"Turn up at a show and take a few photos, I could do that!" I've heard this one a few times before. It all looks pretty lavish on a hot, sunny day, I get a tan and shoot horses all day, come home, put your photos online for you all to pour over. Well, that's not exactly what goes on, so I thought for this month's blog entry I could give you an insight into what goes on behind the scenes, and what better an example than a weekend of dressage at Reaseheath, consisting of British Dressage on the Saturday, and unaffiliated dressage on the Sunday.
Typically, the day before a show (in this case, it's a Friday), I make sure my camera is on charge first thing in the morning, I do this early on thanks to a bad experience where my camera had managed to "un-charge" itself during the night, leaving me very panicked and stressed for the rest of the day. I also like to prepare meals for the next two days, so I won't get hungry and lose focus. I like to eat fairly healthily too, to avoid sugar crashes and the risk of my focus nose diving, so this is rather important. I check schedules, to see how many competitors to expect during the day, what tests I'll be covering, and most importantly, what time the first and last test will be. Saturday's first test was at 9:30am, last test set for approximately 3:30pm. I say approximately as we sometimes run ahead or behind schedule. The next thing on the to do list is to check the weather forecast, so I should be fairly prepared for what mother nature plans on forcing upon me and I can pack my car up with the relevant clothing. This weekend called for gloves, hat, scarf, my extra thick hoodie (To go over the thermal base layer and slightly thinner hoodie), an extremely puffy body warmer, and a rather large, long coat, affectionately known as the "duvet coat" for it's sheer size and warmth.
Saturday morning rolls in, and my alarm going off at 6:15am, so I throw on some scruffy clothes to go out and feed my own horses, and get the three that are in mucked out. Next stop, breakfast, then loading food and camera equipment into the car, before getting changed and hitting the road for 8:30am. I like to give myself plenty of time to get to an event to make room for any traffic delays, always aiming to arrive 15 minutes before the show is set to start (unless it's an unfamiliar venue, then I arrive half an hour before). I arrive in good time, unloading my camera, extra layers, chair, and food to position in the corner of the indoor arena. I call in at the office on the way past to say good morning and briefly go over anything that may have changed, before placing business cards in the most visible places. This requires a little bit of tact, I have to think about where the best places to put cards to catch the eye of clients, so that they know who has been shooting for the day, advertising is half the battle. On this day, I place them along the low wall of the indoor where people like to lean and watch others compete, and also put a small stack where sheets and rosettes are laid out after the tests.
All set and ready to go!
Once I've settled in where I need to be in the arena (For prelim tests it's usually a top corner of the school, to capture the salute facing towards me at the end of the test) I test my settings, checking ISO, shutter speed, and aperture are set for the right exposure (If I'm in a very quiet indoor I also set a quiet shutter mode), and then put one headphone in to play some quiet music, I find that music helps keep me focused on a long day. When the first competitor comes in, I test my exposures again, for example, a grey I would need a lower set exposure than a bay, who would need a higher one. At this point I asses the horse, if he appears to be spooky then I will do a few test shots when he is further up the arena to see how he reacts to my camera, if he seems very relaxed, then I don't have to worry about test shots. A big part of the job when covering dressage is to get my job done without the horse and rider even noticing what I'm doing, minimal disturbance is key.
With the ring of the judges bell, the test begins. On every test, no matter what level, I like to capture the combinations up the centre line, this also gives me a good gauge of how the horse may react to me during his test. At prelim I make sure I capture photos in each gait, taking multiple shots to give clients a good choice to pick from later, sometimes this can be up to 25 images of one single competitor, which when you add it up, results in a massive number of images in one day. I will often delete images that don't make the cut during the day to save extra work later on. Once the Prelim tests had finished, I was left with around 240 images.
We moved onto the novice, and after a quick check of the test, I moved myself further down the arena , to be level with E. The reason behind this that I knew where the medium trot would take place, so I needed to be at the right angle for riders to be trotting slightly towards me, this is a very flattering angle for a medium trot.
During tests, I often hear things that really make me smile, the sort of things that, as a spectator, you wouldn't often hear. There was one particular rider who I recall hearing her say "Just do your best" to her horse before going in between the boards, and then I regularly heard her telling her horse what a good boy he was, and how wonderful he was during the whole test, I really couldn't help but smile. When she had finished, I heard her telling her horse how amazing he had been as well. I think, as riders, to have that amount of love for our horses is something we can all relate to.
Being sat in an arena, with a large camera, in a big puffy coat, can be a little scary for some horses. I had one rider say the following to her horse when he first spotted me "I know, scary photographer, she's gonna eat you, she's gonna eat you if you do a bad test" I will be honest, I couldn't help but laugh upon hearing that. Sometimes bargaining is the only way to get things done!
After this large entry, I was finished with just over 300 photos. The day continued on, running through one Elementary class, and then two Mediums. However, a few competitors didn't turn up for the Medium tests, so we had only one entry to actually compete. She came in, rode two lovely tests with a caller, and as she finished, her caller had treats on her and proceeded to give this horse a few treats as a reward for his efforts. A relatively early finish at 3:30pm, and a lovely way to round off the day. I proceeded to collect up business cards and the rest of my equipment, ready to head home.
