Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Portuguese Snow Dog

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In the Field

The Portuguese Snow Dog. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. 30 January, 2014.

I didn't expect to capture one of my favourite images of the year when I took my two Portuguese Water dogs out for a walk on a chilly, snowy, but beautiful day in January of 2014. I was in the midst of evaluating a new lens at the time (Nikon's AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR) and didn't really expect the autofocus on it would be up to the task of following my younger pup as it romped through the snow. But I was wrong!

So why did this particular shot make the cut as one of my favourite shots of 2014? Well...there's a personal bias of course - I love my dogs (if my headstone ends up saying "He Gave a Lot of Dogs a Good Life" I'll feel pretty good about the priorities I chose in life!). No matter how many times I look at this image it makes me smile. And - from both a technical perspective and creative perspective - well...look closely...this one's pretty solid (great action rendered very sharply, great light-on-light and dark-on-dark detail, wonderful lighting, great eye contact, yada, yada, yada!). And, when it was in my "Gallery of Latest Additions" it generated a tremendous amount of feedback - all of which was positive. I even received an email from someone who found the image online and realized her Portie came from the same litter. Hey...sometimes - no matter how seriously you take your photography - ya just gotta have a little fun! Oh...and BTW - while Poncho LOVES the snow, this guy doesn't live up to the name of his breed - it's TORTURE to get this Portuguese Water Dog to go into the water!

In my D800 Field Test I called the camera "enigmatic" and not the best in Nikon's lineup for shooting action or wildlife. This view has attracted some controversy and it's even generated some "you don't know what you're talking about" emails directed at me. I've also said that I rarely hand-hold the D800 (and the only lens I will regularly hand-hold my D800e with is the new 70-200mm f4 with its very effective 5-stop VR).

So what's with this hand-held (with AF-S 80-400mm VR) action shot of a pretty wild life (typo intended) taken with my D800e? Well...when the conditions are JUST right and if you bump the shutter speed way up (this shot at 1/2000s) you can hand-hold virtually any lens on pretty much any camera. And, because the D800/800e DOES have an excellent AF system, it CAN be used effectively to capture action shots (of sports, of wildlife, of your dog in the snow, whatever). BUT, when the light starts to fade or you're shooting a long sequence of shots and/or need a higher frame rate, the D800/D800e starts to show its limitations. It IS amazingly versatile for a 36 MP DSLR, but it isn't as versatile as a number of other cameras in Nikon's lineup (or past lineup), including the D600/610, the D4, D3s, D3 or even the D700. So, for dedicated wildlife shooting - with its inherent unpredictable and ever-changing shooting conditions - I'd take ANY of those aforementioned cameras BEFORE the D800/800e.

For the dog-lovers out there (and particularly for the Portie lovers!) - here's a 2400 pixel version for your perusual...

The Portuguese Snow Dog: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.2 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of it (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

Behind the Camera

The Portuguese Snow Dog. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. 30 January, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 450.

Nikon D800e paired with Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR lens @ 300mm. Hand-held; VR on and in "Normal" mode.

1/2000s @ f7.1; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Portuguese Snow Dog. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. 30 January, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Capture One Pro version 7.Two raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 0.25 stops in exposure.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC and Light Craft's LightZone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the two output files from the raw converter, further slight exposure adjustments, and sharpening for web output. Final tone tweaking performed using tonemapper/re-light tool in LightZone.


The Portuguese Snow Dog. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. 30 January, 2014.

Species Status in Canada**: Currently not listed as endangered or abused in any way! Actually...he's quite spoiled! ;-)