Fran & I have been photographing horses for about seven years now, but over the past two years we have been taking equine lifestyle portraits and combing flash into the process. As animals can be challenging to photograph, let alone trying to position them and use flash, I thought I would write a little Synopsis of what I have discovered and learnt.
Every time we undertake an equine shoot I experience challenges and have to work out how to overcome them, not every session works as I intended, so I often learn from my not so good equine shoots.
Outdoor Location Scouting & Preparation
For me personally perhaps the most valuable lessons I have learned are a result of the frustrations I have encountered in relation to equine portraits, the importance of the location in my opinion is paramount to the success of the images produced. The choice of and how to best make use of it will often make or break the shoot.
When scouting for locations, I have learned to think like a horse and its owner rather than just a photographer. Finding a location with practical space and access may for the horse and owner at first seem obvious, but it’s surprising how much preparation it takes, you can’t just position a horse somewhere like you can a person.
The next discovery I made was creating separation of the horse from the background, it’s more than just lens choice though, a 70mm–200mm f/2.8 will provide good versatility and you can create some great images with this lens. However, using an 85mm or 135mm prime will open up more creative opportunities if you think about photography position, this comes with experience and reflection.
Photographer’s Position: For me personally I have found that a low-angle shots are the most flattering point of view for the images I want to create, I often get down on my knees, rather than shooting from a standing position. Long focal lengths and wide apertures work for me between f/2 to f/4 and are my sweet spot.
Depth of field can be challenging at f/2 but the results can be amazing. I now mainly use a 85mm and a 135 for my equine portraits, but also use the 70mm to 200mm. Lighting: Flash & Modifiers I have used various brands of strobes (flash) but my current system is Godox. As some better locations for equine portraits often involve a bit of a trek, keeping my lighting kit light and simple is key. I have been using Godox AD 360’s and Godox Ad200’s together with an Xpro-S trigger. Modifier wise depending on location and conditions, Westcott Soft Silver Brolly, medium Octabox, Strip box, MagMod sphere & grids. To keep everything stable and safe, I have opted for C-Stands.
I intend to create another blog with images and video in relation to lighting for equine portraits and in particular Godox products.
Iceland has become one of the world’s most popular destinations, especially for photographers. Undoubtedly, the Northern Lights are one of the main reasons people visit Iceland, hoping to see the incredible and magical Aurora Borealis. Fran and I were lucky to see them for one night during our two-week tour, so we were very fortunate.
Iceland has a multitude of things to do and see, but the time of the year can determine what is and is not possible. Fran & I visited in the winter during Christmas and New Year, so because of the weather we did not get to see and experience everything we had planned to do. The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck and the Northern Lights made up for what we missed out on and I did not leave disappointed.
The weather is one aspect that is very difficult to plan for, but with hindsight I would not go in December or January, unless you just want to visit the main attractions.
As we like to get off the beaten path, we hired a 4×4 and driving was still challenging, mainly due to the wind and ice. Another challenge is places close down; perhaps this is because of the Christmas break? If you plan on visiting Iceland in December or January, plan well.
The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
In 1973 a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the South Coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone in that plane survived. Later it turned out that the pilot had switched over to the wrong fuel tank. The remains are still on the sand close to the sea.
When Fran & I went in search of the DC plane, you could still drive from the main road to the location of the plane, so we did not hike in, but I can still remember the anticipation as we were looking for it and from the route we took, it seemed to just magically appear.
The scenery of the white abandoned DC plane on the black sand is surreal and a photographer’s paradise, you really won’t be disappointed.
As they now forbid all vehicles to drive to the location of the plane wreck, you will have to hike in and out. The walk from the main road to the plane I would estimate at roughly an one hour, so the round trip would probably take about two hours, so take something to drink.
There are no signs on the main road to point out where the plane is (unless there are now?) and the plane cannot be seen from the road.
Since our visit, there is a newly made car park on the side of the road that provides an identifiable clue and provides a safe place to park. The GPS coordinates are (63 27.546-19 21.887)
A Few Travel Tips
They design the roads in Iceland to allow it to blow the snow off of them; So pulling off the road in the winter is not a good idea for many reasons.
If you travel in the winter to off the beaten track places, make sure you have plenty of fuel, food, and warm clothing.
You can get live updates of where the snowploughs have been and the roads they are clearing, but conditions can change quickly.
If you are held up by the weather and need to take an alternative route, you may find that accommodation is not available when you arrive in a small town or village.
In relation to winter conditions, you might think about the snow? When conditions are not so good, the wind chill and ice are the most challenging and problematic things to deal with and will have a real impact on the distance you can travel and the time it will take.
Like most things in life, it’s all about common sense.
If you go down to the woods for an outdoor portrait with your flash, you may notice a disparity between colour temperatures in terms of unflattering skin tones and washed out greens that can often have a negative impact on outdoor portrait images and trying to fix this in post processing will take time, effort and skill.
So what is affecting the images? The cause is the colour disparity between the different light temperatures. Flash is a daylight-balanced light source, with a temperature of 5500K. However, shade has a higher temperature than 5500k and can range from 6500k-9000k depending on the type of shade you place your subject in.
One advantage of using flash is that we can gel it to help adjust and balance colour temperatures. The two most useful types of gels for flash are CTO’s & CTB’s, but for this blog, I will focus on the CTB.
CTB (Colour Temperature Blue) CTB gels come in varying strengths, full, half, quarter. (often called cuts) By using a half CTB gel on the flash we can convert the colour temperature from 5500 to 7900k and by setting the cameras (WB) White Balance between 7100k and 7900k we can balance the ambient light temperature and the flash temperature, thus achieving a balanced look and feel to images.
