Lessons from a foxhunting photo essay

The full photo essay is here.

Arcs

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Continuous horizontal curves

This is not the conventional head pose for this formal pack shot, but I was struck by the lines of horizontal arcs.  The eye travels from the rump’s inverted “U” curve to the “U” curve of the coat’s skirt and back to the inverted curve of the horse’s neck.  The echo of the coat’s curve with the belly provides stability.  The combination conveys balance and permanence.

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Vertical curves in motion

The horse on the right, by contrast, has vertical arcs, particularly the tail closely echoing the rear.  Unlike the shallow stable arcs in the first picture, these are deeper.  We know the hind leg will straighten, so we see the deep curve as a spring that will uncoil, driving the horse forward.  We also know the matching curve of the tail is impermanent, and that increases the sense of a fleeting second caught and frozen, adding to the sense of motion.

A massive spring
A massive spring

The curves of the Belgian in the next photo are like clock springs tightening and loosening.  The mass of the horse is emphasized by the glimpse we get of her chest, and though she’s trotting she almost seems to be trotting in place and not moving forward.  The obvious coiled power encourages that illusion, and we see the curves, correctly, as engines of stored energy.

Rising like the phoenix
Rising like the phoenix

The estate at Long Branch has two pairs of gate pillars surmounted by old eagles.  The pose is triumphant rather than ascendant, but with the view from below and the maples like flame behind, the curves of the wings look ready to thrust it aloft like the phoenix reborn.

Crowd scenes

Opening meets are especially crowded.  Making interesting pictures out of chaotic groups of people requires luck.

Faces in the crowd
Faces in the crowd

This group of mostly juniors obligingly clumped up in ascending height order, not so much their own height but that of their mounts.  That allowed me, despite the disadvantage of standing on the ground, to see several ranks in and capture the depth of the cluster.

Opening meets bring out all kinds of car-followers.  Here they sorted themselves into different tiers, and the loose woods behind them had enough interest that I could make the picture taller than this sort of lateral scene typically suits.

Wide variety of car-followers
Wide variety of car-followers

 

Depth and distance

It can be a challenge to capture the scale of landscape in foxhunting scenes.  Here, where the Blue Ridge is constantly in the background, how do you show the size and weight of a mountain in a little square of a photo, especially at a significant telephoto distance where flattening is the main effect?

Looking down from a height
Looking down from a height

In this case the land fell away from a local hilltop leaving the subjects in focus, but creating an obviously much more distant backdrop behind them.  Letting the Blue Ridge fill almost the whole vertical wall behind that made it part of the scene.  The light illuminating the subjects helped with the theatrics of the setting.

Separated from the background
Separated from the background

A sudden difference in focus between subjects and backdrops, possible when there is a large gap, increases the 3-dimensionality of the image on the left.  The white barn is quite some distance behind the well-lit pack.

You can use successive shots with cropping changes for a completely different way to convey distance.

For example, in these 4 shots of the oncoming pack, not only are they getting closer, but I am also cropping them tighter with each shot; this has the effect of accelerating their approach.

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This article is cross-posted from KLM Images.

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