In our last installment
we looked at the history of equine photography, which began with
Eadweard Muybridge and his "Galloping House" sequence of photos. Now,
with the 128th annual Kentucky Derby on May 3rd at Churchill Downs,
followed by the 127th running of the Preakness at Baltimore's historic
Pimlico track on May 18, we look at how photographers for derbies and
horse shows alike use their camera to capture this majestic creature in
its most celebrated form.
Not only is photography key to determining the winner of many close
races, but it also serves an important artistic market among both
racehorse owners and race track lovers alike. The inky black stallion,
snowy white Clydesdale, or chestnut brown Morgan provide a beautiful
contrast to the equally vivid rainbow colored outfits of the riders.
Similarly, the camera captures the athletic and powerful shape of the
horse. Altogether, equine photography holds a strong historical and
aesthetic presence in our field. And when these magnificent beasts are
straining down the home stretch, the photos are filled with drama.
Derbies hit their peak in popularity in the 1930s through the
1950s. Not coincidentally, it was during this time that Bert Morgan,
the official track photographer at the New York Racing Association,
made his most influential and prolific work. The standard angles at
which horses are photographed today was initially Morgan's trademark.
For example, photographing from under-the-rail, and head-on shots of
race horses became customary images due to Morgan.
While the glory days of the racetrack may have passed, the derbies,
such as the oldest ones that comprise the Triple Crown, the Belmont
Stakes, the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness, still command large
crowds. As it was in the early days, the attendees hold true to the
tradition of the derbies. For example, as has happened for the last
hundred years, women at the Kentucky Derby come outfitted in
decorative, personalized, and inventive hats.
Whether you're photographing from the sidelines or next to the pen, you
should observe and take heed of the temperament of horses.
every living creature each one is different. Steeds can buck, neigh,
and stomp with forceful resolve, so you should know how to treat the
horse. For the most part, understanding your subjects comes from
spending time with them and knowing what they like and dislike. NYI
Student Halcyon Neumann gets his best horse photos by tying a plastic
bag to a whip and shaking it. Again, as long as you've developed a
trusting relationship with the horse and you know he's not going to
charge at you, then you can use these tricks with confidence. Using
these props, Halcyon says, "At the very least, I'll get pricked ears
and an interested expression; at the most, I'll get flagged tails,
flared nostrils and a gallop." The picture on the right is the product
of this technique.
With the advent of the digital camera, derby photography jumped into
While many horse photographers use an SLR, digital cameras fit a
definite purpose on the track allowing the professional racing
photographer to upload images quickly to their newspapers.
you are using a digital camera and there's lots of light, you can use
the slowest ISO rating on your camera. If there's not a lot of light,
try a higher ISO rating to gain a bit more shutter speed. Lighting can
be a real problem on the track. Either there's too little or too much.
The sun may strike from the side, blinding the photographer. If it's
directly in front of you, NYI Graduate Gunnar Mjaugedal suggests
metering the horse. He took "Galoppfelt" using a digital camera and
panned the movement with a 70mm lens. While most of the horses and
jockeys aren't in focus, this photo succeeds in mirroring the movement
of the race. We can imagine how fast they are racing, and feel the
adrenaline being released from all involved. The mix of colors helps
emphasize the movement of the horses.
As we mentioned, there are several classic types of racing photography
images, however, it's important to remember to create diversity. Just
because those classic angles have worked for years on end, it doesn't
mean we have to keep repeating them. For instances, see what a dynamic
effect this photo "Hamering Thor" creates. Gunnar took this from
outside the rail so as not to disturb the horses, but from a high angle
looking down on this grass track. Consequently, we get an interesting
and unique perspective. We don't feel the intensity of this race as
directly as we would if the same photo were taken under the rail.
What's important here is the angle. Gunnar waited for the horses to
come into line with their shadows.
is a classic steeplechase jump shot. The sun is bright and doesn't
distort the photo. Gunnar captures the horse and jockey at the highest
point of their jump. These classic angles - directly in front of the
horse or profiling the horse - are highly saleable for event brochures,
newspapers, and other publications. It's what people expect to see when
they envision horse jumping, and so these types of images can be highly
profitable for a photographer. Ceremony pictures are a must have for
the winner of the tournament. Also, there are a handful of Web sites
that carry stock equine photographs for sale.
Finish line photos of an extremely close race can sometimes be the most
important picture taken during an event, in terms of profit and
possibly determining the winner of a race. For this reason, it's
important to take as many pictures as you can. Generally take five to
seven pictures as the horses approach and cross the finish line. It's
important to get as close to the leading horse as possible. Don't
forget to pan as the horses move toward the finish line. Most
importantly, don't use a strobe light or a strong flash. This may alarm
the horse and cause a great deal of chaos.
At major tracks, the actual order of a close race will be determined by
the track's own special camera used to record the photo finish. That
kind of special gear produces its own interesting image.
it's not essential that you take a photo finish, there are many areas
around the track from which to photograph to create diversity. For
instance, photographing the horses rounding a curve or coming over a
small hill can magnify the action and excitement of the race. You never
want to crop the horse that is your main subject so pay careful
attention of what you are seeing in your viewfinder. This is especially
important if you are photographing a horde of horses. While some of the
animals on the borders may end up being cropped, it's important that
the main subjects are not. You also never want to cut off the horse's
nostrils, which can easily move in a direction that puts them out of
view. Chopping them off is similar to doing the same to a person at
their eyebrows. It just looks funny.
The horseracing season lasts from April till November. The weather in
many places is starting to turn nice again. Take what you've learned
about equine photography and apply it to the racetrack. It's a great
way to expand your talent. Photographing an array of subjects will
challenge your work and consequently, make your photography better in
the long run. On top of it all, going to the racetrack is a great way
to spend an afternoon, sipping the nostalgia of yesteryear and the
romance of the race today.
Next installment we'll be looking at photographing cowboys and rodeos.