What is this about?
You're about try your hand at walking the trail with camera in hand like Mike Collins in the photo to the left. Before you cinch up your boots and head down the trail you should know there is a lot more to equine ride photography than getting the image. There are real dangers to both you and the competitors at a trail event. While there a many good books on photography, how to use a camera, posing and even livestock photography, I have not seen a set of simple tips for equine trail photography. Admittedly competitive and endurance event photography is a very narrow speciality but since we're out there with thousand pound animals and the occasional stressed out rider we should have some guidelines to consider. To that end I will be posting the tips I have developed in the hopes that it will help others avoid embarrassing or dangerous mistakes. Except for tip one there is no order of importance to the rules and the numbering is strictly for reference.
What this is not.
I'm not going to tell you how to use your camera or where the best light will be or what makes a good equine photograph. There are lots of resources on sites like the Equine Photographers Network. You will perfect your skills by taking thousands and thousands of images. My only suggestion is to take the time to look at hundreds of images from well known photographers and develop a feeling for what you think is a good image. Follow your internal guidelines most of the time but feel free to shatter your preconceived ideas periodically. It's only through trial and error that we develop a style of our own. Additionally this is not a complete list as I tend to modify them after a great success or failure.
Onto the tips.
1) My job is to document not to effect the event. When I step out of the documentarian role I run the real risk of failing to either help or document the event. Do so only in a real emergency or as required to comply with rule two. (Inspired by Scott Godwin)
This was not the first rule I developed because it is so obvious that it can be overlooked. But the position as first on the list is due to the necessity to follow or the rest of the rules lose their significance. Of course we don't want to cause an unscheduled dismount or cause a rider to loose points or position in the event. But what about the more subtle things? Here are the real world examples that precipitated this rule.
We are often out on the trail with the riders. Lets face it camp photos only go so far in documenting an event. We could hike to the photo spots, this is fun but not conducive to getting to multiple locations. Consequently we are often driving a four wheel drive pickup or utility vehicle as far as possible then hiking into our secret location where we know the light will make the angles cry. (This is what I always envision.) But consider what happens if that two-track road we are driving on is an active trail. Are the participants going to be accustom to having a vehicle come up behind them? Should we pass them and risk a localized rodeo or miss the shot? Every ride and group of competitors is different so there are times where the only safe action is to pull off to the side of the road and miss the shot. Likewise there are times when the riders will wave us by. Better yet avoid the active trails.
To continue, imagine a perfect pond to take photos, the light is right, everybody will stop and it will produce amazing water reflection photos. However it is the only pond on eight miles of trail. Horses being prey animals are going to react to our presence and camera noises. If just one horse does not drink because they think our 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is a horse killing cannon we are now effecting the outcome of the event or worse causing a horse to dehydrate and perhaps colic. (You did pay attention to the new horses at check-in, right.) Photo locations must be chosen so the event is not compromised, even if it means missing missing the shot. If you have a question about a location always discuss it with the Trailmaster.
These are somewhat obvious examples of negatively impacting an event. But consider that by ride time we have scouted the trails and been a participant in ride management discussions. Often this information can give a competitor an advantage and as such must not be shared. Most riders will not ask but it's easy to let things slip out in the normal pre-ride banter. Be prudent in what you discuss and if you can't, just shut up.
Nothing in this rule prohibits helping in an emergency or simply reminding a rider to drink when they look dehydrated. (Riders often take better care of their horse than themselves.) If we are taking photos at a confusing point in the trail obviously we should help keep the riders on trail but we must do so to all the competitors equally. If you have questions about any way you might effect the event discuss it with the ride manager beforehand.
Thats it for my number one tip. Feel free to discuss this with me by email on Facebook or Twitter. You will find links on the contact page.