Sunday, June 12, 2016

Western States Horse Expo, and what a concert photographer learned there: fun weekend!

Paint(ing horses
Painted horses at the Western States Horse Expo... so patient while children paint them!
As a photographer, writer, artist, performer, athlete... as anything, really... it's sometimes fun, and always educational, to step outside of one's "comfort zone" and do something related, but very different. You're forced to rethink your craft, to adjust techniques, to learn new things, to evaluate what you are doing wrong, and then learn from it. And, in this case, to discover something very special.

This weekend, that's what I did. I was at the Western States Horse Expo all weekend, watching and photographing the horses (and riders); making a load of mistakes, learning some lessons both about horses and my photography, meeting lots of wonderful horses, very nice people, finding-out about some very cool programs (more later about this), and--hopefully--coming away with some good images too. As with a weekend-long music festival, I have about a million or so (slight, but not huge, exaggeration) images to sort through, edit, and publish, so be aware that the photo gallery will be updated regularly. You might want to bookmark it!  <--- click here!

Here are a few things I learned this weekend at the Horse Expo. I had fun and yes, I learned a lot! I'm already looking forwards to next year... and to maybe setting up some equine portrait sessions soon!.

1)  MOST IMPORTANT! Horses move much, much faster, and are much, much bigger, and jump much higher than the average rock star. Therefore, if you frame your horse photo to allow for the movement of your average rock star, even at a very high speed setting and when you're expecting the singer to jump, you're going to end up with horse images without the rider's head, the horse's hooves, or the horse's flowing tail. While headless riders are fun in spooky movies, they don't really make for good horse expo images. I discarded lots of photos on day one! Lesson learned: frame the shot large. You can crop stuff out later, you can't crop a head back in if it wasn't in the frame in the first place.

Spirited Arabian horse
Arabian horse and rider in traditional costume
2)  I also learned that it is really, really difficult to correctly expose a shot of a beautiful, glossy, incredibly-jet-black Friesian horse on a really bright-and-sunny California day. Just keep working on it, expose for the horse, and try to find a shot where the background is lower in contrast. Not so easy with action shots, but...

Friesian and rider
3) Some horses are like some people, and really don't like a camera anywhere near them. They show you with their eyes, their ears, and body language. Accept it. That's what long lenses are for.

4) While up-the-nose shots are something to be avoided in a music situation, they can be real fun when the performer is equine. And especially if it's Lazarus, because that gives me yet-another chance to share his story.

Lazarus, Percheron, Hope For Horses
5)  Speed is everything. The flick of hair that you might capture on a musician at 125/s will be a total blur when it's the shake of a mane of a horse who is cantering. Go fast. Go very, very fast.

Friesian on the move
6) Horses are bigger-than-the-average rock star: move further back, to have the entire animal in the frame, or be happy with just part of the animal (which can make for interesting shots, too).

Andalusian with ribbons
7) Be aware of the distance between you and the horse. Or horses. Things can change very fast. A crowd-surfer landing on you in the photo pit at a show can be nasty--a 16-hand horse landing on your toe might be just a tad more painful.

Andalusian and rider performing at the Western States Horse Expo
8)  There are rock stars in the horse world, too. Watching a trainer like Richard Winters show how to work with a horse through some training challenges, or Julie Goodnight, or any of the other team of speakers, trainers and clinicians who were at the Western States Horse Expo, you know these people are special. Even if you don't (yet) know all the correct names for the colours of the horses. I need to learn the correct names for all the beautiful horse colours.

Richard Winters clinic at the Western States Horse Expo 2016
Richard Winters clinic at the Western States Horse Expo
9) There was a lot of talk about A Perfect Circle. I learned that it's not a rock supergroup, it's part of training your horse.

10) I learned that I want to photograph more horses. Gypsy horses, Freisians, Morgan horses, all kinds of horses. Seriously.

Gypsy Horse (Gypsy Vanner)
Gypsy Horse (Gypsy Vanner)
11) I want to ride a horse. One with a kind face. Like Azul, trained by the Sacramento County Sherriff's Wild Horse Program, at Rio Consumnes' Correctional Center. Azul was sold by auction to a very happy man today. You'll hear more about this program here soon.

Azul looking at the children
Azul, wild mustang, trained through the Sacramento County Sherriffs program
12) Cowboy Dressage is a wonderful thing. For one, it's horses moving like a cowboy needs them to move. For two, three and four, because it's a competition where your kindness to your horse triples your score. Be kind, and you will be rewarded. I think that's something everyone should learn.

13) I still love crowd shots. Horse crowds.

California Cowgirls
California Cowgirls at the Horse Expo
14) Just like at a major rock festival, stars can be anywhere. There might be one right behind you, just watching the show, like you are.

Watching the show
Behind you!!!
This was a wonderful weekend at the Horse Expo! I hope you enjoy the photos as they are added to the photo gallery (just click this link).

Richard Winters clinic at the Western States Horse Expo 2016

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