By using gels to adjust colour temperatures, it will equip you to remove or reduce the unflattering colour disparity often encountered when taking outdoor portraits in the shade.
Personally, I am still learning about colour science in relation to flash & gels, but like most things in relation to photography, you just have to experiment and practice.
Twenty-eight years ago I traveled across Europe via an Inter Rail Pass, but despite getting as far a Poland, I never made it to Romania to visit Transylvania and the famous castle and the stories of Dracula.
As this summer approached Fran and I both started thinking about where we could go. We had both thoughts about taking the VW van to Romania previously, but we decided that taking the van would eat into the time we would have in traveling in Romania. The plan was to fly to Bucharest, spend a few days in the city, then catch the train into Transylvania, spend a few days in Brasov, then catch another train to Sighișoara, spend some time there, then get a final train to Sibiu and hire a car so that we could get off the beaten track.
Bucharest is a big city that is split into six sectors; the transport system is like any other city. However, currently there is no metro from the airport to sector 3 where we wanted to be based, so if you are traveling independently, your choices are either, taxi or bus. We opted for the bus, which was a bit of a challenge if it is your first time.
I hope this info helps others who have just landed. From the arrivals area follow the picture signs for buses, walk down the stairs until you can see the road outside, when you walk out of the doors, turn right, keep walking straight ahead past all of the other machines that look like they dispense tickets, eventually you will see a little hut with a glass window, this is where you can purchase tickets. Might sound simple, but that little ticket both is not easy to locate, as there is no information anywhere.
I can remember watching Michael Palin visiting Palatul Parlamentului (The Palace Of Parliament) informing people that Nicolae Ceausescu’s idea was to redesign Bucharest by constructing a series of impressive buildings meant to prove to the world how wealthy and powerful was the Socialist Republic of Romania was, but the thing that stuck in my mind was the sheer size of the building. I did some homework as to how we could visit this building prior to leaving the UK, so I knew we had to take our passports to gain access and that there would be security checks like at the airport as it’s a working political building.
Initially, I was put off by the fact that you have to be guided, but you have no other choice, as it is a working political building. However, the guide we had was excellent, I learned a lot about Ceausescu and the impact on the people of Romania and the history of the building. Despite only being able to take pictures handheld, we were able to take some images inside of the building.
Palatul Parlamentului is no doubt one of the most controversial administrative buildings in the world. Maybe Ceausescu didn’t succeed in his initial goal of redesigning the face of Bucharest, but by building it he made sure that his work will never be forgotten and personally, I think it is well worth a visit.
On the southern slope of the Magura Codlea sits a small Transylvanian village called Holbav. Although Holbav is only about 25km away from Brasov City, it feels like you have stepped back in time.
Holbav is a world away in relation to Brasov which is what makes it so appealing to me. Not much seems to have changed in Holbav over the last 100 years, there is still no electricity, no running water and none of the other comforts taken for granted in the modern Europe most of us live in.
I think Holbav represents what Romania must have been like a long time ago, and this was what I wanted to photograph.
I had read about a photographer named Vlad who lives in Brasov and discovered that I could hire him as a guide, to be honest I was not sure what to expect, but after looking at his photographs I was hooked.
As Fran & I did not have a car in Brasov getting to Holbav would have been difficult and as I cannot speak Romanian, it would have been impossible. I did not understand where to go, so we took a punt and hired Vlad as a guide.
Vlad met us in Brasov’s main square and as we walked to his car, we talked about rural Romania and photography, it became clear that Vlad was passionate about the places and people he photographs and this only made the journey more enjoyable and valuable as he told me about his Romania.
We passed what was Holbav and then continued onto a dirt track road where we passed local people with horses and carts until we came to a small tree lined valley where Vlad parked the car.
We walked up a steep dirt path in to the woods and walked for about 40 minutes until I could see a clearing ahead, Vlad then said “see that shack on the ridge, that’s where we are meeting Anna and her husband”.
As we approached the ridge, a dog barked and I could see a figure waving in the distance. The scenery was amazing even though it was overcast I kept thinking this is such an incredible place. When we arrived at what was a small holding Anna & Peter came to meet us, Anna then lead us along a steep ridge where there was a cow grazing and Vlad translated, “Anna his bringing in the cow for the night” As Anna walked with the cow, I took images as we followed her back to the small holding where there were goats, chickens, cats and the dog, together with a calf, it was a photographic paradise for me.
After taking more photographs they invited in us to Annas home, where she offered us fresh milk, cheese and other food. Vlad translated my questions and thoughts and although I could not speak a word of Romanian and Anna not a word of English, I felt like I knew Anna and had a connection. I heard some hilarious stories and some sad facts about how their way of life is dying out as young people leave rural Romania for life’s modern trappings.
The one thing that struck me, was how happy they both seemed, undoubtedly their life is hard and their material possessions limited, but they had something that was special and to me priceless.
I don’t remember how long we stayed, but after sampling home made Cherry brandy (Holbav Moonshine) it was time to head back to the car. As we left and walked back along the ridge admiring the vistas, I realised how lucky I was to have had such a great experience and to have met two very remarkable people and invited in to their lives and home. I also realised how lucky I was to have Fran and share such a magical experience.
We live in fast changing times and as Anna stated their way of life is dying, so it will disappear one day and I am pleased I have witnessed it before it vanishes.
What made Holbav and the people so special? Find out for yourself, it is the only way.