Monday, October 17, 2011

Equine Conformation.. Comparing Apples to Apples

The idea behind Equine Conformation photos is to be able to compare apples to apples.
Start with a very standardized set up, shoot every horse the EXACT same way, and you should be able to identify the attributes. Either good or bad.

Medaglia d'Oro - Audacious Chloe '10. Photo: Matt Wooley, Aperture Priority, f/5 @ ISO 320, 1/800th, 0EV, 130mm.
Should be easy enough.

All you need to do is get someone to set the feet with the right front a little behind the left front, and the right hind in front of the left hind, and then get the horse to put his head up a little, but not too much, look toward the camera at a 30 degree angle, and prick his ears up. And make sure his mane doesn't blow over, and he doesn't swish his tail or blink. And make sure you don't have too dark of a background and the clouds don't roll in and cover up the sun.
And then fire off a few shots. 

Then do it again, so you can compare set-ups on the computer when you get home.
That's it.
Back off! I try to shoot at 100 to 135mm while filling the frame.
It really takes a good team to do it right.
At most of the farms Wendy and I visit, getting a good conformation actually starts by turning the horse out the night before. If the horse has been out overnight, he will have less pent up energy and will usually stand much quieter.
The grooms bring him in for a bath, dry him off, rub him down, put on some hoof dressing, and then wet down the mane. It's also much easier if the horse has been handled and learns to trust humans regularly.
Then he's ready to stand.
 Dynaformer - Bohemian Lady '10. Photo: Matt Wooley, Aperture, f/5 @ ISO 400, 1/1000th, 0EV, 110mm.
 I almost always shoot conformations in Aperture Priority. For one thing, it's always sunny, so I know that f/5 will give me both a good depth of field and a good shutter speed. What else could you ask for? I mainly only adjust the ISO to give me a "fast enough" shutter speed. F/5 blurs the background a little, and 1/800 to 1/1000th is perfect.
First take a test shot, and adjust the Exposure Compensation depending on the color of the horse and the background. I want to push the exposure to the point that the camera is showing just a few blinkies (highlight alerts).
Shoot in Burst Mode and AI Servo, with center spot focusing.
Shoot from about 50 feet away at something over 100mm for good compression.

Traditionally, confos have been shot straight out from the hip, but I tend to shoot straight out from the girth or the flank. Just my style. I like to give the horse more prominence in the chest, with the hip still looking muscular. The "horizon line" should run through the chest and tail.

The video below was shot by my buddy JD Mitchell on our Canon G-12, and edited by Wendy. Just a quick glimpse at the "action" of the team. Not always this entertaining, but you'll get the idea. It's a "team thing".

Couple more ideas.

Bring duct tape. If it's breezy, the mane will blow up at the most inopportune time. Tape it down on the "off side" of the horse. This will save a ton of time in Photoshop.

Hair styling gel, in the large bottle. Will do about the same thing as duct tape.

Record horse noises on a mini-cassette tape player. You will need the horse to prick it's ears. I found "horse noises" on a Google search, paid one dollar for the download, and looped it on a tape. One of the crew can hit the tape at just the right instant to get the horse's attention.

Shake a plastic bottle with a few rocks in it. This will also get the ears up sometimes.

You will want the horse to stand at right angles to the direction of the sun. Put a couple of little pieces of gaffers tape down on the ground to help the handler know what you want.

 Be patient. Everyone on the crew has gone to lengths to get the horse ready. Allow plenty of time. You will not make friends with the crew if you have to go back for a re-shoot because you rushed. On the flip side, don't over shoot... when you've got it, you've got it.

Good communication with the handler is key when setting feet.  "Right hind forward and right front back" is short and succinct information.

Tip the crew. A $20 tip for cold beverages goes a long way. Take the time to thank the people that help you look good. Trust me... shooting conformations is NOT a favorite activity for the farm crew. You want them to be helpful when you come back the next time. Wendy and I usually take lunch to the crew a few days after a big group of conformations.


How cool! A group of our Spring 2011 participants reunited in Lexington for a weekend in the Bluegrass!

Wendy and I were very pleased to have been invited to brunch Sunday at Dudley's, to catch up with Dana, Holly, Kate and a friend, Colleen. Sounds like they have been enjoying Keeneland, Shakertown, Old Friends and other local haunts, while keeping their cameras busy.

Dana, a race horse owner herself, has been documenting her own horses and others with confidence, between Kentucky and England over the past 6 months.
Kate and Dana were both runners up in the recent Keeneland 75 Year Commemoration Photography Contest. And... they had entered photos (here and here) from the Spring '11 Workshop! Very nice.
"Thanks"to Dana and company for the very inspirational Edward Whitaker photography book, and a lovely brunch.
Meanwhile, another participant, Heather, has changed her business focus to an emphasis on equestrian, and is moving to San Diego with her husband. Del Mar will be in her back yard!

Wendy and I draw a lot of inspiration from you guys! Seeing your enthusiasm for photography grow lets us know that we are working in the right direction with the blog and workshops. Keep it up guys.... and thank you.
And Kate, sorry about the 70-200 lens suggestion, (but now that you own it, I'm sure it will never be off of your 

That's it for now.
More later.. mw.