Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Just Shoot Me

On and off, over the course of the past year, I've been involved in editing a book on Equine Photography. It's a fascinating subject, and one that is none too easy to master.

Often, when editing a work, it helps me to tell myself, "I am an idiot. I know nothing about this." This approach can help illuminate areas that are too dense, too involved, too technical, or otherwise unclear. It's actually surprisingly difficult to do when I really do have some knowledge of the subject matter. In the case of this particular topic, however, it was true.

I learned a lot about taking pictures of horses. I learned about things like focal length, foreshortening, f-stops, and forced perspective. I learned about proportion, panning, printing, and posing.

I learned why it is easier to take a bad picture of a horse than to take a good one. And I learned how to try to tip the scales in the photographer's favor. For instance:

* Horses are not naturally balanced. They carry two-thirds to three-fourths of their weight in the front half of their bodies. So a horse that is standing "normally" will often appear front-heavy. To combat this, the handler can encourage the horse to rock back briefly onto his hindquarters before the photographer snaps the picture. The result will be an image of a horse standing evenly balanced on all 4 feet.

* All body parts should show up in the shot. It's easy to stand off to the side and take a picture of a horse standing squarely -- only to end up with a picture of a "two-legged" horse, because the legs farthest from the camera are directly behind those closest to the lens.

* If you don't clean your horse and your tack thoroughly, don't bother taking the picture. Dirt screams for attention in a photograph.

* Bright noon-day sun tends to make pictures go "flat." Early morning and early afternoon light is most flattering.

* Nearly all helmets and hats (required for most riding) have brims that cast unflattering shadows on riders' faces. A fill-flash is almost a must for any sort of useable portrait.

* If the horse's ears aren't up, don't waste your time taking the shot.

* The horse's legs closest to the camera should frame the legs furthest from the lens. This means that the legs are staggered a bit, in order to avoid the afore-mentioned "two-legged" beastie.

* Web halters are hideous on film.

* The same can be said for chains over the horse's nose, dirty hooves, capped hocks, tight tee-shirts, dark sunglasses, chunky saddle pads, and untucked-in leather ends of cavessons and throatlatches.

* Don't take the picture if the horse is landing on, or pushing off, of his front feet.

* The lower the lens, the heavier the horse's legs seem and the leggier he appears. The higher the photographer's viewpoint, the lighter the horse's legs seem and the heavier his body looks.

All in all, I learned that I NEVER want to be responsible for taking a good picture of a horse.

That's why Dr. Warson has hired the wonderful Charles Hilton to take the photographs for "The Rider's Back Book." I worked with Charles on Clinton's book and can't wait to do another project with him. I fly to Dallas at the end of next week to oversee the first phase of shooting for the Back Book project. Just finalized my tickets yesterday.

As the adage warns, "A litle knowledge is a dangerous thing." An awful lot goes into getting a great shot. In the last few months I've learned a lot about the subject -- just enough to be dangerous.