My favourite time to take Horse Portraits is in the Autumn, I just think that the natural hues and tones are at their best, but I also think that creating dark & dramatic horse portraits can also be very rewarding visually.
As I use flash for all of my equine portrait photography, I have decided to write a blog about the equipment I use and share some of the reasons why I choose different equipment in relation to the equine images I enjoy creating.
I will start with a barn or large stable, as these are both locations that often work very well in relation to lighting. The ambient lighting in these environments is usually darker than outside, so the advantage you have is that flashes don’t have to work as hard in terms of competing with ambient light, it’s also far easier to kill the ambient light as it is already low and just light the areas you want to light with flash mainly the horse and owner
An example of a three-light setup in a barn. Two Godox AD200’s via AD-B1 in medium Octabox camera left. One boomed Godox AD200 with round head.
Depending on the time of day and location it is possible to kill the ambient light outside and create dark and dramatic horse portraits, but the two issues that are often challenging are having enough flash power and controlling the cameras sync speed. The image below was taken in the winter on a very grey day and the background behind the girl and horse were a tall hedge row of conifers, so I was able to start with a natural dark background, but I did have to use the equipment I had at full power. When I took this image, I had a Godox 360 and two Godox AD200’s, certainly not enough power for a full-length dark horse portrait, but enough power to create this image.
Although many flashes now have HSS High Speed Sync (shoot with flash above your cameras sync speed) you lose a lot of power and the flash have to work really hard, so although you may be able to shoot at 1/500th instead of 1/200th the amount of light loss may be too great to provide the amount of light you require for the image you are trying to create.
You can use ND (neutral density filter) to reduce the ambient light, so that you can stay within your cameras sync speed, but you will lose flash power in relation the amount of stops of light the ND filter is reducing the ambient light by. HSS & ND use both have their places depending on your needs and conditions.
Hard Or Soft Light For Dark & Dramatic Horse Portraits?
If your amount of flash power is limited and you are struggling to kill the ambient light, you will benefit from using hard light and this is where reflectors and how you use them can really help, you will be surprised at how using different types of reflector can make your light more efficient.
Soft light has become the mainstay of most flash lit images these days, but if you are trying to kill the ambient using soft light, you are going to need a lot of power if the ambient light is challenging to control. Personally, I think both soft light and hard light can create stunning images, it’s really about your intention and the equipment you have or don’t have that can make the decision for you.
Once Coronavirus is no longer with us, I plan on making a video during my next Horse Portrait Shoot, showing the lighting modifier’s I use and the position in which I place the lights, so let’s hope I get the opportunity soon.
Soft, shadowless light has become the general direction that a lot of portrait photographers take, attaching fast lenses to their cameras, opening up the aperture as wide as their lenses will go, in order to blur everything behind the subject and I have been just as guilty of this technique myself.
I recently I watched Damien Lovegrove’s Lumen video that makes use of Godox Equipment and in particular, hard light. What really grabbed my attention apart from his images, was the limited amount of gear he used to produce images with so much impact, which got me thinking about embracing hard light, rather than steering clear of it.
I have been using Godox equipment with various softboxes and umbrellas for location shoots for just over three years now and although I am far from being a master of lighting, I am always looking to develop new skills and ideas in relation to lighting.
This weekend I decided to experiment with the Godox kit that I have and see what I could produce using hard light instead of using the light modifiers I normally use, so kindly Fran agreed to leaving her camera in her bag, so that I could experiment with hard light on her and stand around whilst I moved a light stand from one location to the next.
Godox AD200 with 5″ reflector
For much of the Lumen video, Damien uses 2 lights and two light stands, he does use a few lighting modifiers, but for the majority of the shoots that he walks through, he is using either 5” or 7” reflectors, so his kit is minimal. Apart from uniqueness of the hard-light images Damien produces, what really appeals to me is the simplicity and the reduction of the amount equipment he uses. Lighting modifier’s all have to be packed and carried to locations, so the idea of creating more edgy images with limited kit, is really appealing for numerous reasons. I also thought that learning to make use of hard light will also enable me to offer something different from my current equine work.
I am used to scouting out interesting backgrounds for horse portraits where I can make use of a shallow depth of field, but I decided to set myself a challenge, not to blur out backgrounds, so from the outset I would doing something different.
Damien takes no longer than 10 minuets for the placement of his lights to create dramatic location portraits, which is down to a combination of his experience, knowledge and skills, but also his creativeness as a very talented photographer. However, it took me a little longer, “but hey, we all have to start somewhere in terms of learning”.
I think the first thing I experienced and learned is that the placement of your lighting with hard light is more critical than when I have used larger modifier’s and made use softer light.
As I was not intending to blur the backgrounds, I thought I would try using different focal lengths and apertures to my normal 135mm to 200mm at f/2 to f/2.8, so the next thing I started noticing were textures and shadows, which I had up until experimenting with hard light overlooked.
There are numerous resources on the web that talk about soft and hard light, but when you start exploring and playing with soft and hard light, you start noticing many differences that you may have overlooked or even be aware of. By exploring and embracing the differences of hard and soft light, it is enabling me to further develop a better understanding of light and how it can be applied to create different types and styles of images. Playing with hard-light is rewarding and enjoyable no matter how many mistakes I make and I intend to keep practicing and learning.
Personally I think the Lumen video by Damien Lovegrove and his team provides more than just a look at how he creates images using hard light, it gets you to think about trying and doing things differently with light, and that’s what good education should do, inspire you to learn and try new things.
You can find out more about Damien Lovegrove and his training videos via the link below.