I have been privileged throughout my life to have been surrounded by so many talented and inspiring artists with a diverse range of processes and methods of working. Recently this has led me to spend more time, and frankly try to learn as much as possible, from fine art photographer Dawn Jutton. So when she offered to let me shadow her on a recent commission to photograph an equestrian horse I was more than happy to take up this opportunity.
We arrived at Ingestre Stables, in contrast to the weather forecast, with the sun shining brightly. Despite having lived in the Midlands for most of my life, and being a keen rider as a kid, I had never heard of this stable yard, let alone visited. But upon walking through the grandiose gateway to the central stable yard it was clear to see why Vogue had recently chosen this venue for an Autumn/Winter collection photo shoot.
After a brief wander around the historic grounds, we met with our client, Emily, and she took us to meet our subject for the day, Zeus. An imposing grey Lusitano, Zeus, like any animal you attempt to photograph, was an unknown entity – would he love the camera, or be skittish of the reflective lens and sound of the shutter? Or, would he just be one of those subjects that poses perfectly until you have everything set up just right and then moves at the second you press the shutter button (although this seems to be a feline trait, and I’m sure they know exactly what they are doing!).
Luckily, it didn’t take long for Zeus to get used to us and the strange black boxes we had intermittently pressed to our faces. It’s fair to say that by the time he’d had a quick bath and been tacked up, he was firmly in the first category of posing and loving the attention. And a number of his stable mates were looking to get in on the action as well.
Despite the bright sunlight outside, inside the stable block the light was limited which required a higher ISO to allow for the higher shutter speed we needed to capture our subject, who was not always prone to standing perfectly still. This wasn’t an issue by the time we got outside, however, and took advantage of the fabulous sunlight. Nevertheless, we still had the added difficulty of trying to catch Zeus in motion as he strutted around the dressage arena.
Zeus himself, described as grey, but in horse speak this also means white, presented a difficult subject. His owner, Emily, had noted that he wasn’t the most photogenic horse, despite his regal appearance in person. The issue comes from his exquisite colouring, as white bounces back all the light at the camera lens, meaning you have to work harder to capture the tones and nuance within his form than you would with a Bay horse. This is the same for all black animals as well, as I often find that trying to capture images of our black Labrador can be frustrating when he just comes out as a black mass – here, however, black absorbs all the light, rather than reflecting it. Similar problems, but different variables at play.
There’s still more editing to be done on the shots from this photo session, but it was a great day – being a photographer really can take you to some fascinating places.