Because of the need to manage the herd size new additions are always a very special event. The births of new foals are few and far between. Born a few months ago, this little horse took his first few breaths as Mother Nature shared cold, snow and ice with Coastal Carolina. What a shock it must’ve been to trade the warmth of his mother’s womb for that icy cold winter world. During my first few trips to the reserve with the hope of finding and photographing him I had no luck. His mother was doing a good job of keeping him secluded from my camera and lens. As spring began to reach the reserve the horses started falling back into their warm weather routines and that included moving this young foal into more obvious locations. While guiding a group of equine artists from Virginia we were treated with an afternoon and evening of foal watching. With no further introduction I give you “Skipper,” the reserve’s newest resident.
Category Archives: Banker Horses
I had the pleasure of introducing a few members of the Virginia Equine Artists Association (VEAA) to the wild horses of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve yesterday. As sunset neared most of the herd had moved out onto Bird Shoal. While many of the horses had moved a hundred or so yards out onto a sand flats area, a few stayed back near some low dunes. I decided to stay back with the smaller group of animals while most of the group photographed the larger group of horses. I hang back in part to stay out of the way of the people I was guiding, but also because there was an image I’ve had in my mind for quite some time that I hoped might develop. As it were, this was the evening that opportunity was going to happen. I watched as the sun sank lower in the sky, resting just above the top of a small sand dune. In my mind I was urging the horse nearest that dune to walk on top of it. “Please go up there” I thought. “Ease up on top of that dune, please!” Then, just as if this beautiful animal could read my mind, up the dune it went. Stopping between my lens and the setting sun. A few clicks of the camera and then the horse moved over the crest of the dune and out of sight of my camera. It is the moments like these that make time spent in the field worth the effort. I hope the folks from VEAA enjoyed their visit. If you like to learn more about their organization visit the Virgina Equine Artists Association website. Also I’d like to give a quick thank you to Captain Monty of Seavisions Charters and Ecotours for another perfect experience on the water.
Depending upon one’s point of view the Crystal Coast was blessed or damned with a winter storm recently. Getting enough snow to cover the ground is really a fairly rare occurrence here. For a few years now I’ve been hoping to get the chance to photograph the wild horses of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve in snow. Now my preference would be to be there as snow was falling but that didn’t happen this time. I was able, however, to get some shots of the mustangs with snow on the ground and ice covering much of the marsh grass.
To reach the reserve I had to put my kayak in the water. I’m sure a few of the fine people of Beaufort were wondering what was up with the crazy man was doing putting a kayak in the water on a day like this. But if you think about it, the kayak was invented by native people living in places like Alaska and Canada. These little boats were basically designed for cold weather use.
I really expected to find the horses in one of the wooded hammock areas, trying to stay out of the cold. I found a few, however, feeding not far from the main watering hole area. During the winter the herd certainly spreads out about the entire reserve. I rarely find a large number of them together this time of the year. Below are a few of my favorite shots from the trip.
The question was raised on a popular nature and wildlife photography forum as to whether workshop leaders shoot make photos when leading one of these programs. I thought I’d share my reply on my blog:
As a participant every workshop I’ve attended the leader also did some shooting. Most times their shooting was limited in comparison to that of the participants, but they did shoot. These, however, were always workshops aimed at wedding or portrait photography, employing paid models to demonstrate using lighting or shooting in certain situations/locations. In nearly every case there was classroom time involved during the workshop and a critique session at the end. I really had no issues with the leader making photos. They kept the level low so they could observe and make suggestions to the participants and were available to answer questions 100% of the time. FWIW I’ve never taken a nature/wildlife targeted workshop.
As a workshop/tour leader I shoot. I don’t have my face glued to the back of my camera the entire time we’re in the field. In fact I’m fairly selective about what I shoot when leading. After all, I’m leading the group because this is a location I’m intimately familiar with. I shoot in these locations a lot. I spend a lot of my time observing our subjects (wild horses) and the participants. I make suggestions, answer questions. I alert the folks in my charge when I see an interesting situation developing. Obviously I don’t let my own shooting get in the way of my doing my job. I have a responsibility to get the photographers in my charge in front of the horses, to impart some information about the horses, the environment and photography in general, and to try to make sure no one does anything to endanger themselves of the animals we’re photographing.
I offer two kinds of experiences; a “tour/safari” and a “workshop.” They are not one in the same. For a “tour/safari” my primary job is to get the participants in front of the subjects. They are hiring me for my expertise at finding these animals and to handle the logistics such as transportation and meals. Tours are for experienced photographers that don’t feel they need a lot of hand-holding and direction. They’re confident in their camera and compositional skills. They need to be given opportunities, not a lot of instruction. Obviously, at least in my mind, there’s little reason for me not to shoot during these kinds of outings. If they have a question or need my input, all they have to do is ask.
The other experience I offer is a formal workshop. For a workshop there’s going to be some classroom time involved. Instead of a pre-trip briefing given during a tour, we’re going to spend the first morning learning about the history of these animals, the rules concerning interaction with them and we’ll discuss things like lens selection and composition. My assumption is that someone that signs up for a workshop is looking to improve their photography skills as well as getting photo ops with the wild horses. During our first session in the field I’ll shoot very little, but I will shoot some. I’ll be observing everyone, analyzing the strengths, weaknesses and needs of each individual. Just as when leading a tour, I’ll be alerting folks when things are going to get interesting, be responsible for locating the animals and be dealing with the logistics of the thing. As the workshop progresses I’m usually able to shoot more and more… but again, while being very selective about what I shoot. Near the end of the workshop, but before the last field session, there’s another classroom session. This session is all about composition and post processing. It includes a critique session. I do this prior to the final field session with the idea that the participants will be able to apply what they learn to their final shooting opportunities. During that last field session I’m answering questions if asked, but not offering unrequested input. The idea is to let them try to put it all together on their own.
