Fine art Photography is generally interpreted as using photography in accordance with the vision of the artist. There is a lot that goes into doing that. Just like a pigment artist might choose which media to use to bring their vision to life, a photographer will perhaps first choose a lens, as the characteristics of lenses impact the final image. She will then frame her shot, finding the angle that makes the most of perspective and light, choosing apertures, film speed and exposure time. In the case of taking large and sometimes fast-moving creatures as I love to do, much of that must happen before your subject enters the scene. Having sussed out the stage, you wait for your player to hit the sweet spot.
Then, rather than painting on the canvas with pigment, the digital photographer records the elements of her image through the effect of light on a sensor. This is only the start of creating the photograph however, the physics of light on film or sensors, for the camera does not equate to a human eye. In order to recreate what the artist saw then the image must be adjusted. This is a process as old as photography itself, only now we use computer-based programs instead of chemicals and dark rooms. This may be as simple as adjusting the exposure and hues or it may involve combining several images, blending them seamlessly together and deleting or obscuring unwanted elements. The pigment artist has the luxury of doing this from the start (though obviously depending on the media changes can be made as a painting progresses) but the photographer must work with what was captured at the time. The photographer works with her tools, manipulating the image, from the moment she picks up the camera to the point she sits back in her chair , looks at her screen and sighs. - “Yes, this is what I ‘saw’, this conveys what I felt, this tells the story of what I experienced.”
Photoartistry in my opinion, takes it just a step further, confusing the lines between what was captured and what is now created by the artist’s vision. It is not so much about bringing to life what was your vision at the time, but rather seeing a new vision emerge, one you didn’t anticipate. It’s more akin to a sculptor running their hands over a chunk of marble and feeling the sculpture that wants to emerge; to working with timber, with all its grain and knots that must be accommodated and contribute. Works that were quite representative and real, can become completely abstract, or take on a dream like quality.
Young Djaguar one morning waiting for his breakfast. This was a lucky shot - as in lucky I got there in time to take it.
I knew the young fillies were about to come charging up the lane way into the stable area in the not too distant future, so I raced into the house to get my camera. Could not find it anywhere - dam - I sent it away to be serviced! Luckily, I have a second older body for emergencies so found it, put the first longish lens on that came to hand (200mm zoom) .
Ran out and they were already on the run, with Djaguar excitedly running along his side of the fence. Lifted the camera to my eye, it made its autofocussing noise but nothing I could see was in focus. Wah! Just keep shooting and hoping, no time to think, maybe a miracle will happen. And it kind of did. On the eye piece of the camera is a little wheel to adjust the viewfinder for your eye. Somehow this had got moved so it wasn't in fact the image that was out of focus but that my view was. What was in the camera was OK. With the hurry I was in all the finer points of light and composition went sailing out over the tree tops, but at least I had my handsome lad doing something more than eating.
I did my initial edit in Lightroom, then took the image to Photoshop for some more tweaking.
After creating the black and white version, I added a few adjustments and several texture layers and then added the painterly effects I was after to get the final image as seen at the top.
I met the Golden Child on my first day at a photo shoot in Mexico.
When you have your own horses the way I do, you know they spend most of their lives grazing or snoozing with brief bursts of activity when your camera is inside, with flat batteries and the card still attached to the computer. When you do have a camera they resolutely do nothing, or come up and try and sniff/ eat the lens. Whilst this can make for a fun social media post, occasionally, it’s not a lot of help when you want to capture the power and grace of the moving animal.
So you have to set it up. The best thing I can do at home, where I have limited helpers is change something in their environment. Move them into a new paddock, move someone into a paddock next door, introduce a new herd member. This creates a short flurry of movement, so you have to be ready for it.
The beauty of traveling the world for organised photoshoots is you have helpers who know what they are doing setting up for you and you only have to worry about your camera. This is why you will see so many fabulous photos of Camargue horses running through the waves for instance, the guys there know how to cater to equine photographers and the photographers love the experience.
Sometimes though you have to be the first to do something and that was the case the day I took the photograph I created this from. Our intrepid organiser had brought us to a new location in Mexico. A holiday ranch where the horses and the wranglers' job is to take guests out on trail rides. Not let the horses loose in the paddock and get them to gallop around whilst we took photos. Quite a lot of hilarity ensued but not too many photographs taken as horses took off for home and had to be brought back, all of which took time. The Golden Child was thus golden in colour but also in opportunity as he was rather new to the herd himself. So, whilst the largest mob of horses took off for the yards they are fed in, he initially followed them but then came screaming back again to the couple of horses who were tethered. Not just once but several times. He was also a promise of things to come as both wranglers and horses soon worked out a system that gave us some wonderful opportunities over the week.
