Although I take commissions for Horse Portraits throughout the year, the autumn is always a special time of year for me personally. I try to utilise the autumn season to try out new ideas and locations and this year my focus was at Skipwith Common.
Although Skipwith Common provides a great location for equine portraits, the two locations that I found that were most suitable are at opposite ends of the common, so lugging lighting kit from one location to another eats into time and requires effort.
Unfortunately, when we arrived for the first shoot on October the 5th, many of the leaves on the trees were still green, so we had to make the best of what little autumn colour we could find. Fortunately, as the sun was dipping in and out of the light grey clouds and there was little autumn colour around, I decided to try some hard lighting ideas, the only problem was de-rigging the kit and carrying it to another location.
Making the best of a location we could manage to carry the kit too, we set up a C Stand with two Godox AD200’s that were gridded in a reflector and then used an Einstein (Paul C Buff) with a long throw reflector.
Anyway, here are a few examples of what we achieved, pleased with the results, especially as the intended shoot was to make use of the autumn leaves that turned out to be a little lacking in colour. We have another shoot at Skipwith, so I hope the leaves will have turned, but will also do so a few more hard light shots too.
The horse is one of the oldest animals known to man and just a few thousand years ago, wild ponies roamed across vast parts of the English landscape. Although there are no truly wild horses in England, there are small herds of roaming ponies that live in wild conditions in various protected areas, such as the New Forrest, Dartmoor and Exmoor.
How Are Horse helping with rewilding? Put simply, as the ponies graze, they help balance the ecostystem keeping heathland and wetlands free from to much plant growth, thus maintaining a healthy balance for these areas to thrive.
With the rewilding of Britain’s protected areas becomming more popular, wild horses are being reintroduced to where they once belonged, playing a part of the ecosystem.You might be surprised to learn that Yorkshire has a few locations where these horses have been reintroduced and if you are lucky you will see them.
Blacktoft Sands is a nature reserve in the East Riding of Yorkshire, is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which leases the site from Associated British Ports. The site is on the southern bank of the Ouse, opposite the village of Blacktoft, and is a wetland. The nearest post code to find Blacktoft Sands is DN14 8HR
Skipwith Common National Nature Reserve is one of the last remaining areas of northern lowland heath in England. The area covers 270 hectares of open heath, ponds, mire, fen and woodland.
The area of Skipwith has a long history dating back to the Bronze Age and during the second world war there was an airfield for bomber training (RAF Riccall)
RAF Riccall was decommissioned just after the war, but was used for storage by the RAF until 1960. Some of the base’s infrastructure can still be seen, such as the overgrown runways, together with aired shelters and other structures.
You can see evidance of the former RAF base at (Bomber Loops) which is marked on an information board in the car park. Bomber Loops makes an interesting circular loop walk.
From the information I have found, the Skipwith Ponies were introduced roughly ten years ago. Howerver, due to the terrain of Skipwith Common, you may not see the Skipwith Ponies, even if you visit a few times, it’s really just down to luck. When they do appear, they are often in little groups spread out over a wide area.
Skipwith Common is a beautiful location for a walk and has a wealth of photographic opportunities. The Common is roughly two miles north of Selby.
Polo is one of the world’s oldest known team sports and I have wanted to photograph Polo for a while. Recently I had the opportunity to attend Toulston Polo Club and photograph a few matches on the upper and lower field.
Prior to attending Toulston I knew very little about the sport, but here is a brief overview. Field polo consists of four to eight 7-minute chukkas, between or during which players change mounts. At the end of each 7 minute chukka, play continues for an additional 30 seconds or until a stoppage in play, whichever comes first. There is a four-minute interval between chukkas and a ten-minute halftime.
Play is continuous and is only stopped for rule infractions, broken tack (equipment) or injury to horse or player. The object is to score goals by hitting the ball between the goal posts, no matter how high in the air. If the ball goes wide of the goal, the defending team is allowed a free ‘knock-in’ from the place where the ball crossed the goal line, thus getting ball back into play
Each team consists of four mounted players, which can be mixed teams of both men and women.
Each position assigned to a player has certain responsibilities:
Number Oneis the most offence-oriented position on the field. The Number One position generally covers the opposing team’s Number Four.
Number Twohas an important role in offence, either running through and scoring themselves, or passing to the Number One and getting in behind them. Defensively, they will cover the opposing team’s Number Three, generally the other team’s best player. Given the difficulty of this position, it is not uncommon for the best player on the team to play Number Two so long as another strong player is available to play Three.
Number Threeis the tactical leader and must be a long powerful hitter to feed balls to Number Two and Number One as well as maintaining a solid defence. The best player on the team is usually the Number Three player, usually wielding the highest handicap.
Number Fouris the primary defence player. They can move anywhere on the field, but they usually try to prevent scoring. The emphasis on defence by the Number Four allows the Number Three to attempt more offensive plays, since they know that they will be covered if they lose the ball.
Polo must be played right-handed in order to prevent head-on collisions
The playing field is 300 by 160 yards (270 by 150 m), the area of approximately six football fields so unless you have a big telephoto lens 400mm and above, you will need to move up and down the side lines in order to capture the action.
I had a Sony G Master 70mm-200mm lens paired with a 1×4 teleconverter, so I had roughly 280mm focal length on the long end, which was useable, but not ideal. However, when the player were within range it was possible to capture the action and as it was my first time, I was learning.
I will defiantly be returning to photograph Polo again, the people were very friendly, and I enjoyed watching and photographing the sport.
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.