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.
Why are Woodlands so Special For Horse Portrait Photography?
The natural ancient woodlands we see today have been shaped by human history for hundreds of years. However, today the only truly wild woodlands that remain are inaccessible pockets in steep ravines, on cliffs or on some wooded islands.
Only 1.2 % of semi-natural ancient woodland is accessible in the UK, which makes our woodlands very special places and a resource that we should take care of. Woodlands provide unique and aesthetic backdrops for horse portrait photography and depending on the seasons, they offer translucent greens, yellows, oranges and browns adding a rich splash of colour and texture to any photograph.
Over the last four years I have visited numerous woodlands looking at there unique qualities and potential for horse portraits. Of the woodland areas I use, each have their own character and some provide great hacking opportunities. if you are considering a horse portrait and would like guidance on some of the most beautiful and photogenic woodland locations in Yorkshire, drop me an email and I will send you a guide and of maps of the locations I use.
Before I became interested in photography, If someone had have asked me about Location Scouting, my initial though would have been related to the process of film making, but as a result of offering horse portraits as a photographer, I have found myself often looking for suitable locations, scouting old railway tracks, hidden Bluebell woodlands and rustic tracks.
One of the many hurdles in relation to finding good Horse portrait photography locations apart from the need for great landscape aesthetics, is suitable access which is also key, if the access is not suitable people cannot transport their horses and many great locations just cannot be used which can be frustrating.
Although I use portable lighting, equipment wise, C Stands are still vital in terms of safety, especially when booming lighting. Up until recently, the locations that have found to be most suitable have been, Skipwith Common, Parlington Lane, Old Coach Road and Howell Woods, but I’m constantly seeking out new locations and ideas.
One of the first locations I ever used was Brodsworth Country Park and I discovered that by walking along the Roman Road towards Highfields, was there was a great little track for autumn Horse Portrait Photography. Although I have been back and used this location twice, access is problematic and it seems to have become the playground for off road motor bikes and they use the old railway network to ride up and down, so sadly, this location is not so good at weekends.
There is a bridleway that runs past Wortley Hall (The Timberland Trail) that looks promising, as the bridleway has lots of potential for varied Equine Portrait Photography location shoots, from open fields, together with undulating tracks with a few tree clusters, there is good parking access too, so I am looking forward to shooting here in 2020 as I have not used this location so far.
Recently Fran & I went out into south Yorkshire on a Horse Portrait location scouting expedition and despite it being a damp and wet December day, we discovered a stunning place location wise, it is without a doubt the best location for equine portrait photography that we have found to date, so roll on spring 2020. I will then be able post a few horse portrait photographs examples once we have used it.
Know of any potential locations for horse portrait photography shoots or would like any questions you may have answered? I would love to hear about locations, or if you would you like to get involved with a spring collaborative shoot in south Yorkshire send us an email and we will keep you informed as to when and where we will be shooting.
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.
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.