Thursday 13 April 2017

The Trouble with Photos

On Sunday, my friend J from university drove down to visit me. We went out to the barn which was his first time interacting with horses. J has a fancy camera and an interest in photography so he volunteered to take photos of my ride, I happily agreed!

I actually strangely like this mounting photo.
I bet you wish your barn had a mounting block this classy ;-P

At least I remembered to smile at the camera a few times
Walk warm-up

As I'm sure you've noticed, most of my media consists of poor quality blurry video screenshots so I was excited for some good photos. The problem is, they aren't "good" the way I wanted them to be. J gave me 162 jpg files from my ride. The photo quality is great: properly focused, centered, fast shutter speed so no action blurs, enough megapixels to be able to zoom in without losing the quality, etc. However, they don't show the nice picture I was hoping for.

This was when I just started my first trot circle,
Kachina is distracted and fast so I'm reverting to my fetal position tip
(though I'm actually pretty proud of my leg position here)

A bit better trot

Problem 1: Reality
There are some things that a photo can't lie about. I cringe when I look at my position in several of the photos. Either I am leaning forward, have my leg too straight, or am doing weird things with my hands. While this doesn't make for photos that I want to share everywhere, it does give me good feedback to improve my equitation (#1: sit the heck back!). Another thing that the photos show is that Kachina was opening her mouth a lot more than I thought, especially at the canter. Kachina used to gape with her mouth a lot but I thought that issue was mostly solved now; apparently we still have some work to do (Kachina's mouth thing is something that I've talked about before, it's a tension thing, not a contact thing or discomfort thing. I promise that I'm not yanking her face off, but some of the photos looked like I was so I couldn't bear to post them and the photos in this post are somewhat carefully selected).

Work dat a$$ - Kachina's normal "big" trot

Distracted by the camera shutter
The shirt, saddle pad and barrel colour matching was totally unplanned lol

Problem 2: Timing
I could see J holding his camera during my whole ride so I figured he was taking photos evenly spaced throughout. It turns out though that he took the majority of the photos early on. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense from a non-rider perspective; he captured me walking, trotting, and cantering, and after that he figured I was just doing more of the same. The quality of the work was a lot different from start to end though. Kachina started out fairly tense and it took her a while to focus, but she felt really good by the end of the ride. I believe that my riding and position would have been better towards the end of the ride as well (I automatically revert to my bad habits when I feel Kachina tense). I'm especially bummed that there is zero photographic evidence of the amazing stretchy trot that Kachina gave me right before our cool-down.
The other part of timing is related to the exact moment. As riders we all know that certain moments of the stride look better than others. In a video we can screenshot the right moment, but that's much tougher when taking photos. A lot of the photos from Sunday aren't at the best angle or moment to get a representative idea of the quality of her gaits.

Left lead canter

I have lost my leg position completely, and need to be more forward allowing with my arms

I just included this photo because I think it's cool that you can see the details of her feet

More left lead canter

I'm aware that I'm complaining about the firstiest of first world problems. I really appreciate J taking photos for me. His photos are technically awesome, and there's no way he could have known what a good moment is supposed to look like from a dressage perspective. It's also nice to have some canter photos since I don't have many of those. I'm just sad that the photos didn't reflect the good work that I felt during my ride that day. I really hope there are some show photographers at the shows I go to this year (and that we can look our best in front of them).

And right lead canter

This was one of the final trot photos taken (though still only about halfway through ride),
not the best angle but you can see she is starting to get softer and rounder

I've seen so many great photos on other blogs, how do you get those? Are all your photos naturally amazing or are there a lot of outtakes for every good one? Do you have magic photo fairies held hostage in your tack rooms (if so, how do I get me one??)

Pats after a good ride

She has to put up with so much ;-)


  1. Oh honey. I feel you.

    There is an art to good photography and an even more nuanced art to good discipline-specific photography. Just because someone knows horses doesn't mean they know your discipline.

    My solution is to know the strengths of my media person. If they're artistically good but not horse savvy, I aim for candid photos with a good outfit. If they're willing but not media savvy, then videos+screen shots. And yeah, when you hit the horse savvy+photo savvy jackpot, understand that even the best photographers have outtakes. The secret to ten good pictures is to take about 500.

    And always remember that when an artist helps you out of the goodness of their heart, be 100% grateful for that assistance. :-)

    1. Oh further commentary--I always look at pictures taken that I like whether or myself or others and try to help my photographer out. They can't get a cute picture of me smiling if I'm not looking at the camera or not smiling. ;-) You know. Modeling 101.

    2. I'm definitely grateful for any media, no matter who takes it or what I end up with, I just want to be better at maximizing the media I do get since it happens so rarely.

      You have so many great Courage shots! I may need to steal your photographer friends ;)

  2. I actually really like that mounting block. Now I want to make one.

    1. Just milk crates and zip ties! I will say though that it's not the most sturdy thing ever. I feel like my foot might break through it one of these days. The BO even wrote a disclaimer on it in sharpie "Use at your own risk!!!" haha. It's easy to move around and does the job though.

  3. I wish I was closer- I would take some photos for you. :0 ).

    I think that you don't look as bad as you think.

  4. Yea I definitely feel ya. The vast majority of photos I see of my riding are..... Eh mildly disappointing. And I prefer video stills as well for choosing that perfect "moment". The thing is tho, or at least the story I tell myself, is that there are "no bad pictures" when it comes to learning and training. I mean for ego? Yea there are bad pics haha. Lots. But for me to actually understand what I'm doing and the mechanics of what's happening under me, I learn so much even from the "bad" pics. So I've gotten fairly zen about posting the "bad" (mostly bc yes I admit to curating to a degree) with the "good." And I always remind myself that we are our own worst critics.

    Fwiw I see a lot worth being proud of in all the above shots ;) that's a horse that's working and learning in partnership with the rider.

    1. (Tho if you can manage to snag an actual rider or horse person to take pics, they tend to have a much better eye for timing and flattering shots haha)

    2. I think you're absolutely right about photos (and video) being good for learning from. Sometimes you just want a pretty picture to show how good you can look though ;)

    3. oh so so so true. so true. i <3 those pretty pictures! i just keep repeating my same little mantras as above to myself over and over since my horse and i are currently in a not-very-photogenic phase lol. le sigh.

  5. I think you are being too hard on yourself! But I totally wish I could train my husband to get proper timing/angles on photos so I feel your pain. Hopefully I will be able to be your dressage show paparazzi at a show this year :P

  6. It takes a lot of practice to get good photos, especially of horses, and photographers get better with a lot of feedback too especially when they aren't sure what they are looking for.

  7. I had to borrow a camera from a friend to shoot the hunts this past fall. Pretty much end up choosing a spot/angle near to a fence and wait and hope you get some good shots. Whereas at a show you can really focus on the one horse and try to set yourself up for good angles. Dressage/flat I find a bit more challenging because there's not one specific moment (as there is with jumping) that you want to capture, usually there's HUNDREDS of moments that have potential to be excellent.