Equine photography - Critique sought

Overread

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Taken on a Canon 7D, 70-200mm f2.8 IS L MII at 70mm (I was backed up as far as I could with a ditch behind me at the time). Light is coming from the left (ergo behind horse and rider, which I know is not ideal).
f4, ISO 1000, 1/2500sec. At the time of shooting I was crouched down on one leg.


I was aware the light was "wrong" however the horses were only going one way at the jump. The aperture I could have opened up a bit more, but I don't think it would have made a huge difference to the background and after a year or so not shooting I wanted a little safety net of depth for the horse and rider. Plus I wasn't back far enough to really dip into using much of the range of my lens. Shooting from this side did give me the largest distance of horse and rider from the background trees. I could have shot from the other side, light would have likely been mostly the same and I'd have had more room to move right back from the jump, however I would then have had the background trees on that side much closer to the horse and rider; so any gain of subject isolation that distance would have given me would have been undone by the change in distance between subject and background - though in retrospect I should have tried that at least once to see the actual difference.

To me the shot feels good, but nothing special. I do wonder if I'd have been smarter to step back into the dry ditch and get a ground level shot looking even more "up" at rider and horse. Timing feels good, though perhaps a split second late and might have been better to get more of an "up" motion on the jump instead of an across. Though honestly I was generally pleased with my timing on the day in review (it wasn't as bad as it could have been).

I would welcome any feedback, compositional, exposure, setup, editing and other thoughts on the scene. Perhaps I'm being overly critical; perhaps a little editing adjustment might unlock more potential from the photo.
 
Overall I would consider this shot a win.

Having not shot this type of event I really can't give you any pointers other than the common sense things that you've pointed out.

I'm guessing it was an overcast day or you did some light adjustments (I'm thinking a little of both) since the light angle isn't really casting any harsh light or dark shadows.

Keeping the aperture down a bit will as you said give a bit of leeway in DOF but it is something you may be able to calculate if you know the shooting distances in advance.

Timing I think is good however as you stated if you would like a bit more of an upward position, about an 1/8 of a second sooner may have been better for that outcome.

One final thought is if you know the rider is left/right handed it could (again not sure) allow you to be on the side the rider tends to face (ever so slight) towards as they ride. I could be totally off base on this one but it looks as though she is right handed which seems to make her turn slightly to the left.

Again I think it's a good image and even better considering you haven't shot in a while makes it even more impressive.
Well done.
 
Thanks Zombie - the whole left/right thing can be an issue, but its really hard to predict since its not just the side the rider would favour, but can also depend what way they are going once they are out of the jump. If they are going left they'll more likely favour that side so they can see where they are next going; and the same if they are going right. The angle of the jump can also affect it and how the horse and rider move ; sometimes you've got the rider forward and the horse neck and head up so that the rider is hidden. It's often more of an issue for front-on shots; side ones its not often an issue.

It's probably something I could only do if it was an arranged shot or if I really got ot know a a rider and their style and the events layout.


And yes the light was pretty overcast on the day and I did do some local adjustments. Mostly hitting the highlights down and then using lightrooms selective edit to bring up the shadows mostly on the riders face, arms, horse neck and head. I found boosting shadows better than boosting the exposure as the shadows just brightened the darker bits I wanted brighter; whilst adjusting the exposure or brightness slider would have brought everything up and made it stand out too much.
 
I agree that the light isn't very good. The horse blends in too much with the background. I suspect the only way to have gotten around that was to use a flash which was probably prohibited. How were you metering? I would have advocated for spot-metering on the horse itself.

I like the action and you caught a good moment. Did you shoot in burst mode? I shoot any and all action in burst mode, you never know what you may get.
 
The problem with spot metering is if I'd captured the exposure based on the horses shoulder/neck, which is where I typically aim the AF for, I'd have hit a very dark coat partly in shadow. Chances are I'd have blown out the entire back side of the rider and horse as a result. I typically use centre weighted average metering, which I find generally works well considering a lot of what I shoot tends to be based upon a single subject. Though I balance that with "chimping" at the histogram as much as I can safely get away with. Eg for this day I'd sometimes shoot the jump without a horse or rider between horses so that I could get a quick check as the light did shift over the day as the clouds rolled over.

I do think I could achieve some greater separation if I went in and selectively edited background and horse/ride/foreground and adjusted the brightness on both nocking the background darker and the main subject brighter. Of course that is more work to achieve and to not end up with a rough halo of dark/light around the main subject. Of course its not the same as a greater degree of background blurring and subject separation that way.

