Of Horses and Humans
No project calls on all of my experience more than portrait photography of horses and humans. Bringing out the personality of one subject from your own species is one challenge. Predicting and capturing the essence of a horse is another entirely. When you add in the factors of the atmosphere and a new location and you can understand why catching those great shots require knowledge of subjects, technical skill, patience and of course, a little bit of luck! For example, while a fashion photographer would be able utilize all manner of equipment, you can't have light boxes and diffusers umbrellas reflectors
There's a very well known saying, "fortune favors the bold". However, when it comes to equine/human portrait photography I find that "fortune favors the photographer with extremely well trained horses"! It's much easier to work with a horse that has been well trained to stand still! Sounds like a simple request, but horses by their very nature are inclined to be "distractible". Being prey animals, its' simply in their nature to be a bit wary in new surroundings and a horse can go from looking interested and curious to jumping off their feet in a heart beat. Literally! So, it's always a pleasure to work with a well schooled individual.
That's why when Eliza Puttkamer-Banks contacted me about the possibility of doing her "dream" photo shoot I jumped at the chance. The opportunity to combine the ocean and a black Arabian stallion was irresistible! The timing would be challenging, but Eliza had the perfect spot for the shoot, a beach just about an hours drive from her place in New Jersey. Eliza has owned this lovely Arabian stallion, Jeremiah, since he was two years old and the fact that Eliza has trained him to successfully compete at the Prix St. George level speaks to her skill as a trainer. But as a trainer I found Jeremiah's poise at being introduced to the ocean for the very first time (as a thirteen year old, mind you) was every bit as impressive and also a demonstration of Eliza's excellent horsemanship skills.
Our location for this adventure? Island Beach State Park, a preserved barrier island just off the coast of New Jersey. When you look at it on a map, the island looks about as wide as a toothpick and, in fact, the location we were heading to was about 1,500 feet across! A narrow, ten mile strip of land lying less than two miles from the mainland with the southern six miles available for horseback riding. It's a very popular tourist destination during the summer and open for all kinds of recreational activities. However, while horseback riding is allowed, it's only between the months of October and April.
We had opted to shoot on a Thursday, hoping that by choosing a weekday, the beach wouldn't be too busy. We drove down the day before so that we could have plenty of time at the beach on shoot day and we arrived early in the afternoon, so headed to the location to scope it out.
As we headed through the dunes that Wednesday afternoon, I can remember hoping that the next day we'd have better weather! As you can see in the picture above, while the temperatures were great, we had flat overcast skies. While high overcast can be very flattering for portrait photography, our subject for the day was a black Arabian stallion, and black can be one of the most difficult colors of horses to photograph. If you don't get it just right, a beautiful black horse can end up looking like a flat, black silhouette.
I remember Thursday morning was very foggy! But then the weather gods smiled on us! When we pulled into the parking at the beach at 11:30, it was still cloudy, but it looked like the sun was trying to break through! As we unloaded it seemed like we were a world away from civilization. We literally had the place to ourselves! And then about 12:30 the clouds broke up and the sun came out and I breathed a huge sigh of relief!
This session not only resulted in the amazing photos of Jeremiah that Eliza had been looking for, but some very cool family photos as well! You can see more of those by clicking on the photo below.