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Author Topic: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?  (Read 1574 times)

mackguyver

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Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« on: February 27, 2014, 10:54:09 AM »
I scored a press pass to major equestrian event next weekend (dressage, cross country, and stadium) and I'm wondering if anyone has any experience shooting them.  I know practically nothing about horses, let alone horse events (or eventing as it's apparently called), so any advice would be greatly appreciated.  In the meantime I'll be studying up courtesy of Google & Wikipedia...

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Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« on: February 27, 2014, 10:54:09 AM »

sullivan06

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #1 on: March 04, 2014, 10:33:56 PM »
Hey I've never shot an actual equestrian competition, but I did shoot the equestrian team at my college a couple times during a normal practice.  So while I cannot really help you with the different events, since I don't know anything about them, here is what I recommend.  If you can, get there early to scout out locations and see where you want to be positioned for the different events, as well as alternate and supplementary positions as well.  When I shot the events I tried to focus on the relationship between the horse and rider, so I got several images inside the barn before and after the practice.  Additionally, on some shots I slowed the shutter speed to really create a sense of movement. 

If you are interested, here are a couple of links to my stuff.  Not all are monumental images, but I was shooting for the yearbook so I was also interested in just getting pictures of everybody. 
http://mattbunkerphotography.smugmug.com/WestPoint/West-Point-Equestrian/i-kTxGHnC
and here is a link to when I went back a year later.  http://mattbunkerphotography.smugmug.com/WestPoint/The-2013-Horse-Team/i-zq5vmVZ

Hope this helps a little and goodluck shooting. 
 

privatebydesign

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2014, 11:03:11 PM »
Go to the local Barnes and Noble and look through all the equestrian magazines, it will give you examples of optimal angles.

Watch for distracting backgrounds, especially in the showjumping (stadium). Keep a low viewpoint, the jumps look much bigger the lower you are.

Dressage is all about the horses composure and gait, don't crop off its hooves.

Walk the cross country course against the riders direction, that way you are always facing the oncoming riders. Water obstacles are almost always the most photogenic.

Access is normally easy, even at very high level events, so a 70-200 is king, I'd happily do a three day event with just a 70-200 f2.8, but a 24-70 will be good for closeups and prize giving etc.
Too often we lose sight of the fact that photography is about capturing light, if we have the ability to take control of that light then we grow exponentially as photographers. More often than not the image is not about lens speed, sensor size, MP's or AF, it is about the light.

mackguyver

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #3 on: March 05, 2014, 09:42:56 AM »
sullivan06 & privatebydesign, thank you both for your advice of shooting horses & riders.  I'm hoping to get there early to scout out the course, and according to my press packet, they have specific areas set up for photographers.  It sounds like they are a long way from the jumps on the cross country course, for rider safety.  A few years ago, 2 horses died and an Olympic rider was paralyzed during a fall, so I think they take it very seriously.  I'm planning to take my 300 2.8 IS II, extenders, and monopod in case I'm a long way from the jumps, but hope to use my 70-200 2.8 IS II if I'm closer.  I'm planning to bring the 16-35, 24-70, 70-200, and 300mm, which should cover me on the first day.  I'll adjust from there and might try some creative stuff with my TS-E and other lenses for fun on the 2-4 day.  The nice thing is that the publication I'm shooting for is only asking for some basic photos - so I don't have to worry about getting the winning rider or anything and can play around after I cover my shot list.

For the dressage, those suggestions makes sense as I've heard it's "ballet for horses".  Also, I'm glad the 5DIII has a quiet mode as they are requiring that for the event.  The show jumping part should be fun and hopefully they give me good access so I can get low as you suggest.

I've been looking at lots of photos online, and see a lot of wide angle shots near the jumps, but I think those must be remote cameras.  I like the blurred panning shots like sullivan posted and will definitely try that, too.

Again, I appreciate your advice and will follow up with what I learn from my experience and will post some photos, of course.

Sporgon

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #4 on: March 05, 2014, 11:00:50 AM »
I've got a retired eventer that competed at Lexington in my paddock, but on to the photography:

If it's a Three Day Event they do the Dressage first, then the cross country, then the show jumping. If it's a lesser one day event they do the show jumping before the cross country.

In all cases watch out for too shallow a depth of field; if horses are coming towards you they make for a long target. In dressage you must get the shot as the horse's fore leg is fully extended. otherwise even the best horses look like donkeys. Getting the shot as the horse is on the turn is a good tip, also be ready for the extended trot: this is when they look their best in a photo. You'll have to use tracking AF.

With show jumping I find it is best to zone focus on the centre of the highest rear pole of the fence. ( So if the horse is coming towards you that's the nearest one to you). Pan round following the horse, having pre set your focus,  then shoot as it jumps. They look best when they are just leaving the ground, or coming down. If you get then plumb in the air over the top of the fence they can look rather inelegant. If you are panning with the horse you don't need that higher shutter speed: 1/500 is fine.

