Four Winds Photography's Blog

Central Plains Reining Horse Assoc. Plains Futurity

One of my favorite shows to photograph, I got to shoot the Central Plains Reining Horse Association (CPRHA) Plains Futurity again in 2010.  I can’t believe that it has been months since I shot this and I am just now blogging about it.  Ok, yes I can.  That’s more proof about how disorganized I am.

But I am finally doing it.  This is one of my favorite shows to shoot for a lot of reasons.  First, I get to see a lot of great horses.  Secondly, and possibly most importantly, I was founder of the CPRHA and involved in the  formation of this show.  And it has grown to one of the biggest reining shows in the county.

I will post a few photos of this show.  All images are shot with a Canon 1DMkII, Canon 70-200 F/4 and the lighting system described.  But I will primarily use this as a discussion of my lighting system for indoor shows.  I have spent a lot of time trying to come up with a lighting system that is powerful enough to work and yet not have the ugly direct flash look.  I tried the handle mount flash with the diffuser and still got the “flash eye”.  I got tired of photoshopping the flash eye out.  And I have no doubt that I lost some sales due to customers seeing the proof on my website and not realizing that I would remove the “flash eye”.

And I have tried shooting available light and still do when I have to.  If I had a new 1DMkIV with its incredible low noise high ISO ability I might be inclined to do more.  But I hate fighting noise.  And I hate the softness reducing luminance noise can cause. I did shoot the youth reining at ISO 3200 and a few of those images are at the end of this.

I want the light on my images to look natural. With my system I would like to think that I have finally accomplished this.  I would appreciate your comments and thoughts.

Let’s get this out of the way: My system has yet to spook a horse.  As you will see from my diagrams below I position my lights across the arena from where the horse is.  The umbrellas are far more likely to scare a horse than the actual flash itself. I always position my systems far up in the stands.  And I always have the systems set up long before the show starts so that they are in place during the warm ups so that the horses see them.  Lastly, I make absolutely certain that the lights are in position and they don’t need to be moved or repositioned during a class.  I have been told to not use a flash at a show.  Last spring I shot a hunter/jumper show and was told not to use flash.  So I didn’t.  And I positioned myself at the entrance gate to get the proper angle for one of the jumps where I was surrounded by parents with their DSLR’s and P&S’s flashes blazing away!

And let’s get this out of the way: the system that I use is ugly.  But it works.  You could do the same thing with speedlites, which unquestionably would be more mobile.  But, as you will see, I use a dual system for a main and a fill light.  So the system that I use would require 4 speedlights and at over $400 per speedlight it would be cost prohibitive.  I know of some equine photographers that use a portable studio strobe system.  If you are a studio photographer and have such a system certainly this will work and possibly work better. But I’m not a studio/portrait photographer and can’t afford such a system as an Elichrome Ranger as much as I would like that.  So for now I will use my ugly umbrella/handle mount flash system.

So here is the system:  I will describe one system and then just keep in mind that I have two of these.  I use a 43″ silver reflective umbrella.  Into it I shoot 2 Sunpak handle mount flashes.  I use a Sunpak 622, which has a guide number of 200 (ft.) and a Sunpak 611, which has a guide number of 160 (I think).  I trigger one of these with a Cybersync receiver and the other one with a Sonia optical slave.  Most of the time (not always) I can find AC power close enough to extend extension cords and run these.  For those times I can’t, I power these with Quantum 1 batteries.

This was taken at a cutting in Iowa.  And in this picture I have two SunPak 611’s.  I don’t know why.

The whole theory behind my lighting for show is that I want one of my light setups to be the main light and one to be the fill.  Some may say it is a little complicated.  But it really is no more so than a simple portrait  set-up.  With a type of show or class  where you know exactly where you are going shoot this is relatively easy.  Such classes would be barrel racing or jumping.  The difficulty, of course, is trying to do this with a moving subject but with some planning you can I think do it.  I am going to describe how I do this with a reining class as an example of a moving subject.  I’ll then talk about how I modify this for cutting.

So here is the arena.  With reining, depending on what the pattern is, you will know where the horse is going to stop.  The show bill will have the pattern selected for each class.   Just go to the show office and get the show bill and list of patterns (there are 10 patterns).

So with knowledge of where the horse is going to stop I position my lights at angle equidistant behind and in front of that position on the opposite side of the arena.  Ideally up in the stands if I can which is what I did at this show.  I will then turn on one set of lights and go to the “H” spot in the arena.  With my Cybersync  in hand and my hand held meter, my Minolta IV-F, I get a flash reading from either one of the flashes.  Then I turn that flash system off and turn the other one on.  And meter again.  Ideally, if it is truly equidistant and since they are identical systems it should meter identically.  It never does.  And I then adjust position and more likely adjust output until they do match.

What I usually end up with is about ISO 1000-1200 and an f-stop of about 5.6.

Here is my theory.  The horses never do stop exactly in the same position.   They may stop at the “H”  or close to it.  If so, I have a 1:1 lighting ratio.  Not ideal but acceptable.

If the horse stops closer to the end of the arena I will then have closer to a 1:2 lighting ratio with the closer to me light being main light and the other one fill.

If the horse stops shorter of the “H” spot then then I have closer to a 2:1 ratio with the farther light as main and the closer one as fill.  If you look at the first photo above that is what we have.  (Look at the shadow.)  He is also close to the middle marker.

I then position myself at the end of the arena at a 45 degree angle to the horse to get wht I think is the most pleasing, dramatic stopping picture.

One other consideration is the fact that some patterns have two stops in the same location.  I position myself at that stop so I get two chances of a good stopping picture.

Clearly, if this was a hunter/jumper I would know exactly where the jump I that I want to shoot and adjust my lights.  If my jump was where the “H” is I would adjust the closest light to me to full power.  I adjust my further light to half power (both strobes) for a 1:2 lighting ratio.  Same for barrels or any other class where you have a fixed position to shoot.

So here are a couple more from the show:  BTW, all of these were used in some sort of promotion for the horse or the stable:

I did shoot one class available light.  I had to shoot a horse or two at my back drop between the Youth Reining and the class that preceded it.  I didn’t get my lights moved to the new stopping location.  So I shot the Youth with my 50D at ISO 3200.   This was cropped significantly but I don’t think it came out too bad for ISO 3200.  His grandma didn’t think so. She bought 3 8×10’s!  For my system on post processing high ISO images see my previous blog.

For cutting, quickly, my system is a little different.  Frankly, I’m not satisfied with it and am open to suggestions.  The same lighting system but the lights are positioned on opposite sides of the arena.

I set my exposure for the middle of the arena again as if the horse is there. But the problem is that the horse more then likely turns the cow towards the edge of the arena.  So as the horse moves towards the light the lighting ratio is backwards to what I want.  The light on the off side isn’t seen as much so isn’t bad.  But it could be better.

Next blog: My system for outdoor portraits using off camera flash.

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1 Comment »

  1. Nice explanation of you setup. It’s always a good thing to know how the pictures were taken!

    Comment by adamskay — July 4, 2011 @ 5:27 AM


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