Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Equine Photography 101: Tips From The Pro's

In the days of Instagram and Facebook albums, the process of taking and publishing photos has been dramatically simplified. But what if you want something more? Photos of you, your family, and your equine counterparts that you’ll cherish for decades?

In this Q&A with Canada based photographer, Shawn Hamilton of CLiX Photography, Shawn will share her story into equine photography as well as some tips and tricks for better photos on the trail or in the arena.

A number of Shawn's recent magazine covers.

Q: Hi Shawn, I hear you're a professional equine photographer. Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do.  

Shawn with her mount in
Patagonia, South America
A: My passion for both horses and photography started at a young age. I have had a horse since I was 13 and a camera since I was 10.  Shooting primarily as a hobby I began to follow my friends to horse shows and take photos of them in action. My friends admired their photos and soon others asked me to shoot them and began purchasing them from me.

When on maternity leave in 1989 with my first of four children I started to attend horse shows and mailed contact proofs to the participants. The orders for enlargements began to roll in. I then pitched to horse magazines and managed to get the cover of two different magazines in the same month. This gave me the confidence to leave my full time job and I have never looked back.

I have since covered 5 Olympics, countless World Equestrian Games and now specialize in riding vacation stories from all over the world, both writing and shooting, often shooting from the saddle.

My photos have appeared on the covers of The Horse, Horse Sport, Horse Canada, Equus, Horse Power, Young Rider, Dressage Today, Practical Horseman, The Chronicle of the Horse and many others. These can be seen on my website.

I also have three children’s books published by Scholastic Canada

Q: What's kind of gear do you carry in your bag? 

A: My gear is exclusively Nikon and I currently use a Nikon D3 with a D200 as back up.  My next purchase will be the D4. As far as lenses go my most used lenses on riding vacations and typical shoots are the 70-200 F2.8 and the 17-55 F2.8. When on free running photo shoots I take my 300 F2.8 fixed lens and when doing larger shows such as the Worlds or the Olympics a 500 F4 is the chosen piece of glass as it is more difficult to get closer to the action.

As far as software goes I use Lightroom and Photoshop for editing, raw conversion and enhancing.

Q: My daughter runs barrels and shows. What gear do I need to get good photos?

A: There are so many cameras on the market today it is difficult to suggest what to buy. But if you want to capture the action such as barrel racing or show jumping you need a camera that you can adjust the shutter speed. A speed of no less than 250/second is needed to stop the action, especially if it is being hand held. I prefer 500/second.

A zoom lens would be recommended as you never know in advance how close to the action you will be allowed to get. A 70-200 2.8 is the perfect starter lens for action but there are many others offered. A 2.8 gives you a faster speed in lower lighting conditions.  High end lenses such as Nikon and Canon are expensive but you can get Tamron and other brands that will fit onto other bodies with special mounts. I suggest you look for used equipment to get started.

Q: How is taking equine photos different than other photos? Any tips for capturing great horse photos?

A: The key to taking good photos of anything is to Know Your Subject. In any riding discipline such as jumping, barrel racing, dressage, etc, there are moments in time that are more attractive than others. Even a horse running through a field looks better in a certain position.

Portraits require both ears to be forward with the horse looking alert. Focusing on the eye will enhance a portrait of any human or animal subject. Conformation shots differ with each breed.

Any time of day can work but early morning and later afternoon have warmer light. Cloudy days can also be helpful with no shadows to deal with.

Q: What are some ways I can use my photos?

A: The most important and probably least liked aspect of photography is EDITING. If you want to show off your photos it is very important that you edit or weed out the bad ones.

Download your photos from your camera or phone to a computer, don’t forget to make a backup copy on an external drive or DVD, and diligently pick the absolute best ones. Nothing bores anyone more than seeing 100 photos of the same thing, especially if only one or two of them are worthwhile. It is a pet peeve of mine when someone sends me a folder of images of their holiday and have simply downloaded their card and sent it to me without eliminating at least the out of focus ones. Choose your few favorites and save them to your laptop, iPad, or phone to share with others.

You can upload them to facebook but know that once they are on facebook they are free for facebook and others to do with them what they want.

Have the best ones enlarged and framed for the wall, make your screen saver out of it, put it on a blanket, mug, pillow…the possibilities are endless.

Firstly though…take a great shot! If you are serious about learning more about photography take a workshop! They are invaluable.