Four Winds Photography's Blog

CHAN Cutting Elkhorn, NE

I had the pleasure of shooting the Cutting Horse Association of Nebraska cutting held at Chance Ridge Veterinary Clinic in Elkhorn, NE,  April 3.  It was indoors and so, of course, the lighting was terrible.  It goes without saying, doesn’t it?

And, as it turns out, I was totally unprepared for the curves thrown at me by the first show of the season.  Fortunately, it was a small little cutting.  I probably won’t make much money at it.  But it was a good “starter” show for the year to remind me that when photographing horse shows anything that can go wrong, will!

I got there early and, as I always do, I walked to the middle of the arena and took an incident light reading with my hand held meter.  By now I can pretty much tell just walking in the arena whether I will be able to shoot ambient.  But hope springs eternal.  At ISO 3200 and F/2 I got a shutter speed of 1/60th.  So much for shooting available light!  In come the strobes.

To me, cutting is the hardest event there is to light.  For reining, hunter/jumpers, barrel racing, etc., you know exactly where the action is going to occur.  You can set up your lights for where you know the stop is in the pattern, where the jump is or where the barrel is, respectively.  With cutting not only do you have to time the turn around you never know where is it going to occur.   I always meter for the center of the arena.  If the cow and horse turn any where else but the center the light ratio is going to be wrong.  But I don’t know how else to do it. 

I brought my umbrellas and lights into the building and very shortly realized there were two problems.  First off, no AC.  I asked Dr. Burton Smith, owner of Chance Ridge, where I could plug in and there were no outlets close enough (even though I always take a lot of extension cords.)  Switch to batteries.  Secondly, there were bleachers along the sides of the arena.  The only place I could set lights were either too close or too far away. Thanks, inverse square law.   So I chose the former.  Better to have enough power and a little too directional of light than not enough.  In each of these images you can see how the light is not ideal and too directional. 

Perhaps now is the time to show you my (very ugly) light set up.

I use a 43″ silver reflective umbrella on each side of the arena. Into each umbrella I fire a Sunpak 611 and a Sunpak 622.   Each 611 has a guide number of 160, and the 622, GN 200,  so I have a combined power of 360.  By using the umbrella I lose about a stop so I am back to about power of about 180.  But hopefully the light is a little better than direct flash.  Also, by using two flashes on each side of the arena I can cut the power to 1/2 on all four flashes and get a faster recycle time.  If I can’t get AC, which is rare, I power them with Quantum batteries.  I take chargers along and always have a couple batteries charging while I’m using a couple. 

What else can go wrong?  Oh, ya’.  My laptop.  I have been looking at “On site” programs for customers to review proofs and order at the show.  I decided on 5 Minute Photo.  I may have another blog on why I chose it.  But since this was a small little local show I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to try it out.  I hired my granddaughter, Melanie, to work my booth and sell photos at the show.  I got my lights all set up and started setting up the display booth.  I started the program and got some error message.  I can not remember what the exact message was but basically it could not find some file or location to start up.  I am convinced this is a hardware issue and not a software one.  But either way Melanie is now Papa’s gopher for the day rather than salesperson.


Nothing else can go wrong now, right?  It wasn’t a major deal but about half way through the day one of my Sunpak 611’s just died.  I don’t know why but it just quit.  The ready light would come on but it just wouldn’t fire.  Not a big deal.  I just got a few images with way too high of lighting ratio.  I replaced the flash with a backup.  But it was somewhat of a perfect punctuation mark for the day!

The entire day was shot with my Canon 1DMkII, Canon 100F/2, ISO 800, 1/250th, F/2.

Next post should be a Hunter/Jumper show, also in Elkhorn.  Hopefully all the kinks are out?!?!



  1. I’m shooting cuttings this year in a covered arena. .. at least it’s the same one time after time. (well, of course it is, because I won’t shoot in the other two that have cuttings because the way it’s set up, my lights won’t reach the working area).

    Your shots have almost a portrait quality lighting. .. beautifully soft light. I like that. .. but I think if I diffused my lights, they might not reach. (hmm.. maybe I’ll try a little diffusion at the next cutting).

    Anyway, I use my two studio lights, positioned so they slightly overlap in the center. .. that way, I’ve got light from wall to wall in the working area. I’ve been taking a nice quiet little Honda generator for power. .. it just makes things easy. However (speaking of easy), at the last NCHA show (a week or so ago) they dropped a power cord for the videographer. (guess they’re more important than the loyal still photographer?).. Anyway.. having power was great.

    I’m not getting harsh blown out lighting.. but it does cast shadows sometimes. (depending on where they’re working.

    You can go take a look in the NCHA folder and in the 2010 folder for Clements Cutting Club to see how my lights have been doing.

    That NCHA show last week had 172 works. It was almost a 14 hour show. … and so far, the CCC shows have all been over 150 works each this year. .. 12 hr days.

    Oh.. we bought a laptop to show & print the photos.. but so far, not one single person has even LOOKED. Maybe I’ll use it when I do some horse portrait events.

    Comment by Donalyn — May 26, 2010 @ 12:50 AM

    • Hi Donalyn,

      Thanks for the compliment on the lighting. I try and make it as soft as possible but I still think there is room for improvement. And I sometimes get the shadows as well. I still do hope to post more about the lighting as soon as I can.

      A Honda generator?! That’s interesting.

      Comment by Four Winds Photography — June 3, 2010 @ 2:46 PM

  2. come on part three !! Lighting and setup is boggling my mind !! great blog 🙂

    Comment by Sarah — June 3, 2010 @ 1:34 PM

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