I use the same method for cross country. I've put a few of mine in the 'Horses & Horse Riding ' thread over the last couple of years.

mackguyver

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #5 on: March 05, 2014, 11:26:10 AM »
Sporgon, that's a great thread (http://www.canonrumors.com/forum/index.php?topic=12641.0) and thanks for sharing.  You, privatebydesign, and other have posted some excellent work there, and I particularly like your jumping shots, the one with the person riding and jumping with 3 horses (INSANE!!!), and the beautiful light & composition of the 3 women riding through the crops "Garton 3".  I like the stable shots others have posted and will definitely need to pay them a visit as well.

I appreciate the specific technique advice as well, and have thought the same about DOF.  I might get a little further back and use my 300 to get better subject isolation at higher f/stops, but I guess that will depend on the background and sky.  I had read that about the legs and since I'm utterly unfamiliar with horses, I will be doing some spray & pray work for sure.

It's a CIC*** level event spread over 4 days (http://www.rhht.org/schedule/) with three days of CIC events (dressage, CC, show jumping) overlapped by three days of US national events.  There's a 100% chance of rain tomorrow, so I might skip the CIC dressage, but the other 3 days look great.

I don't know if I've mentioned it, but I spent several years of my childhood in Surrey (Cobham) and every time I look at your website, it brings back fond memories.

mackguyver

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #6 on: March 10, 2014, 02:11:34 PM »
Update: I just posted some of the shots here (http://www.canonrumors.com/forum/index.php?topic=12641.msg376869#msg376869

I had a great time shooting, and here are some of the things I observed- keeping in mind that this is my first equestrian anything, let alone shoot:

1. Dressage might be really beautiful, but to the uninitiated, it's not too exciting after you've seen one or two routines.
2. Watch the riders in each event/class run the course once to understand which direction they're going and which obstacles they are going to jump.  Don't be a rookie (like me) and point your lens at the wrong jump or wrong direction.
3. Walk the cross country course (with the riders at the designated time) and have a good map.  Mark the jumps by direction and amount of shade so you know which obstacles to shoot in good and bad light.  Shoot open obstacles early and late, shaded obstacles during the day.  Read the press materials to find out which jumps are the toughest and most visually interesting.
4. Shoot in Manual mode - 1/1000s minimum - 1/1500s or higher ideally.  Unless you have a 1DX, set the ISO until you have a shutter speed around 1/2000s to 1/4000s so you adjust the shutter speed to compensate the exposure for white horses, dark horses, light and dark outfits.  Expose for skin tones of the rider.
5. Focus on the rider's face.  I shot wide open (f/2.8 bare, f/4 with 1.4x extender).  From the side, it's enough for full focus.  From the front/angle, it's not really enough to get the rider and horse's faces in focus, but it was a judgement call to blur out the very distracting background elements.
6. For show/stadium jumping, it's best to shoot one jump at a time versus following the rider around the course. Pre-focus on the middle of the obstacle, wait, shoot multiple frames at high speed drive.
7. For cross country (and dressage), set Case 2, 61-point automatic selection AF, and set the initial AF point to where the rider's face will appear near the obstacle.  Pre-focus in that area, wait for the rider, with your finger on the shutter and thumb on the (back button) AF button.  When the rider enters the frame, lock focus and fire away in high speed drive mode.  With the 5DIII, as long as I locked on successfully, I had a 90% or better success rate tracking over 20+ frames.
8. Even spectators can get very close to some jumps - pack a 24-70 and 70-200 + 1.4x minimum.  Everyone and their brother (read spectators) had a 70-200, so I shot most of the events with a 300mm with and without extender to get a cleaner background and a more unique perspective.  The compression helped with the focus as well.  I shot closer jumps with the 24-70 and some jumps forced the 70-200 into action based on the shooting location.
9. As recommended above, shooting low helps.  Also, shoot different angles, other than directly behind the horse.
10. Mid-day light, when most of the action happens SUCKS and you can't use a flash or any other lighting (for the rider's safety).  Find a shaded obstacle, shaded galloping lane, or try to shoot backlit riders, which means getting low and finding a decent angle so the sun is at least at a slight backlit angle.  The backlight will give you less exposure differences between skin, clothes, and shadows vs. frontlit.
11. Polarizers are very helpful for wet jumps, to slow shutter speeds (as an ND), and to reduce the harshness and contrast of the mid-day sun.  The drop in C-PL for the 300mm was very helpful.
12. Make sure you print and save the ride times sheets each day.  While most of the riders wear bibs or have their numbers on their horses, many of them do not, particularly in the stadium jumping.  Also, many of the competitors ride multiple horses, making identification/captioning all the more challenging.
13. Find out who the favorites are and (see #10) know when they are supposed to ride.  I ended up taking lunch breaks, meeting with others, etc. when the overall winner rode and I didn't get a single photo of him - fail!

