Professional horse photographer John Hockensmith was the judge for the 2011 installment of our annual photo contest. We asked him to offer some advice for aspiring photographers. Click here to see the winners of the 2011 photo contest.
There is no written matter that can substitute for experience. Get a camera and get busy. The empirical knowledge you gain from trial and error will supersede and validate all reading and theory.
What are some of the most common mistakes amateur photographers make?
Don’t expect that if you buy a better camera it will improve your photo skills or photography knowledge. “Camera envy” can stop you from being creative or effective. I’m often asked, “What kind of camera did you use?” The correct answer is, “It doesn’t matter.” I do what the camera requires to get the shot. The camera is just an instrument, like a guitar to a musician. You must learn your camera and explore its possibilities. A photographer is only as good as their experience and imagination. Don’t let “camera envy” be an obstacle.
What are some of the most important things to consider or think of before snapping a picture?
It is good to pre-visualize your assignment, asking yourself, “What do I really need to accomplish great results?” Ask yourself what lens you should use, what camera body, how much file storage or film is needed; should you take a monopod or a tripod? Furthermore, ask yourself what you don’t need. Try not to be bogged down like a pack mule. Photography is about exploring light, shadows, action and the moment of expression. Don’t carry around a camera store and suffer from “camera paralysis” or indecision when the perfect moment elapses.
What are your top tips for specifically taking photos of horses?
In equine photography, your photography plan should take into account typical horse behavior. Before beginning any equine photo shoot, I always have my selected camera settings in place. I go over a checklist of exposure, white balance, aperture, shutter speed, focus point and focusing mode, file size and frame per second selection. When the action begins, it usually is active for only a minute or two; then I can get all the grazing pictures I need.
Is there anything else that is important for people to know about when photographing horses?
Know all you can about equine behavior. It is also important to know the sun movements, the weather predictions, and the time of sunrise and sunset. Great light with long shadows is consistently in the early and late hours depending on the season and the latitude of the location. Ask yourself if your camera needs a rain coat. Some of the very best images I have ever taken have been in the rain. Not all photographers dare to capture that rainy mood.