I could say the software is the fun part, but it's not. It’s another fun part. Or most of it is. See taking photos and creating images is the fun part. I use both hardware (Cameras, lenses, tripods etc) and software ( image processing) to follow my passion of creating beautiful images I can share with you; bringing the joy of my subjects into your life. Software also does the ho hum boring stuff of administration. It’s my data base, it lets me find things - most of the time, assuming I labelled it properly. I use Lightroom for that. It’s a very powerful program and does a good job of making up for my deficiencies in labelling by giving me many ways to search my files. Without it I’d be lost. It isn’t the only option, but I am familiar with it and between unexpected capabilities I stumble across and new upgrades there is plenty to keep me still interested. Of course, whilst it is a powerful cataloguing program it is so much more. It is perfect for doing the majority of post processing that an image needs to be a printable. Sometimes all it needs. It also allows you to do bulk editing on a series of shots.
To take an image however from the realms of a fabulous photograph, to combine it with others, to paint, to blend, to transform takes a bit more. My main workhorse is Photoshop. It’s so much of a standard that it’s a verb. It’s like I still hoover my carpet with a vacuum, even though my vacuum isn’t a Hoover. In fact, I cannot even remember what brand it is. So people often say something is photoshopped even when that bit of software hasn’t even had a sniff of the image. So other programs I use to ‘photoshop’ my images include Nik Filters, On 1, Topaz, Metabrush, Glaze, Distressed FX and one of my favourites on my iPad, Icolorama. I tend to bounce images around through several of them as some have particular strengths and others are one trick ponies and pull the lot together in Photoshop.
How do I create the images to grace your walls?
Clearly as a photographer a camera fits in there somehow. If you hang around photographers enough, you will soon hear them complain about people seeing a great photograph and saying ‘you must have a great camera’. It’s kind of like telling a chef she must have great saucepans, or a ceramicist a fabulous kiln. It is the artist that manipulate these tools to create the results, not the tools that make them. No camera ever climbed out the cupboard before dawn, drove through the fog, to arrive at the water just as the light was penetrating the mist. No camera every walked around an indoor arena looking at where the light was falling, where a horse was likely to turn away from a wall, no camera observed birds in flight so it could anticipate the moment before the moment when the shutter must be depressed.
Just, however, as a great set of saucepans or a whizz bang kiln can make your life easier, so can a great camera. A camera with great precision and which allows you to just shoot on auto or control minutely all your settings.
Equally you will meet photographers who will swear all you need is one good 50mm lens, and that might be true for some genres, but I challenge anyone to take a frame filling shot of a horse ( or tiger) galloping towards you at full speed with a 50mm lens.
So my main camera is a full function SLR and a zoom lens. And it happens to be a Canon. If you are an Australian of a certain age reading this, you will probably be familiar with question ‘Ford or Holden”? As in despite the fact there are many cars made and you might drive a Corolla you can still fall into either Ford or Holden camp. (If you aren’t Australian you might have to look up a bit of motoring history and in particular the Bathurst 500 mile endurance and the Mt Panorama racetrack). Amongst equine and wild life photographers the equivalent is are you a Canon girl or Nikon? The thing is, once you wander down the aisle into the waiting presence of the camera sales guy and he sets you on your way with your first SLR and lens kit, you are entering a long term relationship, little do you know it. You see, the next thing you do is you buy another better quality or bigger lens, then a specialist lens for something else and so on. And good lenses are expensive. So the day comes when you feel you need a new camera body. Maybe you just want to have two cameras and lenses ready to use interchangeably, or maybe you want more electronic built in wizardry. No matter why you find yourself having to stick with the same brand, you simply have too much invested in glass. If you do decide to change it is like going through a divorce where the other party gets to keep the house, the car, the bank account and the dog and you have to start again from scratch. Not something done lightly.
There are other players in the market, getting better all the time, but the impediments to switching are the same. My ‘big’ camera is not my only way of capturing images, I also have my ‘street’ camera. An Olympus mirrorless micro four thirds, which is a full functioning SLR but much smaller, with less hefty lenses. I can put in my bag and carry it around easily. It’s just not quite fast enough for wildlife and horses, but the technology is improving all the time. The powerhouses of Canon and Nikon also do not want to see their loyal customers slip away into the clutches of the likes of Sony so are bringing out their own versions. It’s an exciting new space for photographers.
And then of course I have the camera I seem to use the most because it is always with me. My phone. One of the things I do is create my own textures to blend into my images and the phone is perfect for collecting those.
I am passionate about bringing to life the power and the beauty, the gentleness and the strength, the presence and physical embodiment, the grounding, that I find and experience with horses in a way that you can connect to through my art. I want to speak to that little girl that used to be pony mad but grew up and has a "real job' now. That wears high heels to work and is perfectly groomed but still has an inner hankering to feel smooth coat under her hands and breath in the hot earthy smell of them and not worry about the dirt under her nails. To the person whose breath is taken away when the see a horse galloping in the distance, that stops talking in the car as they pass a paddock with a few scruffy ponies in it. And I want to do it in my way. Not just through a perfectly executed photograph, tack sharp, perfect lighting, wonderful pose or angle. There as so many brilliant photographers out there doing that, many are my friends and teachers. I cannot paint with paint, but I can paint with pixels. Sometimes the form of the horse almost (completely) disappears but its essence is in the image. And I want to do it in accessible ways, practical ways. Not just an image to hang on your wall, but something that you can carry with you, be part of your daily life, that you can take out and find escape in when you need to.