One of the most frequent questions that I get asked when my clients book an equine photoshoot is about the location. Where are we going to shoot? Do we need a fancy backdrop with stunning views?
The answer is; while it helps, it certainly isn’t essential.
It’s amazing what you can do with very little in the way of scenery. Obviously, if you’d like to travel your horse to the beach or to a beautiful, scenic woods or country park, this makes my job ten times easier, and the end result will likely be breath-taking. But if you don’t have access to transport and don’t keep your horse on a yard with manicured lawns and perfectly tarmacked driveways, don’t panic.
My shoots are never planned. I like to wait until I’m at a location and use the inspiration offered by the surroundings. The first thing I do, when I arrive at a shoot, is have a look around and ask the client where we are allowed to go. I’m not into flattening the yard owner’s prize rose garden without permission, not will I advocate trampling a farmer’s field unless you have a great relationship with your local farmer and have cleared it with him first.
So, here are a few things to look out for at your yard, that might be useful when it comes to your photoshoot…
1. Fence lines
Most yards have fences, and fences are great. You can sit on them, stand against them, walk alongside them, have them the focus of the shot, or just have them doing their thing in the distance. There are wooden fences, plastic fences, wrought iron fences, smart, straight fences and rustic, wobbly fences. I bet you never realised a fence was so versatilie, did you? They’re a common feature in the world of horses and very useful in equine photography.
And what comes hand in hand with fences? Gates. Whether they are overgrown with weeds and grass, wonky or brand spanking new, a gate is a mandatory staple in the land of the horse and great for creating those moody, looking-out-into-the-distance shots.
I have an ongoing, passionate love affair with trees. As I’m sure most outdoor photographers do. Trees change with the seasons and at every time of year, they are beautiful. In winter they are stark and spooky; in spring, they are covered in blossom and colour; in summer, they are lush and green; and in autumn they are full of warm, rusty tones. Trees have so much character and always add something great to a photograph.
You can find all kinds of exciting things in trees. Swings, tyres, tree houses, ropes… that’s always fun when photographing children and ponies!
Trees have a wonderful way of manipulating and diffusing light. If it’s midday and the sun is too bright, the shade provided by trees will create a much softer, more flattering look. If it’s evening and the sun is low and golden, a tree will create beautiful shards of glowing light. So, yeh, I love a nice tree!
If you don’t have fences lining your paddocks, you’ve probably got hedgerows. Again, similarly to fences, they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some of them are well manicured, some of them are overgrown and more natural. But unlike fences, it’s not a great idea to sit on them, so we try to avoid doing that.
5. Open fields
The simplicity of a wide open field is an intriguing, but challenging backdrop for a photographer. Placing a horse in that open space makes it somewhat easier and also really focuses the viewers attention on the subject. Open spaces are harder to photograph in the middle of the day, because the light is harsh and unfiltered, however, it can still be done. In the low light of early morning or evening, however, an open space can be transformed.
6. Track lanes/Driveways
When I’m driving up to the location of a photoshoot I always keep my eyes open, and often notice great spaces to shoot in. Driveways and track lanes provide great backdrops. Some might say they provide symbolic imagery about how far you’ve come with your horse, your journey together or the path you have ahead of you. But that’s very deep, so we’ll just stick to the fact that they look pretty.
7. Bridleways and hacking routes
Next time you go for a hack, keep your eyes peeled. There are so many great locations out there and it’s possible that some of them are just a short wander away. And I’m not adverse to a little walk. (I’m trying to subtly emphasize the words short and little here. 😉 )
Look out for all of the things in this list, but also, wild flowers, spots where you might like to go for a gallop, tree stumps, beautiful views, cross country fences… the list is endless and you’ve just got to get your creative thinking cap on, when you go out for a ride, and open your eyes to what is on your doorstep.
Horses in water are great fun to shoot. It’s true, some love it, some aren’t so keen. But whatever their reaction, whether they’re hesitant, stubborn or just bowl right on in, we can get great photographs of it. If you’ve got a small stream, natural or man made, or even a pond or lake that we can’t venture into, but can pose beside, that’s great.
Yep. Walls. Plain, boring old walls. Again, there are all kinds of walls. Wooden, brick, metal, scruffy, modern; all providing a large expanse of texture and colour for you to casually lean against.
10. Stable doors
People always ask how I achieve the head shots with the black background that you’ve probably seen in my blogs and Facebook posts. Simple. A stable or barn doorway and a bit of natural light. That is all.
11. On the yard
There will often be objects or spaces on the yard that we can use, that you won’t even consider, because you see it every day and you just consider it to be part of the furniture. But yards have character and stories to tell, so why not use them?
Mounting blocks, benches, indoor stabling, aswell as some of the things we’ve already mentioned; all useful.
12. Indoor schools
Whilst I avoid outdoor schools at all costs, I don’t feel the same about indoor schools. Indoor schools give me doorways, filtered light and shade, dust clouds, etc. Indoor schools are fun!
They’re useful if it rains, too.
Woods can sometimes be quite dark. But they can also be incredibly enchanting. If you can find pockets of light, you can create beautiful images. If you are lucky enough to catch the bluebells or other wild flowers, that’s a huge bonus. Remember my love affair with trees that I told you about? You can imagine how excited I get about shooting in the woods!
Things to avoid…
- Outdoor schools
I don’t know what it is about outdoor schools, but I have a very strong dislike for photographing in them. There are times when it can’t be avoided and I understand that sometimes it’s the safest option. If your horse is a little over excitable or spooky and you feel most comfortable in the school, don’t worry because we will make it work. But where I can, I will always choose not to photograph in an outdoor school.
- Too much electric fencing
I don’t really need to say much more, do I? Strings of messy, tangled electric fencing is not attractive. Most horsey people will already have a strong dislike for electric fencing anyway, (how did it get tangled when you were so careful?!) so I probably don’t need to go on about this, but electric fencing is a necessary evil and has little to no place in photographs. A little bit isn’t a problem, and I can probably get rid of it in the post production. But it certainly don’t count as attractive fence lines.
- Messy backgrounds
Who wants muck heaps, metal containers, rubbish or other unsightly intruders in the background of their photographs? I don’t and neither will you, so we tend to steer clear of these. I’m going to assume this is a given. Unless, of course, you have an odd affinity with your muck heap. And who knows? I’ve had stranger requests.
So, hopefully this will give you a good idea of what is useful and what is not, and give you a bit of confidence that a photoshoot at your yard won’t be a total disaster. I have to admit, there have been times where I’ve turned up at a location and it has really tested my creative skills, but I’ve never been faced with a space that I can’t find at least something to work with.
However, all that said and done, if you call me up and tell me you want a photoshoot at sunrise on the beach, or in the grounds of a stately home, you won’t find me complaining. 😉