Keep in mind there’s an educational aspect to the leader shooting. By observing how the leader shoots… things such as tripod height, lens selection, long lens technique, etc… the participants can gain some insight into maximizing their photographic opportunities during their tour or workshop. The short and sweet – I shoot. I shoot more during a tour than during a workshop but I shoot.
I still remember the excitement of that day. I had heard there was a new foal living in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve and was on my second trip to try to get some photos of her. There she was, standing next to her mother. Seemingly so small and fragile, yet elegant and beautiful at the same time. That was in August of last year. I also remember how thrilled the participants of my wild horse workshop were to get to see and photographer last April & May. She was still small, impish and cute. Last week I was photographing a lovely little filly. It took a few minutes before I realized it was this same little youngster. She’s not exactly all grown-up yet, but she’s certainly anything but small, fragile and delicate. What they say is so true. They grow up so fast. Here are a few photos of the youngest wild horse living in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. I hope you enjoy them.
Life and weather have conspired to keep me from getting out to do any shooting this week. I did, however, find some time to go through my files from my last outing and to work up a few photos. While portraits lack the dynamic energy found in the fight sequences I recently posted, it is interesting to get a close look at these beautiful wild horses. In this series I showcase a pretty mare with a severely tangled mane. I think the tangle adds a bit of character and helps with impart the feeling of “wild” to the viewer. See what you think.
When most people think of a wild horse fight they visualize the horses standing on there rear legs, hooves flailing and teeth gnashing… (kind of like in the post below this one). But in reality it doesn’t always work that way. They can clash with all four feet planted firmly, well semi-planted, on the ground. The photos below show a clash between two dominate stallions on the tidal flats. During this scrimmage neither horse ever reared up. Still the action was intense with mud and water flying in the air.
During the editing process I quickly recognized that I wanted to use a contrasty black and white treatment for the first image. I desaturated the image in “Adobe Camera Raw,” then opened it with Photo Shop. Next I applied some “smart sharpening” then used the NIK “define” plugin to tame down the noise a bit. Next I used the “detail extractor” in the NIK Color Efex Pro 4. I then zoomed in to do some dodging and burning by hand to create the look I wanted. The final step was to create a duplicate layer in “soft light” mode to add some “pop,” then adjust the opacity of that layer to taste. I then decided I wanted to do a series, selected the next two images and used the same workflow to maintain a consistent look between the three photos.
To those not familiar with horse behavior it seems to happen in a flash. Teeth gnash, sharp, hard hooves flail, thousands of pounds of muscle, bone and hide explode in a vicious battle over dominance and breeding rights. It’s a scene that’s played out for as long as life has walked the planet. For those that witness one of these epic clashes it is clear why Federal, State and Local laws set boundaries on how close humans can approach wild animals. You really wouldn’t want to be caught between a pair of these battling animals.
Those of us that pay our dues and spend hour after hour observing and photographing these magnificent animals, such dramatic events rarely just happen instantaneously. We’re able to read the pre-fight behavior, the posturing and taunting that takes place before the action begins. It’s that kind of intimate knowledge that allows us to be ready to capture these duels as stills and videos. This is a simple truth that applies to all wildlife photography; knowledge of your subject substantially improves the odds of capturing interesting, compelling images. To improve ones success to failure ratio one needs to do their homework and pay their dues.
So how does one gain knowledge and pay their dues if they don’t live near their intended subject or cannot commit the hours of observation? There are really three choices: Take your chances, go it on your own and hope to get lucky. Hire an experience guide to help get you in the right place at the right time. Sign-up for a photography workshop dealing with the subject you’re interested in photographing. Of course doing a little homework doesn’t hurt either. Read a few books and articles, watch some video, follow some blogs… in short gather some information to give you a head start in your quest to make exciting photos of wild animals in their natural environments.
The following is a sequence of images from a recent wild horse fight I witnessed.
I had so much fun adding textures to images that I decided to try it again. First I needed to choose a base image to work with. I don’t believe textures work with every image, though that may be more a matter of taste than science. I settled on a favorite shot from last winter to play with. After selecting a subject the next trick is choosing an appropriate texture to overlay. This choice can make or break the final product. Once settling on which images to work with the process is the same as I previously described. Here’s the step by step process I use in Photo Shop CS6 (you could use Gimp, Elements, Paint Shop Pro, etc.):
Open subject image in Photo Shop, open texture image, select and copy texture image, paste over subject image, adjust opacity to taste, use eraser tool at a low opacity and flow to clean texture off of subjects face, flatten image, create duplicate layer in soft light mode, adjust to taste, flatten image, apply vignette, flatten, and save.
It’s not a new technique. Layering textures on photos has been around for a long time. It’s an interesting effect that can take a documentary style photo and turn into a piece of fine art. The process isn’t too difficult. You’ll need some kind of image processing software… Photo Shop, Elements, Paint Shop or others. The software needs to be capable of working with layers. Open the image you want to work with. You’ll then open an image of the texture you want to apply. (Choosing the right texture for an image is the real art to the entire process). Place the texture on top of your photo as a layer. Adjust the opacity of the texture layer so the photo below it shows through. Your taste, goals and artistic vision will play a role in how much opacity you want. You may want to use an eraser tool to reduce or remove the amount of texture over key areas of your subject such as the face, eyes, etc. Once you’re satisfied flatten the image. At this point I find the image usually lacks a bit of “pop”… seems a bit flat and boring. I like to create a duplicate layer and select a mode such as “soft light” or “overlay.” Then, if necessary I adjust the opacity of this layer as needed to get the look I want. It’s really that simple. Below are a few photos I worked up recently using the process described.