Learning From Mistakes and Shooting Horses. With a Camera, Silly!

Was going back through old pictures yesterday weeding and pruning, and found myself getting more and more irritated at technical mistakes, and pictures that I had remembered as being so cool being 'meh'. I had to stop and make myself remember the circumstances surrounding some of those images. New equipment, less than ideal circumstances, lousy borrowed equipment, lousy old scanner, learning a new technique... And dear lord that was 12 years ago, just get over it already! LOL So many times we look at other people's work and think 'Why can't I do that, or be that?' and we can feel pretty sorry for ourselves and give up... and here we have quit another thing we enjoyed because we're not as good as someone else yet. But how do you know how many thousands of photos they didn't show, or how many years they took to learn the same things you are learning now? Some years back a famous photographer did a farm call for an acquaintance and she proudly showed me her raft of proofs... over 100 of them, which is a lot on a medium format film camera. In all those proofs there were 2 that I thought were marketable images of her horses to represent her farm, but I didn't tell her that. Now, in that photographer's favor every picture was in focus and beautifully exposed. Horses are a tough subject, and if the owner has not hired a competent handler for the day or has a messy farm the photographer's job becomes very tough. Horses also have a tiny little span of attention, so if you have one that isn't very attractive or charismatic, you may only get one shot at a decent picture. That said, some horses, like some people, don't do anything without seeming to pose for the papparazzi. I love those. Anyway, at the time I was young and idealistic, and really thought that photographer walked on water before I saw those proofs. Of course, just about when you get on a high horse, along comes a low limb to knock you back to earth (usually with an oomph and hearty thud). My reality check came when I had a session at a farm with old rusty trucks and tires everywhere, broken fences, no skilled handlers, and out of shape, ungroomed, untrained horses. How's that for the perfect storm? Luckily I had a friend with me who had some skill with setting an Arabian up halter style, which means feet squared and head up with an arched neck, looking alert. She had a lot on her hands with the nippy little sow's ear of a stud we were supposed to be turning into a silk purse that day... So she finally got him to stand on all four feet with his ears up as well as his manly parts tucked in, my finger was tightening on the shutter button, when suddenly my lens was filled with a big hot pink polyester backside. I dropped the camera along with my jaw, and yup, there was my client's rear end between me and my camera's eye view of the horse. She said she wanted to see what I was seeing... How do you politely work through that minefield, I ask you? I got the giggles so bad I sat down, as I gasped out that all I could see was her bottom, now. Probably not a tactful response, but at least I don't remember rocking back and forth while insanely laughing in the fetal position... But I digress. Never did get a picture of the colt that the client was satisfied with, but we did manage to get a few nice pictures that day of some other horses, without too many near misses. Or any more pink polyester pictures. I learned some lessons on that job, including who to trust with your negatives. (Yeah, I can hear you groaning from here. I already said I was really young!) The point is, though, that you need to not let your fear of failure or your embarrassment over past mistakes own you. Making mistakes is ok. Sometimes the best you've got is all you've got, and you can't really learn a thing until you do it. Learn to see your mistakes so you can improve on them, not beat yourself up over them. The ability to take criticism constructively is one of the hardest qualities to develop. It takes maturity to use criticism to improve, even when it's not given tactfully, so give yourself some credit and use it as another building block, not as a reason to throw up your hands and walk away in frustration.... and you never know, when you get better at editing, maybe you'll be able to do something really cool with those old mistakes you made. 🙂 Since I've talked so much about horses, here's a couple small tips for good horse photographs: Stand back and use your zoom is the most important. At about 105mm on a full frame camera you get rid of the distortion that the end of the horse nearest you is bigger. (That's also the usual focal length for taking flattering pictures of people.) The focal length of the lens (the mm setting), is why you see all those pictures of horses with giant heads and tiny little bodies or riders. If all you have is a wide-angle or normal lens (anything under around 55mm, or a point and shoot camera with no zoom), make sure the horse is standing broadside to the camera. Your best angle is also in a low position, about the level of the flank, so get on one knee, like you see the pros do. Just those 2 things will make a great difference in your horse pictures. This photo is from a much nicer farm call, at Seven Cedars Arabians. No pink polyester. 😉

2 Replies to “Learning From Mistakes and Shooting Horses. With a Camera, Silly!”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and now I don’t feel so silly taking 100 pictures of the same scene only to end up with a handful of marketable shots.

    1. That is precisely how I felt that day… especially since I was doing a lot of animal photography at the time, usually without the raft of assistants that this guy had. 🙂

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