‘Photography is not about the equipment.’ ‘The best camera is the one you use.’ I have read and heard these a hundred times and for the most part I think they are true. Right up to the point they are not. Sometimes, like it or not, the equipment can make the shot. So as I sit here waiting for the last gallery to upload via an ISP that in many places would not be considered broadband, I have time to consider the last ride and, what worked and didn’t work.
I’m normally nervous before an event and having to drive through snow was not much help. By the time Cheryl and I arrived the precipitation had stopped and so had most of my butterflies. After making camp and checking in with Liz and Alanna, a ride management team that truly know how to put on an event, I assessed my shoot plan. As the trails were muddy, creeks were full, judging locations had to change and the roads I wanted to use would eat my two-wheel drive pickup, my plan went into the mythical land of ‘if only it had worked.’ Those butterflies were back.
Check-in photos are rarely compelling but it is a great time to get a feel for the riders, horses and judges. This ride screamed for photos ‘in the bank’ and I needed time to think. So I drag out the gear and settle into photography mode as the sky cleared.
It cleared off Friday night and got down into the 20s. Instant fogging if the gear goes from the warm trailer into the outside air so it had to spend the night in the pickup. Saturday morning was clear and, by that time, so was my mind. Liz Scott had done what good managers do, made up a work-around and found me a seat in the pickup with the horsemanship judge. Remember the gear in the pickup? Dummy left the batteries in the pickup also and it’s amazing how cold temperature will reduce the life of a battery. Time to dig out the extra battery and the battery grip.
The first stop was in the sun and any camera body with good dynamic range should handle the location. (I would have done better if I actually checked the histogram more often.) The riders went down a small hill, up a hard packed rise (click, click) stop at the top (click) and then proceed down the rise (click, just incase.) Easy, except for the bright sky in the background and the dang tree casting shadows on the participants right at the sweet spot for photos. No time to add a ND grad filter, the riders were already arriving. The Grays were going to be okay, the Bays were going to need some quality time with Vivesa in post. The old 70-200mm lens would have light falloff in the corners, the new one looked great.
Location two was down a frame twisting, bumper bending power line road to the intersection of three trails and a creek. Nice shooting in the open and at the break-out of the trails. But there was this ice cold creek down a muddy trail… easy choice, the creek. Luckily there was a pile of dead wood that had fallen and washed up on one side. I could climb out over the water and lean on a cedar branch for stability. As I was breaking some (mostly) dead branches out of the shot line I was reminded I left my work gloves in the pickup at camp. Oh well, the bleeding stopped after a while and it cleaned off the lens and camera body. The mud from the trail ended up on everything except the glass, good thing, the microfiber cloth was over on the bank. VR on the new lens worked well and my wobbly position was of no concern. The new lens design also fixed my tendency to bump it into manual focus. The day finished up with some fill shots at the trail crossings, around camp and in the meeting room.
Sunday was a different weather day. Not so cold but gray skies and a drizzle that seemed to percolate into everything. (Why did I leave my Gore-tex boots at home?) A really nasty photo day but as luck would have it I had help. Kim Winterrowd managed to trade or evade her event secretary duties and wanted to help shoot for a while. It’s always good to have help and Kim has a good eye, so I put the camera gear in Op/Tech bags and we climbed into the pickup and headed for an open field that intersected two trails and yes, a couple of creeks. Kim took the P&Rs and I headed for the first judging, naturally at a creek crossing. Unlike the sunny day before this day was grey and wet. Shadows would not be much of a problem but there was another issue. Depth of field was down to about 3 feet so a head-on shot was going to be difficult. After crossing the creek (and Becky going back across the creek in her waterproof boots to get some more of my gear) I found a couple of rocks I could stand on and be out in the water. I was shooting at ISO 1600, f/2.8, 320/second at about 150mm on wobbly rocks in a creek, in a light rain. Perhaps sanity eluded me momentarily but with a little luck the participants would be so focused on the log in the creek and the muddy bank ahead that I would be hiding in plain sight.
Next stop was in some trees at the end of the field. I was betting that after a P&R and a judged obstacle the riders would want to regain some momentum and hurry down the trail. I needed a bit more than 200mm so a TC14 1.4 teleconverter was added to the lens. 300mm at f/4 was not bad and in the open I could bump up to around f/8. I only had one autofocus issue in the entire set and that was near the end so it was probably my fault not the lens.
Kim worked the P&Rs with a D200 body and a 18-200mm zoom. Once the clouds thinned a bit she was shooting at ISO 800, f/7.1 at 200/second. Well within the working range of that equipment.
So, how did the gear hold up? There are lots of sites that can show you the details on equipment, I can only tell you if it worked for me. I’m not ready to crown the new 70-200 king of the zoom but Nikon fixed the issues that most annoyed me. Still it seems to lack a bit of mojo the old lens had. However it is a great lens that worked well in poor conditions. The D700 body did what it always does, work from ISO 200 to 6400 and never bother me with AF or noise problems. The trusty D200 is an Energizer Bunny and worked well for Kim.
On the other hand I forgot my Gore-Tex, left the batteries outside in the cold and sure could have used another layer of clothing Sunday. My shoot plan failed in oh, 30 minutes. And by the end of a day shooting I was mentally tired and a bit cold resulting in dang near zero desire to search for a better event shot. None of those problems can be blamed on the equipment.
My wife Cheryl and her horse Ojala finished the ride in time and in sound condition. I guess I can say I did the same. In my case, nothing spectacular but a workman like shoot. After some events I pump my fist in the air and scream YES! This one I shuffle off knowing I could have done better. That may be what learning is all about but still it stinks.
I’m done with event shooting for a few weeks and there is a young filly that needs some TLC to make up for all the weekends I have been behind a camera and computer. See y’all on the trail next year.