You’ve seen these posts before, timing is everything when photographing in the horse world, and sometimes it really just doesn’t work out for you. As a little Friday fun, we thought we’d share some of our bad photos … those moments that looked like they’d turn out perfectly … and then jump decorations, flowers, and other things just had to go and get in the way.

Here are some photographing obstacles we’ve had over the years, and some examples of them at work (from some of the photos we took at last year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair).

The dreaded spectator head

Heads up!

Let’s face it, just when you think you have the perfect shot set up … someone walks by. Sometimes you don’t catch it right away, and sometimes you secretly hope you managed to frame it out (or at worst can crop it out later), but alas, when reviewing your photos later, there it is.

In the most unfortunate of cases you’ve managed to catch the back of some unsuspecting patron’s head, and it blocks the focal point of your photos, sometimes it just an eerie hair or clothing coloured blur or shadow in the corner of the frame. Either way you usually end up with a photo that can’t be salvaged.

The pan slower/faster blur or motion blur

The dreaded blur for not panning properly (too slow in this case) – the focus is in the completely wrong spot (the horse’s hindquarters)

Trying to catch object in motion, from a distance, in less than optimal conditions is a challenge for even the most experienced photographers. You have to get your settings just right, your image framed right, and your timing needs to be spot on. If you are panning to catch a shot, especially in speed events or moments that will pass quickly (e.g. show jumping, barrel racing, pole bending, etc.), move too fast or to slow and you loose the shot.

The result of bad timing is usually blur. Sometimes its minimal and can be fixed with editing, while other times you end up with a shot that barely resembles anything like a horse and rider.

The inanimate object obstacle

Silly yellow flowers … why must you be there?

Despite the fact that they never move on their own, standards and arena décor always seem to get in the way. Its almost unavoidable (okay its avoidable, but they still somehow end up ruining at least one of your photos). Probably one of the most avoidable photo issues, it still manages to rear its ugly head on a few occasions. Its hard to say why we sometimes forget about these objects, maybe its just too easy to get focused on that perfect shot.

In most cases its really hard to salvage these shots, so its best to toss it in the trash box and mourn its loss appropriately.

The too soon

Take-off is not what we were going for here (and motion blur makes it worse).

This is another one of those chronic timing problems equestrian photographers face. You prepared for the shot, and somehow you still ended up with your photo being taken too soon. This is especially problematic when photographing jumpers. There are only a few seconds to catch that perfect airborne moment and even with a camera on continuous shooting mode, you can still end up missing it.

The not soon enough

Its a lovely landing shot … but not what we were going for.

The counter to the “too soon” is the not soon enough. Another common (and dreaded) timing issue strikes again. In jumping photos it usually manifests as the not so pleasant landing shot. It can also manifest itself in may other ways, such as a “butt” or “barrel” shot, when that perfectly framed horse rides out of frame faster than you can catch it.

The bad lighting blues

So bright!

Lets face it, outside of a studio setting you don’t have much control over the lighting. Both indoors and outdoors, lighting is likely always going to pose some challenge. Strong sunlight can cause images to wash out (over exposure), or cast harsh shadows in places you don’t want them. Alternatively, artificial lighting indoors can wreak havoc on your photos by causing them to be over or under exposed, or can drastically alter the colour temperature of your photos (making it too white, or give it a yellowish tinge in some cases, it depends on the type of lighting).

While having your camera set appropriately will help counter some of these issues, sometimes they are unavoidable. In fast paced settings you can’t always be adjusting your settings to match each shot, so when zooming in and out, or moving your shot to different parts of the room or arena (which may have more or less lighting), you may end up with some weird lighting issues.

So how do you avoid some of these dreaded photography blunders?

We won’t lie, in photography (especially equestrian photography), timing is everything. Too soon or too late and your perfect action shot ends up blurry, or missing the key moment. It happens to everyone, even the professionals, and there is really nothing you can do about it. Bad shots happen, it comes with the territory. But there are ways to minimize them.

Practice and know your Equipment.

This is especially vital if you have new equipment or don’t photograph too often. Knowing your camera inside and out really helps get that great shot, and knowing how fast your camera can shoot is step one. The next step is getting a feel for how quick it shoots, and how it reacts in different conditions. Taking photos in a sunny outdoor ring is going to be much different than shooting indoors under artificial lighting. We recommended just spending some quality time with your camera, take it to different events, try shooting in different lighting situations and with different settings to get a sense of how your camera reacts. Then you’ll be better prepared when the day comes and you are trying to get a great shot of your favourite equestrian athletes, or just your buddies riding around at the barn.

Pick your spot.

To avoid unwanted obstacle blockages and spectators crossing your shot, scope out your perfect spot in advance. While in some cases, and at some events, you may have more room to move around and get different angles, at many events you are restricted to a certain space (ex. media booth, spectator seating, etc.). So scope out your spot in advance if you can. If you are photographing a jumping class, for example, pick a spot that gives you a clear view to a couple of different fences that riders will be riding towards you (or parallel to you). It helps if you know the course in advance. It also helps if you can get a spot higher up, or closer to the front, to avoid spectators passing directly in front of your lens.

Quality of Equipment.

Different cameras photograph differently. Point and shoot digital cameras will perform differently than digital SLRs. While professional equipment may perform better than most consumer products, don’t be discouraged. There are a lot of affordable camera options out there that will help you get great shots, without breaking your budget. When shopping it pays to know what type of setting you will likely be shooting in (e.g., outdoor or indoor, natural or artificial lighting), the things you will be photographing (only horse shows, or do you want it to be a good everyday camera as well?), and the price point you are looking at. If you are looking at a DSLR option, you will need to make sure you budget not only for the camera body, but the type of lens (or lenses) you will need the most.

It also helps to know the limits of your equipment. This will allow you to adapt your technique to fit the scenario. For example, if your camera performs slower in indoor settings with artificial lighting, then you will have to set your camera settings and frame your shots in a way that allows your camera to perform as best as possible in the poorer conditions.