I was hoping he’d become another “fish” and indeed he has! He went from waterfall hopping to full on retrieving bumpers out of deep water and loving every second he can spend with his toes wet. He dumps the water bucket over daily, just to lay on the wet ground. He’s a water-chewer and I regularly have to remove his now gargantuan head out of the bucket so others can have a turn. As much as he loves it, he’s an excellent sharer and will drink side-by-side any dog that can find room.

 

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Wild @ 10 weeks on set of a short film

3. We learned that sets can be fun places –
Wild has now done two different types of “work”! His first, pictured above, was a short film when he was just 10 weeks old. He didn’t have a whole lot of “action”, but he did have to deal with lots of strangers, new equipment, and some long hours in the summer heat. He handled everything like a champ and I am very proud of his performance. His other job was a photo shoot, so quite a bit less moving parts. For that he was needed off leash, and doing some more complex “action”. Once again, he handled himself like a pro and I can’t wait to do more media work with him as he grows!

 

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Wild @ 10 weeks with Dude, Scully, & BFF Chess

4. We learned that friends are the best –
Wild has had many positive experiences with dogs over the last several months, but he definitely has his favorites. Chess, his Border Collie Bestie, definitely takes the top spot, but when she’s not around Dude & Scully vy for that position. Each dog interacts with him a little bit differently, and he seeks one or the other out depending on his mood. I love watching them play together and I hope that they’ll remain good buddies throughout their lives. He’s such a floppy-friendly guy, he makes friends wherever he goes.

 

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Wild @ 5 months

 

5. We learned that moments are what you make them –
Often over the last few months, we’ve had differences of opinion and it’s taken time and patience to figure out the best responses. I’ve learned to give him the benefit of the doubt in a lot of situations, and he’s learned to offer correct behaviors in order to get rewarded. A lot of things can be ruined in a single moment, an egg doesn’t wait two days to break once it’s been dropped on the floor, but I feel like we’re getting to a point now where instead of being at risk of ruining anything, we’re in a state of mutual understanding. There are still mistakes made, and incorrect choices on both our parts, but when I remember to pause before reacting, there really is a moment that we read each other. It’s those that I’d like more of.

 

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Wild @ 6 months

6. We’ve learned to keep going –
In the beginning, if Wild was afraid of something, he would turn and try to bolt away from it. Understandable, really, if you’re this tiny puppy and you feel threatened, you leave. Most of the time, I avoided his triggers if I wasn’t prepared to work through it, we would go another route or I would wait for the scary car to pass before trying to get him out. Now, though, we seem to be moving forward much more often. He still spooks at certain things, and I’d still rather wait for that scary car to pass by before letting him out, but overall we’re getting past it. He’s keen to explore new places and he always wants to follow his friends, so if they’re brave enough to walk past that trash can, so is he!

 

Overall, I feel I’ve learned much more than he has. I’ve slept less, sure, but I think I’ve learned more. Our journey together has only really just begun, and I’m so happy to have spent the last few months watching this magnificent animal grow from a tiny puppy that could sleep on my chest, to the creature he is today that can take up half my bed without even trying. There will always be days when it would be easier to not have him in the house, but there are so many more days that I couldn’t imagine him anywhere else. His watchful gaze, his floppy cuddles, his enormous presence when he walks into the room. I waited a long time for you, Wild, and boy were you worth every second.

Training Tuesday: Everywhere, Everything

Since dogs learn so much geographically, and gravitate towards patterns, it’s important to mix things up as much as possible (without overwhelming). It’s the same with Wild! Every trail we go down, I’m looking for objects he can “step up” on or “place” on, or situations where we can practice our recall or stay positions.

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Wild @ 6 months

When I look at other’s pictures of their dogs, I often play “spot the command”; I try to figure out how much of a photo is a natural moment, and how much of it was asked for. You would be surprised the complexity in some commands! You can teach a dog to close its eyes, look up at the sky, stick its tongue out, cross its paws, etc etc. Watching somebody work with their dog for a photo can be both immensely entertaining (the number of noises dog photographers can make…) and inspiring, watching a dog piece together the directions given and holding various positions so that the camera captures what the photographer envisioned.

It’s a complex and joint effort. If the dog isn’t into it, and some days they aren’t, then either the vision has to change or the game has to. Sometimes what I have in my head, I just cannot get in the moment. Either I’ve imagined something beyond my capabilities (always), or I’ve asked for something not feasible in the current environment. When it’s the former, well…tough luck! I’m always learning and trying to improve, but you gotta know when to call it. If, however, it’s the latter, that showcases a place where training needs to be improved.

For now, Wild is a puppy and we’re still learning about each other’s thresholds. The ever present question of: why are you refusing this command. More often than not, it’s just due to lack of training and that can be fixed! The more opportunities taken, even if just hopping off the trail for literally 30 seconds to ask for a “step up” on a nearby rock, the better the chances of compliance when it really matters. I often say that I like to “bore them with consistency”, and I don’t mean that your training should become so monotonous that there’s no fun and never any changes in routine. What I mean is that I want my dogs to figure out that every time I ask for something, I’m going to keep asking until they do it. The quickest route to play time is compliance.

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Wild @ 6 months

At this point, my older dogs are so used to being stopped on hikes for pictures that they generally pose on their own. They’ll jog up ahead to a large rock and hop up, waiting for me to pull out a camera and get their good sides. I love it, and I hope that one day Wild will get to that point on trails! He’s already offering “step up” whenever possible at home, and it’s always marked & rewarded (not always with food, he’s learning to work almost as well for verbal/physical praise).

Since our lives revolve so much around taking photos of the world around us, why not use it to our training advantage? You get a dog that’s super photogenic, behaves nicely anywhere you take them, and you’re the envy of all your Facebook friends who seem to only capture a blur of motion when their dogs are present. By training like this, it can become the literal “take a picture, it’ll last longer” saying, both your stays and your memories of the moment.

Behind the Shot: Cotton-Eyed Wild

Back on track! This week’s BtS is all about that “summer snow”: Cotton.

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Wild @ 5.5 months

For this shot I had to try and time getting Wild into position with the sun setting. There’s a fine line between too bright, too dark, and perfection. To be honest, this was still too bright! But, Wild was ready to be out of the vehicle, and I was impatient as well…so off we went.

Cotton fields are somewhat rare in my area, but I happened to have a friend near one so we crouched down in the sea of white and tried our best to capture something worthwhile. My usual method of back-tying on a long line wouldn’t really work here for a couple of reasons: No trees and I didn’t want to damage any plants. I ended up just sort of hoisting the leash back behind him, loosely weaving it between some sturdy stalks. He could still walk forward if he wanted to, but he was just as enamored by the cotton as I was so it all worked out.

For the most part, he stayed exactly where I asked and was patient with me as I continued to fumble with my camera settings. I’m still a newbie when it comes to a lot of photography things, and shooting directly toward the sun is definitely one of them! Lots of shutter & ISO changes between shots and lots of trashed images.
I did get several usable shots from this outing, and I’m excited to share a couple others that haven’t been posted yet. Unfortunately, I didn’t grab the before/after for this one, but I do have some pictures of me taking the photos!

Due to some vehicle issues, we’ve not been on as many grand adventures this past week, but hopefully things will be back to normal soon!