Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shooting Lessons

Not long ago a friend of mine, Kareem Shehata, came riding with me while visiting Egypt. He's Egyptian/Canadian and wanders back and forth visiting his family here while living/working/studying there. He had just gotten his first really good camera in 2004 when he first went riding with me and when I saw the photos he shot that day I was blown away. There were some seriously lovely photos. I used some of them for my website where they have been much admired.

These first photos were somewhat serendipitous. Kareem was about as surprised at their quality as anyone else and much encouraged in his interest in photography. He continued to work at it along with all the other interesting things that he does in southern Ontario and in the early spring of this year Kareem appeared again in Egypt.

He called me to arrange another ride and this time his camera was even bigger and more impressive. I gave him one of my horses who has photography experience and knew how to stand still, or as still as a horse ever stands unless he has a pile of hay in front of him. Again, he sent me some lovely shots. I haven't seen any photos from the last visit that he made, but he did send me a link to a nice post that he made on LiveJournal about doing photography on horseback and I thought that I would pass it on.

Photography from horseback

I've gone for many rides on horseback as a tourist. I'm not a serious rider, though I can usually get a horse to go in the direction I would like most of the time. Through beginner's luck, I got the combination right on my very first trip. Since then, I've found that I get the combination right at the very end of the trip - after the best opportunities have already passed. Here's what I've learned. Hopefully it will be useful to you, even if I'm not likely to remember to read this before my next trip!

1. Use a telephoto zoom lens.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but consider that you're up much higher than usual. Yes, with a typical medium or wide lens you can catch some great vistas, but you could do the same from standing. Take advantage of your perspective by getting closer to your subjects. From horseback, you'll also be farther from the most interesting shots, and you won't be able to move closer physically most of the time. Getting a horse to the right spot is very difficult, so a zoom lens is highly recommended.

2. Use the fastest shutter speed possible.

A horse is constantly moving, even when "standing still." They shift, take a step, sway a little bit, and that moves you. Add to that using a telephoto, and you will need at least a 1/1000 shutter speed to reliably get sharp shots. I've found that even 1/500 will often give soft shots - heartbreaking when you discover a particularly great shot is ruined as a result.

3. Let your camera do the math

On horseback, you won't have time to fiddle with settings. Yes, manual mode is often better than auto, but in this case, you won't have time to make adjustments. If you have a Tv (Time-value) setting, use it. If you have an automatic ISO setting, use it - it will give you camera more flexibility to catch the shot for you. Make sure you have the white balance and any other settings figured out before you get on the horse!

4. Lose the polarizing and any other filters, except for a UV filter

Again, you won't have time to adjust a circular polarizer. Any filters will reduce the amount of light going through the lens, and to get the fastest shutter time possible, you'll need as much as you can get. The only exception is a UV or clear filter to protect the lens. Going on horseback is a dirty thing, and there will be lots of dust and even dirt flying. A lens hood is also a good idea, if it doesn't get in the way. Make sure everything is tight before you leave - anything dropped will be damaged or destroyed.

5. Find a strap that will sit comfortably on you

I have a luggage strap that I've adapted for my camera so that it hangs at my side when I'm not using it. This is important, because you will often times need both hands to handle the horse, and you'll want your camera somewhere safe and comfortable as you ride. Too low and it hit the horse, you, or other objects as you ride. Too high, and it will be uncomfortable to ride.

6. Be like a sniper

Look for something distinct and interesting. A detail that relates part of what you're experiencing. It is possible to shoot while moving, but stop the horse if you need to catch something great. Line up the scene as best you can, and when the moment is just right - the scene set, your camera moving as little as possible - take the shot. Multiple shots will sometimes work from continuous shooting mode, but don't scatter shoot as none of them will turn out right. Your best bet is to use basic shooting tricks: take your best aim, and then shoot twice.

copyright 2010 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

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