Category Archives: Wild Horse Photography

Swimming Horses

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Along the coast of North Carolina, there is a population of wild horses thought to be the oldest in North America. It was here where Western Civilization first crashed into mainland North America, and these horses are thought to be the result of these very first attempts and exploration and colonization.

This breed is known officially as the Banker horse, and unlike those wild herds of the west, the two populations of these mustangs are federally protected due to their historical significance.

For the last 400 years, these horses have adapted to a world of sand and salt, of hurricanes and nor’easters. Surviving on salt marsh grass such as spartina, and digging their own wells in the by pawing down to through the sand in low areas known as swales, these horses have survived countless calamities – including the shipwrecks for which some the original stock of horses are believed to have washed ashore form.

On one particular island, many of the individuals swim out along the edge of an inlet, through a bull shark nursery, fighting tidal rips, and risking drowning, to access tiny marsh islets where they will feed until the tide begins to drop again and they swim with the current back to their island home.

I created this image from my skiff – a flat bottom boat specifically designed for running in and navigating the treacherous shoal water around these islands. I have spent countless hours on these islands photographing the horses that eke out a living there. And this is a particular shot that I have spent several years trying to capture.

Part of the problem in the past, was that I was attempting to photograph these horses while they were actually swimming. Seeing a herd of these animals sweep past you with the current is an incredible experience, but it is definitely one that is best captured with video not still photography. What it finally took, was realizing that, from a still photography perspective, capturing the horses just before they officially kicked free of Terra firma was the moment that made the photograph.

Let the horses swim and you have a distinctly awkward horse head that looked like a furry alligator’s head sticking above the water. I still have ideas floating around in my brain for a shot that will work with the actual swimming, but I will need an underwater housing and a 9 inch dome port to make that happen.

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If only I had a picture of me taking this picture

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I had just pulled my boat into the protected bay inside of the marsh where these horses were feeding. I was still actually idling my way in when this whole scenario began to unfold and really had no time to get myself into position, the boat anchored securely, and me and my gear into the water and set up on a shoal (sandbar) to shoot this.

Realizing I was in a sort of do or die moment here, I chucked the anchor of the bow, ran back to my camera, wrapped my leg around the chrome pole to the hardtop over the center console of my boat, and then hurled my body over the side of the boat. The result was me dangling head first over the water with me ankles hanging onto that pole for dear life.

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Who Are You Trying to Impress

In today’s world of digital photography, you basically have two types of photographers: those who are trying to impress other photographers, and those who are trying to impress photo buyers. Do you know which one you are? Do you know the difference?

Really what it usually boils down to is whether or not you are actively making money from your photography. You see, photo buyers have very different needs and interests than other photographers. Where as photographers place an emphasis on technical perfection, photo buyers on the other hand are looking for images that tell a story and capture their attention.

This isn’t just the editorial world either. For those not familiar with the term editorial, I mean magazines, newspapers, and print medium general. This is also the fine art world, advertising agencies, and private clients. People who are buying photography, especially those whose job it is to buy photography, are doing so for a reason, and that reason isn’t simply technical perfection.

Go down to your local bookstore and take a look at your favorite magazines that feature photos of the natural world (not photography related magazines) and do the research for yourself. What will stand out to you very quickly, especially with magazines like National Geographic, are that the photos gracing the pages of those magazines are vastly different the ones that everyone strives for on photography forums. The difference? The photographs ability to tell a story or convey emotion.

In this photo, you will see that the image is not technically perfect. The shutter speed was too slow to completely stop the action, the horses are somewhat soft, it was back lit and had to be processed somewhat in order to bring out detail in the subjects. This image does not fall under the standard technical excellency that most photographer’s are looking for in their images.  With that said however, the power of this image is undeniable. It conveys a message. It tells a story of the clash between two Titans. The blur of the action actually helps to show you the power and explosiveness of this fight. This is a highly salable photograph.

The next time you are out in the field photographing, ask yourself…. Who is it that you are trying to impress with your photos? You will find that your workflow and creative process might just change dramatically with this one simple question.

Also posted in Business, The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography

Making Something out of Nothing

Things don’t always work out the way you want them to. The light is not always perfect. The subject is not always in a great location. There are so many variables that you must contend with when in the wild photographing. Successful outdoor photography, whether you are photographing wild horses along the coast of North Carolina (where I made this image yesterday), or birds in the rainforest of Honduras is all about learning how to work with the cards that you were dealt.

Yesterday, a major fight broke out between two dominant stallions on the island. I had been waiting all day long for this sort of action and finally, after hours of anticipation, here it was. The only problem was that the horses were up in amongst these very large ceder trees which offered just small windows of opportunity to photograph in between. Of all places for the this to occur, it had to be here. There are hundreds of wide open acres encompassing the tidal flats that begin just a few yards away, but instead here it was.

There was simply no way to photograph this action. It just wasn’t going to happen. No amount of maneuvering with the horses would have given me a single usable photograph. So instead, I spun around to scan the other horses’ reactions. Sure enough, these three stallions had trotted over to the sidelines if you will, to witness the outcome of this fight. Normally you don’t get this sort of reaction from the other stallions. However, when you are dealing with a fight of this magnitude – all stand at attention to watch.

When I saw the three heads lined up perfectly like this I immediately knew how I wanted to photograph these boys. Working my way around them so that the sun would create a halo effect around their heads, I also composed so as to take advantage of the large dark ceder that they were standing next to in order to create a pitch black background. Stop and consider this just for a second. I went from a ruined shot because of the cedars, to exploiting those very same trees in order to create an artistic portrait of these three stallions. I played the cards I was dealt and was rewarded handsomely.

When you can learn how to size up your surroundings and exploit weaknesses and make something out of what was seemingly nothing, you will find that your photographic opportunities and keepers will grow exponentially.