A Horse is a Horse of Course, of Course!

The Olympia Camera Club at

Aspen Farms Eventing Center, Yelm, Washington.

 Show Jumping in the arena. A show jumping course comprises a series of colored fences usually made up of lightweight rails that are easily knocked down.

Show Jumping in the arena. A show jumping course comprises a series of colored fences usually made up of lightweight rails that are easily knocked down.

I usually photograph things that don’t move; trees, leaves, rocks, mountains, small details where I can take my time to get up close and personal. Nobody runs, nobody gets fuzzy, and nobody gets hurt.

 Share the love.

Share the love.

 Someone was all smiles.

Someone was all smiles.

As part of my new Walkabout in Washington State, I joined the Olympia Camera Club. The camera club meetings just started anew after a summer break and everyone was invited on a field trip to the Aspen Farms Eventing Center in Yelm, Washington.

The challenge was to photograph the Cross Country and Jumping Horse Trials.

Horses jumping, running, and splashing in the water. Photographing sizeable beautiful moving objects was definitely an excursion outside my comfort zone. A photography adventure in my new backyard.

 Cross Country. The object of this test is to prove the speed, endurance, and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and obstacles.

Cross Country. The object of this test is to prove the speed, endurance, and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and obstacles.

“Eventing” is when horses with riders go through courses with water hazards and all kinds of interesting jumps. The cross country is the most "open” event with field and forest backgrounds, natural jumps like fallen logs and ponds and plenty of room to put up a camera. Cross country horses and riders start across the course individually at staggered times (i.e., perhaps 10 minutes apart.)

The club invitation said, “we may also expect to photograph people and horses that are not moving.”

I didn’t expect it to be easy - and it wasn’t. Here are some of my photos and what I learned while trying to photograph at the Aspen Farms Eventing Center.

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Know the Subject. It took me a while to figure out where I was and what was going on with all the events. Who are these people? Where are the events? Where can I stand? What is the story? Why take photos? Who cares? I apparently was doing the photographic “spray and pray,” hoping that I got something photographically interesting out of my day.

Distance Makes a Difference. You can’t get very close to a jumping horse. We had to be aware and follow the safety instructions while on the course. This meant that my iPhone and my Lumix were nearly useless. When activities slowed down, I allowed myself to revert back to my comfort zone by photographing some of the small quiet moments behind the scenes. I’m sure I released a big ‘sigh’ of relief when I found something not moving.

Respect the Subject. Everyone was so beautiful and the tension was high. I talked to a few supportive spectators. They were there on a mission along with horses and the riders. Performance anxiety, stage fright, nervous energy, high spirits, and release were everywhere. It was not about photography or photos. It was about performing in the moment after months of practice and years of hard work.

 Focus is important for the rider, the horse, and photographers.

Focus is important for the rider, the horse, and photographers.

Know Thy Camera. The first thing I found out was how much I don’t know about my camera. I packed my Olympus OMD EM-5 mark 2, my Lumix 100, and my trusty iPhone. My Olympus was fun, but I took more time and attention than I like. I prefer traveling light and ‘nimble’ when I am taking photographs. I also want to own “the photographer takes a photograph, not the camera.” There is no way I could catch a moving rider and horse with my iPhone. My Lumix was also not much help with moving objects, but I did feel less conspicuous in the stable area.

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 The professionals on the cross country course.

The professionals on the cross country course.

Speed Matters. The guy with the mondo extra large Cannon lens said “Everything was moving, I was shooting at 1/1600 (of a second.)” In my head, I’m thinking, “Oh $#!+ I have no idea of what I am doing. I was shooting at 1/60th of a second.” Barely fast enough to stop normal movement. In-camera talk, I was draggin’ ass in a big way, and it shows in my photos - fuzzy, blurry messes of mixed results.

Consistency is Tough. Thank goodness there were professional photographers on the course and thank goodness I am an amateur. I watched two hired photographers sit in one spot all morning pointed in one direction. It did not look like fun, but I bet they got the “money shot.”

Depth of Field is Difficult. The story was about riders and horses. In the field, I couldn’t see that I was getting one clear and the other was blurry. In photography talk, I was not using a small aperture and fast speed combined with a usable ISO. I forgot my Photography 101 lesson. So a fuzzy rider, and a horse in focus, or vice-versa, isn’t doing the subject justice. Both need to be crisp and clear.

 Depth of field practice - with things that aren’t moving.

Depth of field practice - with things that aren’t moving.

Life First, Photos Second. I didn’t get the money shot. Most of my best photos from the day are only mediocre, but it was fun. My expectations were set low for photographic results knowing how little experience I have with large moving objects. But, without the Camera Club invitation, I would have never taken the scenic drive through my back neighborhood to watch beautiful horses and their competitive, driven riders. It was a unique event that I would not have experienced if it weren’t for the invitation of the Olympia Camera Club.

Thank you Olympia Camera Club for showing me an unusual morning activity.

Where is our next field trip? I can’t wait!

Thank you, Dennis Plank and his wife, Michelle, for the tip about this exciting opportunity.

 Stylin’ at the end of the day. I’m sure he said, “She made me wear this.”

Stylin’ at the end of the day. I’m sure he said, “She made me wear this.”