Flash would indeed have helped with some fill light and have given a similar effect, but you are right at most events flash, if not expressly prohibited, is generally assumed to not be allowed. Plus with the subject size and distance I'm not sure if a single hotshoe flash (with small softbox) would really have given a nice enough foreground light to really lift things. It might have worked a little, but might have given a slightly harsh light.
 
Since you photos are OK to edit I adjusted the horse shadow. I think it makes him pop out a bit more.

6OkwQIP.jpg
 
Thanks webestang!
I tend to find that I'm a touch conservative with brightening things at times; but your boost does make quite an improvement!
 
I have adjusted the curve layer to make the subject pop a little and placed the subject off centre to give the subject space to ride into - if that makes any sense? :)

LIPQ2Ey.jpg


Les
 
Much improved in my opinion.
 
You did a great job considering your circumstances.

What hasn't been said... Been there when light is less than desirable, a non controllable position, and no flash (or not powerful enough). Having said that, I have found that bracketing 3 images +1 +2 +3 then merge them in post for 1 image, may have saved the day here. Some cameras are capable of doing in camera HDR which would do the same thing, then you could back off the saturation levels a little to give it a more natural look. I believe your camera has this feature, so I would challenge you to experiment with it under less than desirable light scenes. I have done this with film and it really works well but I did mine in half stop increments.
 
I think all that’s missing after the last edit is a bit of an off center vignette. Did this on my phone so it might be a bit clumsy. But you know I love me some vignette!

A15320CD-FA46-4F0B-963F-60C65C8A9116.jpeg
 
You did a great job considering your circumstances.

What hasn't been said... Been there when light is less than desirable, a non controllable position, and no flash (or not powerful enough). Having said that, I have found that bracketing 3 images +1 +2 +3 then merge them in post for 1 image, may have saved the day here. Some cameras are capable of doing in camera HDR which would do the same thing, then you could back off the saturation levels a little to give it a more natural look. I believe your camera has this feature, so I would challenge you to experiment with it under less than desirable light scenes. I have done this with film and it really works well but I did mine in half stop increments.
Jc - does your camera take all 3 bracketed photos at once? I want to say mine does it 3 consecutive so it wouldn’t work for action but now I’m doubting myself and will need to test that!
 
Bracketing should always be 3 shots of the same frame with different settings all at the same time. Not sequential.
 
I have adjusted the curve layer to make the subject pop a little and placed the subject off centre to give the subject space to ride into - if that makes any sense? :)

LIPQ2Ey.jpg


Les
My thanks Les, those do make some big differences to the shot.
You've taken the same crop concept I've used (more before than behind) and pushed it further and I think that certainly works better, it really shows off the motion a bit more and makes it feel like its moving further forward.
Brightness in the shot is also much improved, though I have to say I'm still doggedly fond of the darker tones on the horse in the original, but I wonder if part of that is just my "minds eye" recreating the slightly dull conditions I shot in at the time; or perhaps I'm just a touch too conservative in editing at times, to my own detriment when trying to make a shot.
I think all that’s missing after the last edit is a bit of an off center vignette. Did this on my phone so it might be a bit clumsy. But you know I love me some vignette!

View attachment 249571
I totally see where you're going and it certainly helps focus on the rider, I think its perhaps a touch heavy for my taste. Perhaps something I might try if I selected all the background trees and knocked them all down in exposure and then added a more subtle vignette. In the end, in my view, the best subject to background separation (at least for this kind of shot) is blurring the background in camera; though playing with exposure more (even if it means more fiddling with layer masks and such) can yield a nice similar effect of separation.
Bracketing should always be 3 shots of the same frame with different settings all at the same time. Not sequential.
I think this greatly depends on the camera you're using. For my 7D bracketing is very much 3 shots one after the other. The choice I have is either low-regular-over or regular-low-over - ergo the order of exposures. As such bracketing for action like this really wouldn't work as I'd have different positions of the horse with different exposures.

I would think that bracketing 3 different exposures on a single file could only work if the camera was either using a fancy electronic shutter that can save a photo mid-exposure (thus allowing it to bracket 3 using the shutter speed) or using auto ISO or other in-camera editing/processing. It certainly couldn't bracket 3 different apertures of the same shot in one go.

Regardless bracketing isn't really something I'd think of doing during action, I'm more likely to chimp a few shots before the subject is there and the light is steady and go from there.
 

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