Once home, I needed to feed and bring in my own horses before heading over to my boyfriend's house to process, he has a better internet connection than I have at home, hence the extra travel.
Treats after a lovely test from our final combination
Now begins the mammoth job of processing over 700 images, one some days I can have up to 1300 images, so this was a light day. I import photos by class into Adobe Lightroom, on import, my usual presets are applied to give the images my individual look, and then I proceed to adjust exposures and cropping on each individual photo where appropriate.
At around 9pm, I received a message on my photography Facebook page, normally I would ignore messages out of hours, but this was one seemed a little more urgent. A fellow photographer had messaged me to inform me that a rider who I had photographed the week previous had stolen one of my images, she was using it to advertise a £6000 horse, with a stolen image that would have cost her £2.50. After a slightly deeper look, it appeared that she had taken about 8 other images and had done this to other photographers as well. I asked that the images were removed immediately, but instead was blocked. This is the biggest problem facing photographers today, without paying customers, we can't afford to go on. I honestly found myself questioning why I do what I do, it made the next day feel particularly rough. How many others had stolen my work and left me scraping to get by? By 11:20pm, I had finished processing the prelim and Novice, with the prelim class uploading, and novice exporting from lightroom, it was time for bed.
Ready for importing and processing
The next morning I was up at 6:30am again, for a first test at 9:30am. Horses fed and mucked out, breakfast eaten, camera charged and ready for action, I hit the road at 8:30am. Driving to Reaseheath, the rain was pouring, the forecast looking grim for the rest of the day. When I arrived there were competitors waiting in their lorries, reluctant to emerge from the warmth of their vehicles. This particular morning I was earlier than usual, so once set up, I spent a while chatting with the girls in the office, waiting for our judges to arrive. While talking, a mother came in with two children in tow and a asked Heather (Reaseheath's event coordinator) if she had any plastic bags. Heather had a little rummage under her desk and managed to produce one. Gratefully, this woman took the bag and some string designed to hold rider numbers on, and proceeded to strap this plastic bag around her child's riding hat! Parents creativity never ceases to amaze me.
Once the judge for the indoor arena had arrived, I headed into position, feeling grateful to be under a roof and not in the unrelenting downpour that competitors were warming up in. First competitor in, dripping wet, on an equally soggy pony, the bell rang and day two of competition was off to a start. Throughout the day, we had a large number of competitors who didn't turn up due to the foul weather, which made for large gaps in the classes.
During a gap in one class, I noticed that a number of organisers and students seemed engrossed by some horses warming in in the outdoor arena. I decided to get a better look at what had entranced them all. Two competitors had turned up on a beautiful pair of stallions, which appeared to be Spanish bred. You can imagine my excitement, a small dream of mine is to photograph Lusitanos in Portugal, and having not shot PRE's before, this was a good chance to see what would happen through my lens!
The first was a hugely expressive young grey stallion, who appeared to just be getting the hang of his enormously expressive paces, his medium trot was really something else. After the grey, came a slightly heavier black stallion with a hugely regal presence about him. He was beautiful, his movement powerful and coordinated.
Regal doesn't even cover this horse!
Slowly, the day went on, large gaps in classes continuing to draw out the day. By 4:45pm, the final class had drawn to an end, the rain just beginning to make a reappearance as it had held off for some of the afternoon, giving us a much needed break from the relentless downpour. I headed home, around 800 images on my XQD card, reflecting on the day. Once horses were fed, it was back to the other half's to continue processing, catching up on the remains of Saturday's images and starting on today's. The evening drew on, before it was bed time at 11:30pm, I was exhausted, my eyes had already closed once or twice while I was sat at my desk. Two 14 hour days back to back, and the work wasn't over yet.
The next morning I was up early to feed my own horses and ride out before I continued processing Sunday's dressage. The day was spend quietly working through the hundreds of images, thinking about future projects as I went. By approximately 5:30, I was done, it had been a long weekend, but photos were advertised on Facebook, all I could do was wait for my wages to appear through orders now.
So there you have it, that's just a weekend in the life of a professional photographer, but what do I do with the rest of the week? Well I have to keep my clients and potential clients interested in what I'm doing, so updating my Instagram 3 times a week at a minimum, posting on my Facebook business page about upcoming events and occasional projects, once a month blog posts (Which can take a considerable amount of time to produce), website updates and maintenance, looking for events to cover, replying to emails which can consist of an array of subjects, planning shoots with our sponsored rider Anna Brown, keeping an eye on orders, the list could go on and on. Running a photography business doesn't look like much on the outside, but when you take a magnifying glass, there's a lot going on to keep things slick, oiled, and constantly moving forward.
Next month, we have a really exciting blog entry, we are spending a day in the life at Anna Brown's yard, we'll see how horses from all levels of dressage are trained and cared for with an intimate insight through the lens, I hope you're all as excited as I am!