They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Cappy Jackson's Equine Photo Tips Page 2

8 tips

1. Equipment
No matter what camera system you have, Jackson advises first and foremost, "Horses look better when captured with a long lens, rather than a short one." Her favorite lens is the Nikkor 400mm f/2.8. Her other lenses are the Nikkor 80--200mm f/2.8 and 300mm f/2.8. With telephoto lenses in the 300--400mm range, she uses a monopod, never a tripod. "The more mobile you make yourself, the better off you'll be," she adds.
A high-speed motor drive is also very important when shooting any action, she says. And buy the best camera gear you can afford: "Make an investment in your equipment!" Using high-quality, durable cameras and lenses is imperative, she says, because equestrian photography involves being out in the field with a lot of dust and dirt. And in her case, she points out, "Because I travel so much, I ship a lot of equipment and hope for the best."
When doing equestrian photography, she prefers shooting with film (Fujichrome Provia 100F or Fujichrome Sensia 100), and uses a Nikon F5. Although a lot of people believe that a faster film is appropriate for moving subjects like horses, she prefers the fine grain of ISO 100 films. "You'll get better quality with a slower film, especially when you can shoot in good lighting conditions," she asserts. She photographs some other subjects digitally with the Nikon D1x, and says the day is coming when she'll photograph horses digitally too.

2. Research & Preparation
"If I go to a location that I'll be shooting for the first time, I always assess the situation, get to know the people, and find out exactly what the client needs ahead of time," Jackson says. She advises those who want to take pretty pictures of horses to look for a clean background and attractive animals. Make sure the horse is brushed and groomed for the photo shoot. When planning a photo session, she says, try to do it on a sunny day and shoot in the early morning or late afternoon. Jackson prefers morning light. "Get out of bed early! The best light is in the early morning--you have more time to work than in the late afternoon." She also believes that a happy subject is easier to work with. "Make sure the horse has breakfast before you take pictures."

A champion quarter horse stallion called "Lean With Me," in Yamhill, Oregon.

3. Assistance
It's also a good idea to have help--an assistant (who's out of camera range) can hold the horse still for portraits, and another person can get the horse's attention. Jackson says that interesting sounds will do the trick, such as shaking a can full of pebbles or using a squeaky toy. She notes that you'll get the best portraits when "the horse's ears are up and the eyes are open." She also shoots portraits with a rider on the horse, and then of the horse alone.

She adds, "animals' attention span is short; they get easily bored." For this reason, she prefers to do still portraiture first before shooting action. She generally requires one or more experienced helpers to chase the horse for her.

Quarter horse mares and foals in Oklahoma.

4. Above All, Safety
Jackson strongly emphasizes safety in all situations where horses are being photographed. If you're taking action pictures of a horse running in a pasture, she says, "make sure that you get permission to turn the horse loose." Watch out for gullys and holes. "You don't want to hurt the horse or upset the owner."
A key word is patience, according to Jackson. If you're photographing someone else's horse, you must be patient with the animal. And remember that "horses can be very unpredictable."

5. Shooting Equine Events
When photographing public equestrian events, Jackson says, "You must get the proper credentials and follow the rules. Ask where you're allowed to go--etiquette is very important."
At a horse show (as in most situations), a telephoto lens is imperative so as not to distract the horse and/or rider. Jackson advises shooting lots of pictures to learn to photograph the horse at its best moment. For example, photographing horses jumping over fences is a challenge, just as when trying to shoot any peak action. "It takes a lot of practice and getting your timing down, because you need to capture the apex of the jump."

A turf race in Laurel, Maryland.

6. Shutter Speed
Jackson freezes action by shooting at a minimum of 1¼500 and even as fast as 1¼2500, and says she usually uses a wide-open aperture of f/2.8. When she photographs scenics that include a horse, she shoots at a minimum of 1¼125 ("you've got to keep that speed up"). When emphasizing motion by panning, however, she shoots at 1¼30. "It's important to learn about your subject and to know what you need to do to capture the moment," she says.

7. Lighting
"I avoid shooting indoors if at possible," explains Jackson. "Horses are outdoor animals and should be shown in their natural environment." Besides, she says, she prefers to shoot most subjects outdoors. "I think everybody looks better in natural light, and I'm more comfortable working with it." She says she doesn't use flash or studio lighting for horse portraits, as it gives the image an artificial look she doesn't like. However, she sometimes uses a reflector when photographing a person on horseback (and sometimes uses it to get the horse's attention).

Champions Tod Crawford and "Look Who's Larkin" in Temecula, California.

8. Be Creative
Jackson stresses the fact that people have fun and be creative when taking pictures. She advises photographers to look for different angles, "and don't be afraid to get in tight." Many people tend to shoot pictures from too far away. "Don't feel that you always have to get the whole horse in the picture from head to toe." If she has a trademark, it's shooting with long lenses and utilizing great light. "People tell me I'm good at capturing the character and expression of a horse. One person described it as `the emotion of motion.'" This can only come with practice. Jackson, who shoots a lot of images, admits that she discards nearly half of what she shoots.

A barrel-racing competition at an Appaloosa show in Venice, Florida.

"Don't be afraid to get critiqued," she says. Photographer Jay Maisel taught her a valuable lesson at the Maine Photographic Workshop years ago, when he asked why she was showing mediocre work. "I showed what I thought he wanted to see, not what represented my best work. Be proud of the images you show."