Photographing the Equine.   Leave a comment

I don’t know what it is about horses, but unless they are working, active and under the control of a human, they can be a royal pain to photograph.  Of course I want to treat them like a regular model; that is, pull them aside, without their humans, tell some jokes, get them relaxed, and then start shooting.  But they ain’t playin’ that game!  It’s like little kids who come to your studio for their portraits – but without their parents.

Khallie, myself and GD hang out at the barn after a ride.

I have two horses of my own – arabians (mom & daughter).  They’re my girls, but they can be just as bad as any horse.  I will say, however, that they are smart enough to know about photography by now.  When they see me pull out the camera, they pretty much know what’s going on.  So as long as there isn’t particularly sweet grazing within a few yards of their position, they actually know to stay put.  I should be thankful I don’t have quarter horses; no way they ever get the general concept.

A palomino at TBM Farm checks out the photographer.

Horse photographers who only shoot at horse shows don’t know what I’m talking about.  Now, if your clients ask you to go out in the pasture and get some “candids”, then you might get what I’m saying.  I was out to the barn yesterday and noticed a new horse, a palomino gelding who is young, dumb and pretty.  So I decided I’d like to get some pictures of him in the late-day light.

A young horse is easily distracted.

First obstacle (of course) was that he wanted to stay by the fence closest to where I had let my horses out to graze.  I led him away with a simple rope (didn’t want a halter on him), and he then turned his attention to me and my camera.  So then, every time I got him positioned in good light, he would walk right up to my camera with his big honkin’ nose.   So I started swinging the rope around and clucking to keep him away and get him moving.  That worked, and he ran a bit – but right into the shade of a tree.

I saw this same horse running around like a crazy animal the day before, but now when I was forcing the issue, he would only run 10 yards or so at most, then stop.  His attention was divided between my mares, other horses in the pasture next to his (who were now interested in what we were doing), and me.  I was trying my utmost to keep his attention on me, by making all sorts of noises and using dramatic body language.  But since I had stroked and loved him up previous to this, he didn’t take me too seriously.

I noticed the background was much better if I got a low angle, so I lay down and shot from the ground.  This definitely got his attention, and he strode over to me with comical steps.  He saw it was really just me, so lost some interest, until I began kicking and doing my best imitation of Curly (of 3 Stooges fame), in order to simply get an alert expression.  I got a few shots this way, but I wondered if I was sacrificing too much of my dignity to get them.  It was all good though, since nobody else was around.

A gold palomino strides in the gold late-day light.

My goal had actually been to get him to look majestic in a shaft of the golden slanting light, with an uncluttered, beautiful sky-rich background, in static pose and in motion.  But no way would he stay in the nice light.  All I could get was nice light in the background, he in the shade.

And moving?  I managed a few shots but they were not very sharp.  I estimated minimum shutter speeds of 1/500 sec., but at 200mm this was a tad too slow.  Live and learn.  Actually it is quite easy to underestimate the speed that horses move.  Their motions suggest much slower movement than they actually accomplish.

All in all a frustrating but silly and fun experience.  I figure I might eventually be able to do one-on-one candid portraits of horses.  And if not, the effort will probably make “money” horse shoots (with their humans aboard or in control) seem like a cake-walk.

I’m told horse photography is a ripe business opportunity in this area (the Willamette Valley in Oregon).  Do I really want to spend this much time with them?  Answer:  maybe!

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