Overall it was fun, and I'm excited to shoot it again next year.   Here the links to more of the photos:
Red Hills International Horse Trials Day 2
Red Hills International Horse Trials Day 3
« Last Edit: March 10, 2014, 02:17:01 PM by mackguyver »

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #6 on: March 10, 2014, 02:11:34 PM »

Sporgon

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #7 on: March 10, 2014, 04:10:25 PM »
1. Dressage might be really beautiful, but to the uninitiated, it's not too exciting after you've seen one or two routines.

Let me assure you; it's not too exciting to the initiated either  ;) Dressage judges must have to take pain killers when judging the lower levels all day  ;D

mackguyver

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2014, 04:17:34 PM »
1. Dressage might be really beautiful, but to the uninitiated, it's not too exciting after you've seen one or two routines.

Let me assure you; it's not too exciting to the initiated either  ;) Dressage judges must have to take pain killers when judging the lower levels all day  ;D
Too funny and it was rather cold (38F/3C) and rainy (for Florida) so the judges were sitting in SUVs with the engines running while they did the judging.  It took me a while to figure out while ring was a warmup vs. the actual competition.  I shot 2 riders and then I decided to wait out the rain and move to the stadium jumping...  It was rather boring and I can't imagine watching dozens of the routines.

mackguyver

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2015, 11:52:07 AM »
Year 2 - with no practice in between :D

I shot another round of Eventing this year, at the Red Hills Horse Trials, an international competition held in Tallahassee, Florida.

Some notes (beyond what I wrote last year) are:

-What a difference the 1D X makes.  Shooting with the 5DIII was painful in comparison, but still worked really well for capturing "peak moment" shots.

-The settings used last year, along with the Auto ISo EC in M mode of the 1D X worked perfectly, even in tough mixed lighting:



-Using a polarizer (particularly the 52mm drop-in model) in bad light remains a top tip.  It kills glare, and removes the sweaty sheen from the horses as well.  It also helps prevent blown highlights from the glare spots.  This shot under terrible light would have been completely blown out on the side of the horse from the sun & sweat, but is just workable here.  Before I dropped in the C-PL, all of the horses were blown out.



-I tried some panning shots, but only got one halfway decent shot (see below).  Because the horses moved and such different speeds, it was hard to find a reliable shutter speed.



-Light remains key (as with all photography).  The organizers scheduled the main division CIC 3* at Noon, making for horrific lighting, especially with visors on the helmets.  Shooting RAW and boosting shadows is about all you can do.



-The stadium jumping was at dawn, so I was able to get some great golden hour and backlit shots, and it was cold, so the breath and steam was visible.  The 300 f/2.8 IS II handled the flare quite well, but adding the 1.4x added flare and hurt AF some.  Some of the other pros castigated me for shooting into the sun, but I said that's exactly what I'm going to do...





-The UniqBall was worth its weight in gold, particulary for the stadium jumping and my with torn up shoulders.  It and a tripod were actually far better than the monopod I used last year.

-I created another sequence shot (at 20mm with the 11-24 f/4), but it wasn't quite as good as last year.



-I decided to impress the amateur photographers with a show of the 1D X shutter blast for 36 frames (at f/2.8, 1/8000s, ISO 400, AI Servo).  It definitely drew some stares, but I'm kidding about trying to impress anyone!  I wanted to see the AF performance, which worked perfectly!  Here's a cool little animated GIF I threw together.  The exposure changes that give it an old time flicker are mostly from the change in focus as the horse & rider travel the roughly 30 ft / 10M from start to end of shot and the bokeh changes since it was shot wide open:



-As expected, the 11-24 f/4 was all but useless.  it's hard to get less than 10 feet from any jump, with most shots taking place 20-50 from the ropes.  The 70-200 and 300mm focal lengths are ideal.

-I set up a full pano rig (pano clamp & nodal slide - an more curious stares) for the stadium jumping with the intention of capturing a cool composite, inspired by Peter Langenhahn's unique work that I learned about many years ago on Rob Galbraith's site.  I was on the level instead of elevated, so it will be more of a pano, but hopefully it will work.  I sure wish I had the 5Ds for this one as the resolution may be lacking.  I have a lot of work to get it together, but hopefully it will be worth it.  I'll post it when it's done.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2015, 12:03:19 PM by mackguyver »

mackguyver

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2015, 01:27:57 PM »
I'm not looking for anything in particular, just sharing what I've learned for others who may be interested.

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Re: Tips for Shooting Equestrian Events?
« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2015, 01:27:57 PM »