Recently I've been interested in doing equestrian photography, simply because I find equestrian culture fascinating and see stories in the simplest objects. Both the stories and the culture are vibrant and rich in color and texture. They hold an intensity that only comes with competitive sport. I appreciate that the images naturally hold a vintage look that is neither contrived nor cliche because of the inherent character and history of the tools of the trade. Worn leather, powerful animals, and bits of metal come together to create something intricate, full of nerve, sweat, and grace. Equestrian sports are unlike any other. Typically, competition is solely between people, but involving animals introduced an element of unpredictability and even greater precision. The rider must maintain control both of herself and her horse, which while highly trained, can still be unpredictable.
A good friend of my wife's, Katelyn Gibbs, has been riding since she was a child and agreed to let me come out and photograph her while she trained. Another good friend of my wife, an accomplished rider herself, Katie Kearney, also come to the shoot to help out. I was hoping for a bright sunny morning, but instead we got a very overcast sky; Some of the shots that I had been planning to get had to be scrapped, at least for now.
Photographically the hardest part was cheating on my aperture as much as possible so I could keep my iso down. I settled on f4.5 which was a little wide for capturing jumps since the subject is from the rider's eyes to the eyes of the horse, but given my distance to the subjects, I think it was good enough. Shutter was at 1/1000th at iso 1600. Morning light and clouds are not my greatest friends, but the results were still quite stunning.
With such diffused light, the images were not as rich in contrast as I would have liked, so I had to do a lot of dodging and burning in post to darken the background and bring out the folds and shadows of the horse's skin.
The most important lesson to take away from this shoot is to make your mistakes work for you. With the shot below I didn't give my autofucus the right conditions to be able to lock on. But while editing I thought I'd try to make it a more artistic, "old timey" photo by adding a lot of fill light and increasing the film grain. Sure, it's not great, but it made a photo that was otherwise worthless a little more palatable and showed a different side of a jump, if a blurry one.
In this next photo, I completely missed the framing with half of the horse's face missing. I was about to pass it over when I thought I'd try a 1:1 crop of the image and cut out half of Katelyn's face as well. It worked. I think it turned into one of the most impactful images I took. It's very different. I'm sure some of you will hate it, but I think it captures the unpredictability of the sport and its volatile yet graceful nature perfectly. I'm sure there's also some metaphors here to but I don't know enough about the sport to call them out.
The barn is my favorite place on a farm. It's the back stage to the show, much more intimate, without the pressures of the ring.
My only regret is that I didn't try any motion blur, but since this shoot was for me to be able to get my feet wet, I guess I shouldn't be too picky.
For those wondering I shot these with a Canon 5D Mark 3, 7D, 70-200mm 2.8 IS, and 24-70mm 2.8.