Show Life as an Equine Photographer – Part 1

//Show Life as an Equine Photographer – Part 1

One of the most asked questions from budding equine event photographers to me is:

“Just what is a typical day at a big show like?”

Well, that’s actually a really difficult question to answer most of the time as there are many factors that can influence the answer you’ll get from me. I decided that with the main County Show season upon us I’d take some mental notes from one day at a chosen show and share my day with you, as best I can. From the logistical decisions I make before I even take a photograph, through to the emotions encountered and the stories that unfold before me.

So, here it is.

Show Life – 1 day with me at Devon County Show…

The planning for this event started a few months ago really. After being booked by the official event photographers for this back in January, I’d earmarked that as it was a multi-day show with probable long days that I’d rather stop over night than do the commute each day. There’s pro’s and con’s to this in my mind. Devon County isn’t that far for me, its about an hour’s commute and a really straightforward journey. However by staying onsite means it’s not far to get ‘home’ for the night and crash. It also gives you a chance to socialise in the evening (if anyone has the physical capacity to do so) but it also means a bit of a lay in too! Once I make the decision to stay onsite overnight I need to liaise with my husband to make sure the van was available for me. He’s in the military and lives away Mon-Fri, so we have to plan the weekend before an event to swap vehicles over. Sometimes we have to do this well in advance if he’s not going to be around for a while!

After this next thing I consider is clothing. It’s actually a HUGE consideration for County Shows. As mentioned in previous blogs including this one What’s in your bag?, having comfortable footwear & clothing is really important and making a good choice for the whole day matters. I can’t carry around much for the day and you can’t always safely leave a bag stashed somewhere in the ring you are working in.

We are also obliged to wear a hat when in the ring. I don’t mean something that a lady judge might be seen in, but we do need our heads to be covered and the general request is that is it shouldn’t be a baseball cap!

Thankfully with my wise decision to buy a Mackenzie & George fedora, I now have something ultra smart and very comfortable thats waterproof. So for days when a deluge isn’t due this is completely my go-to hat of choice! On the days of the deluge I resort to my wax Stockman’s hat. I’ve had this for about 15 years now and but its just the perfect wet weather hat for me. The brim on this (and the fedora) is flexible which means it doesn’t get in the way of the camera structure at all, then simply flex upwards the tiny bit I need them to move without actually shifting on my head.

I knew the first day was supposed to be mostly dry, really quite warm at times, but with a chance of a shower later on in the day. AKA British Summertime! I decided the lightweight water resistant walking shoes were the best option and took waterproof over trousers to pop on once the rain threatened and hoped that this combo would be the best option for the whole day. I love using walking trousers in this job, they stretch well, are super comfortable and if they do get wet they dry rapidly too. There’s nothing worse than a wet pair of jeans/trousers that you squelch around in for hours… I’ve done that, ugh!

So non-photographic kit decisions made for the first day and options for day 2 packed I left home at 0550 on Thursday morning.

You can hear my initial ‘live from the van’ rambles here.

I was parked onsite for 0700, headed through the show ground to the horse area and sorted my days work with my employer Jay Photos. Once I’d completed a kit check with them to suit their specific set-up needs, I headed off to start my day.

My first class started at 0730.

Yes, that was 0730!

So that’s the first thing I’d say about County Shows, they start early! ?

The second thing is the huge diversity of equines that you’ll be shooting. One day one I covered Arabs and their partbreds and then moved on to Cobs and Working Hunter types. On Day 2 I covered Welsh A’s & B’s mostly. The range of knee action and movements is massive and the speed the legs will move at too. A Welsh A trotting will clearly move quicker than a Maxi-cob in the same gait. Ideally you should have a great understanding of how each breed is likely to be presented to the judge by the handler/rider as there are often differences. I had to be reminded of this particular situation before I headed off to shoot the Arabs, because the moment you’d wait for with say, a Riding Horse, will be very unlikely to appear with an Arab. Your ability to react accordingly is tested heavily in order to get the perfect breed specific trot stride caught on camera. It doesn’t always work for me but most of the time it does…. I think!

Light. We always talk about the light but here sometimes you are forced to work in a way that you can’t specifically control. With Cross Country and Showjumping you can at least pick the fences to work with based on the best light for that day. With showing there’s other factors to consider. At a major show the spectators are important and as such the judges will tend to always line the horses up to face the main crowd. Confirmation trot up’s and individual shows are done again with the crown in mind. This can often mean that we are shooting against the rules of lighting and you have little option. So learning to pick a certain spot to work with helps and then hoping that your intended spot does indeed form part of the initial trot ups!

Visual Backdrops are still a consideration in the same way they are for other disciplines. Whilst many riders really don’t mind the fact it’s a ‘busy’ backdrop as its almost a visual reminder of where they were competing, we still try to avoid port-a-loos, ambulances or telegraph poles. Not always possible, but always a consideration. At Devon County the main arena has a magnificent Union Flag printed right across the front of one of the main marquee’s. Getting ‘the’ shot with the flag in the background is the key seller here 😉

So, with all of this in mind and the shutter not yet pressed once, I headed to the side of the ring in the bright sunshine to take my first images of those Arabs. Nearly 12 hours at 1850 and soaking wet, my shooting day was done…

In the next part of this Show Life blog I’ll go on to explain how my actual days unfolded. The good, the bad and the moment I experienced my own ‘first’…

Have a fabulous week!

Rachel x