Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Foal Conformation.. Photography Essentials

This is one, in a series of occasional posts, from our photography blog over at Capture The Light.

Let's talk about Baby Conformations, as we call them. It's a lot like a big horse Conformations... only a little different.
Most of the basics are the same. But the babies are not quite as patient as the older professionals, so sometimes you have to take what you can get. Here are a few things you will need to make your pictures look good.

1. Good light. Sunny days work best to show off the sheen of the coat. 
2. A good background, and a good distance from the background. Nice and clean. No distracting elements.
3. Fairly shallow depth of field. Blur the background and keep the focus on the horse.
4. A good crew. It helps to have several people; to hold the horse, set the feet, get the horses attention, clean up poop, etc.
5. Plenty of time and patience. This series usually takes a solid hour.

A Conformation picture of a horse tells the owner how a horse is built. There is an industry standard of sorts, so you can compare the physical attributes of one horse to another. Additionally, certain owners will want Conformations taken at different ages, to be able to see the development.
Foot position is of critical importance. It must be uniform from horse to horse, and from year to year for each individual. The above photo shows good foot position. Mainly, you want the horse to look well balanced.

For the side shots, I try to shoot straight out from the girth. I squat down just a little to get a good perspective of the horse. I want to give him some prominence.  Notice the horizon line goes through the chest and tail. Perfect.

In the Right Side Shot the feet are opposite the Left Side Shot. The light is hitting the horse at a 90 degree angle, from behind my left shoulder.

For the front and rear view, the feet need to be even, and 6-7 inches apart for foals. These shots are from my same exact position to the horse as the side shot. I stay in my spot, with the sun behind me, and the horse turns.

Along with the 4 "sides", I usually get a head shot. This is the only shot I move for, a little closer and slightly in front of the foal.

Now, for a few technical points from our sponsor...
I am shooting in APERTURE PRIORITY. Usually about f/5 gives me a good depth of field. The horse is sharp, and the background blurs away.
I'm about 50 feet from the horse, using a 70-200mm lens. I want to "fill the frame", without cutting off feet. Usually about 110-130mm is where I end up.
For sunny conditions, I am at ISO 400. I want a fast shutter speed...1/1000 or so.
EXPOSURE COMPENSATION is at 0, unless it's a gray horse (in which case I'll go to -1/3).
As we've talked about before, I want to push the exposure enough to bring out the detail in the shadows. Look at your HIGHLIGHT ALERTS, and make sure you're getting a few "blinkies". In this case, I had just a few blinkies on the star and nose. I knew I could recover those blown highlights in Lightroom.
I mentioned that I am standing in one spot. Well, really it's close to one spot. As the horse moves, I need to move from side to side to stay "straight out from the girth".

Feel free to comment below with any questions you have, and I'll do my best to answer!

Here's a short video showing the overall scene. This is a different mare and foal that we were shooting together. Some patience  And yes, we did end up with a couple shots. Thanks Wendy!

We will be doing a live Stallion Conformation demo during our "Capture the Light - Bluegrass Equine Photography Workshop", May 3-5. Check out the details on our website.

We are looking forward to our 3 fun filled days of photography in scenic Bluegrass Horse Country including an early morning shoot at Keeneland!

Space is limited to 12-15 participants for the workshop, but we still have about a half dozen spots left.

That's it for now... mw.

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