Why I have the coolest job at Canadian Nationals
Stalking the Emotional Moment
Like any profession, photography—elevated to it’s highest form— is a mix of technical (hard) skills and intangible (soft) skills. The first can be taught. The second is the result of a career’s worth of experiences—years invested learning your subject matter, immersing your self in their environment, and knowing where to be (and when). In my case as an equine photographer and member of the Jeff Janson Photography team, I’ve been lucky enough to bank more than 30 years’ worth of experiences on both sides of the equine camera – in the ring as a photographer and on the horse as a competitor. All of which led me to having…the coolest job at Canadian Nationals!
Knowing your subject.
To be successful, we photographers need a thorough understanding of our subject matter.
In the case of equine photographers, that means we need to understand horses in general, but often also means specializing – knowing a particular breed, or style of riding inside out. Whether a photograph’s intended purpose is advertising and marketing or to commemorate a child's win, the exact moment we fire our cameras can determine whether the picture is a sale…or remains a lonely and unsold proof.
When it comes to horse show photography, I can only speak to the world of Arabian horses, but within that microcosm exists a multitude of riding disciplines that each require a nuanced understanding of what makes a photo a “money shot”. The most important shots during national championship shows are the win photos. There are three types: 1) the standing win photo, 2) the victory lap, and 3) the “emotional memory-makers”. All three are equally important and capture the moment of a lifetime through a different lens (literally and figuratively) which is why we have at least two photographers in the main ring at a national event. As lead photographer, Jeff Janson is the master of the standing win photos and the victory laps from center ring. These two perspectives are the shots that proclaim and document for all time the victory inside the ring. The set up and the precision timing required by Jeff — to capture the exact stride and break over point needed on English vs. Western vs. Hunter— is its own art form.
Stalking the emotional moment.
At the same time Jeff is taking the official win photo and victory lap from center ring, my focus – literally my lens – is aimed elsewhere. One of my jobs (and I love my job) is covering the human interest angles best captured from the in-gate and out-gate. These pictures are the “story behind the win”; the emotional moments when friends, family, and trainers hear the call go out over the loud speaker and react with true, heartfelt emotion. These shots aren’t staged, yet capturing them does not happen by accident; its all about stalking the emotional moment.
Many times the emotional moment is right after the horse is "dressed" with their rose blanket, as shown in the photo below.
Sometimes it's on the exhibitors face as they make their way down victory lane.
However, sometimes that very special moment comes earlier.And this is where my knowledge of the exhibitors and the event (coupled with 30+ years of experience) comes in handy. In an Arabian championship class, the champion is the always last horse announced. Family, friends, trainers and grooms—everyone who has emotional or sweat equity invested in a competitor—are gathered anxiously at the gate holding their breath for the announcer to say "the Canadian National Champion is...".
During the Western Pleasure Open Class in 2016, I had a gut feeling who the winner would be. And I knew where that competitor’s "crew" was at the out gate. So when the announcement was made, I wasn't watching the horses in the arena. I was stalking the emotional moment. It led me directly to Colby Powell who was hoping to hear his mom, (LaRae Fletcher-Powell riding RD Habanero) announced as the National Championship
And, yes indeed! Got that Shot!