August 13, 2011 - Hot, Dirty, Dark Work - I Love It!!

A couple weeks ago I did some event shooting, something I don't normally do a lot of (though it seems like I've been doing a lot more lately!). In this case, I was shooting at the Boone County Fair for the 4-H / FFA Horse Show. I shot on a Friday night when they had the "games", and then again on Sunday when they had the more formal classes. Shooting the horse show took me back to my photographic roots. When I was a teenager, we lived in Pennsylvania very near the Devon Horse Show grounds (west of Philadelphia), and I did a lot of my early photography there. In those days — the mid '70s — I was shooting film, of course, mostly Plus-X black and white film, which I developed and printed in the darkroom my brothers had set up in our house before they went off to college. While the technology has changed completely, horse shows haven't. There was a lot that was familiar from thirty-five plus years ago!

This was during the height of our July heat wave, and the temperatures were in the upper 90's. All the shooting was done in the arena at the County Fairgrounds, a big dirt-floor structure with just a handfull of mercury-vapor floodlights, limited ventilation, and of course no air conditioning. The good news was we were out of the sun, the bad news was we were also out of any breeze. During the early part of Friday, and most of Sunday, there was some daylight coming in, mostly from open barn doors, but it was still dark. As you can see in the shot at the right, even if there was light, it was usually not where you needed it. Don't get me wrong, it was a good time, but trying to shoot moving subjects in low light at a distance can be quite a challenge, even if you aren't dripping with sweat!

For those who are technically minded, I was mostly shooting at 3200 ISO (as fast as my old Canon 5D can go - I've since upgraded to the 5D-Mk II to avoid just this problem!), f/4.5 (wide open on a 70-300mm Zoom) at 1/125 second (barely fast enough to avoid complete blurring of a moving horse). Everything was pushed to the limit. I couldn't use flash in the arena, partly because of the size, but mostly because it could spook the horses. In that low light, the lens did a lot of seeking, trying to find a focus lock, too. And once I got the shots, at 3200 ISO there was a LOT of noise that had to be cleaned up as much as possible. This was especially true since most of the shots had to be brought up one or two EV. Definitely some challenges there!

The games on Friday evening were lots of fun. There was "ride a buck", wehre the riders had to put a dollar bill between their calf and the horse and then ride at various gaits without losing the dollar. The last rider with her dollar still in place wins the game (and the fallen dollars!). There was also "egg and spoon" (shown), where the riders had to balance an egg in a plastic spoon while riding at various gaits. The last one with the egg in place wins. Messy, but fun! Then came more serious games having to slalom betwen posts or grab a flag from the top of one barrel and drop it into another barrel (also shown). On Sunday things were more formal for the most part. Most of the time the riders had to take the horse through a pattern, one at a time, showing various gaits and their control and form while a judge scored them.

We had a booth set up where we could do "portraits," and some of the riders took advantage of that as well. It at least had real light (I brought some of my studio flashes, which were no problem with a single horse not being judged at the time). I had Melanie Andrich assisting me that day, and she was a lifesaver - I couldn't imagine trying to do everything without her help! She dealt with orders (we had two laptops there with shots going up as quickly as possible), took pictures when I was tied up elsewhere and basically kept me sane (not an easy task at any time!). We even had a printer there and were doing 8x10's at the show for people to take home with them. It was quite a production!! One definte plus was having my Square credit card device. With that plugged into my smart phone I could take credit cards right there in the arena. If any of you are trying to events and want to take credit cards - or even if you are in a fixed location and only occasionally need credit cards, you should definitely check out Square!

This was definitely a different sort of activity for me, and one that challenged me physically (the heat), technically (the dark), and professionally (managing evertything those days, editing hundreds of shots and getting them posted on my website). I'll probably do it again next year, especially since I now have a camera with much improved high-ISO performance (and better resolution, to boot), and might even do some other activities like it. Keep me in mind, anyway!

Happy shooting!

Back to The Photographer's Journal

©2008 ArtSmith Photography, all rights reserved.     HomePortfolioAbout ASPCapabilitiesPricingContactJournal