Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Editing is A-OK

A recent phenomenon I've seen lately, mostly across Instagram and deviantART, is that of "no edit." Basically, many people are for some reason equating an unedited photograph to being superior to a photograph that has gone through an editing process solely because of its "natural beauty."

Yes, you will capture a few shots that look fine without your intervention, but as someone who works with both digital photography and analog film photography (including processing and printing my own negatives), the editing process is an integral part in bringing out your voice in most of the photographs you'll take - that goes for anything, not just model horses. Taking a photograph is a collaboration between the camera and the photographer, not just one or the other.

If I'm hiring (and in turn paying a decent sum of money to) a professional photographer to shoot something, they better make those photographs look as great as they possibly can. More often than not, this will require some amount of editing.

Now, I'm sure when most people think "editing," they picture your typical Instagram-style photo: washed-out colors, hipster filter, maybe some words or overlaying textures. That's another topic for another day and doesn't really belong in this discussion. Still, people tend to unfairly group post-processing in with this. I have seen so many fantastic photos that would improve tenfold with just a little zap of vibrance or contrast to make them full of life!

I will unashamedly admit it outright: every model horse photo on my deviantART account has been edited in some way - usually with just what I call "darkroom edits" - i.e. techniques that would be found in your typical darkroom setting such as adjusting contrast, burning, and dodging, and sometimes I may add a pang of vibrance to make colors pop a bit or adjust the tint (especially with snow photos, which often turn out very blue) to balance the colors if need be. I often shoot in RAW format, so my go-to editing software is Adobe Camera Raw, which is used by both amateur and professional photographers.

Take the photo below for example. The top one is "no edit" and has not been touched since being imported from the camera. The bottom one has gone through simple post-processing in Camera Raw.

 See the difference? It's subtle, but it gives the photo a bit more life. For editing the bottom photo, I used the following methods: balanced out the blue hue cast by the snow with some yellow, used the Recover tool to bring back some shadows, upped contrast, sharpened the image a bit, slightly burned the edges to "frame" the horse, and used the Clarity tool to bring out her paint pattern a bit more.

All in all, what I'm trying to say here is that editing is an awesome way to give your photos a little bit of an edge within the vast sea of other model horse photos. It's not wrong, it's not cheating. You don't need any expensive programs to do it, either - there is a ton of freeware across the internet for photo editing that can do subtle changes along with bigger ones. Be creative and have fun.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Don't Forget Footing

Along with angles, outdoor footing is the other most often ignored facet of outdoor model horse photography. The fault lies in scale - the relative size of the footing compared to the model horse. I'll do a full post on scale later in time, so hang tight.

This post will cover the two most commonly out of scale footing types: grass and snow. In general, I try to keep footing as high as the horse's fetlock at most. Snow can be a little higher, but generally anything above that height looks out of scale in proportion to the horse.


Admittedly, grass is a very hard type of footing to perfect. Unfortunately, our lawn mover broke down this summer, so currently our backyard is somewhat of a jungle and I don't have a good example of an in-scale grass footing photo. Generally, it is best to take photos with freshly-cut grass to keep it as in scale as possible. Some try to pass off this grass as "tall grass," but in reality tall grass and normal grass look nothing like each other. Examine the two photos below:

Photo #1 is another one of my early photos. The whole idea of the photo is actually pretty nice: two Shires walking out to pasture after a day of work. However, the execution... not so much. First and foremost, we have the angle issue, and the grass is much too long - extending up to their hocks, gaskins, and even a few blades up to their bellies.

Photo #2 is unfortunately artificial grass for reasons as stated above, but much more in scale with the horse. It gathers around the hooves only and doesn't extend above the fetlock. The bushes aren't my favorite, but that's beside the point of this post.


Snow is a bit easier to deal with than grass, but still tricky, especially when you have a large amount on the ground. Like grass, you shouldn't let snow get above the fetlocks, but you can fudge with it a bit more than grass. The big idea to keep in mind is that yes, horses can move in higher amounts of snow (within reason, of course) but it might not be as gracefully as the model's pose suggests. Now, examine these two photos:

Photo #1 actually could be a lot worse. The camera is almost level with the horse, and I like the touch of him having snow piling on his back, since it's probably taking him a while to get through it. The big problem here is the height of the snow. Once you start getting to the forearm, gaskin, and the chest, horses tend to have a hard time moving. (For example, see this video of miniature horses in snow that's chest height.) If this horse were real, his gait would have to be much more exaggerated and strained to get through that much snow.

Photo #2 is a big improvement. The snow could be deeper, but this height is just fine to set the scene. The horse can move easily and he is not constrained by the height of the snow. The bits of grass sticking up are also in scale and are disguised as stray plants that were too long to be covered up by the snow at this point in time.

Snow is also easier to work with than grass because of the fact that you can change the height of it much easier. If it's too high, you can shovel out an area, and if it's too low, you can take some from another area and move it to where you need it.

Remember - it's okay to break up snow and/or create "hoofprints" behind the model; in fact, you probably should do it. Horses don't just magically fall from the sky into a snowbank, you know! They're constantly moving and breaking up the snow around them.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Importance of Angles

Angles are very, very important. Of all the factors that play into taking a believable model horse photo, it is by far the most crucial - and often times the most easily neglected.

Unless you are a giant or are standing on a concerningly high podium, there's a good chance you would not be looking down on a real horse when photographing it. Seems like common sense, right? However, many peoples' first instinct when photographing a model horse outside is to put the model on the ground, stand up or squat next to it, and take the picture.

Presenting one of my earliest model horse photos, taken exactly five years ago according to the EXIF data (yikes, it's been that long?!)

I had just turned 13. Don't look at me.

There's a LOT wrong with this photo that I could talk about, but today we are just going to focus on the angle. Trust me, we'll revisit this photo and other circa 2008 gems in future installments.

Anywho, as you can see, just the angle of this photo makes it look quite unrealistic. As I said earlier, rarely do people take photos of real horses looking down upon them. If realism is your goal, you have to make sure the angle is level with the horse, or in some cases below it if you're feeling fancy.

Yes, that means you're going to have to lay on the ground on your stomach if you want to get the angle right. If you're squeamish about whatever the heck is down in that grass or just want to be comfortable, bring out a beach towel to lay on. Aim, focus, and fire, and remember, the viewfinder is your friend. If you got the angle right, your photo should hopefully come out looking something like this:

Ah yes, much better. See, he's charging right at you!

You don't even need a fancy DSLR to practice this technique - it can be used with any camera from your iPhone to a point-and-shoot. This simple fix is one of the most important steps in giving your model horse photos that extra edge.