Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The anatomy of a shoot - People and animals Kasztanka stables


I thought it might be interesting to talk people through one of my most recent people and animals photoshoots. In case you missed the series you can see what I've been up to here: link. Read on for more details on the shoot...

This is a personal project that I am not doing for financial gain. I am shooting it to improve, experiment and enjoy taking photographs. And because it's completely self funded (read that as: has a budget of zero) I have total control, all I need to do is keep the people I'm working with happy. I typically offer people some prints for the shoot, and maybe usage of the images for their small business.

My most recent photoshoot for this project was a stables and livery in Southern Poland called Kasztanka. I know these stables as my girlfriend Olga rides there regularly when she's in Poland visiting her family. I've also had a lesson or two there myself. Not that I can ride, they were first lessons ever.

So the first thing that I did was to contact the stables and ask them if they would be interested in taking part in my project. This was done via an email about three weeks before the shoot (Olga translated for me, this shoot would not have been possible without her). In the email I laid out what the project was about, what I aimed to shoot and how long it would take. It's good to be totally honest here, I made it clear that:
- I would not be taking typical pet portraits.
- I would be focusing on the people and not the animals.
- I would take a long time - about 2 hours or more per person.
But I also made sure they understood that it was going to be fun and interesting. Giving people the honest truth about a photoshoot means that they commit to it fully and therefore you get the best images from it. If I had said "I'll only be a hour at most" and then we shot for hours, by the end of it they would have been pissed off and unwilling to cooperate.

So after sending the email and chasing it up we arranged a time and date and went from there.

I arrived in Poland to visit Olga's family a couple of days before the shoot and went to visit the stables before the big day. This enabled me to scout out locations and get an idea of who my subjects were. After a good walk around with my camera and a few glasses of lemon vodka everything seemed to be going well and I was excited about the shoot.

Here is some of the images I took as scouting shots trying to find the best locations and angles for my pictures:


It's also important to keep people happy (as mentioned above) so a nice shot or two of their dog will always be appreciated:


On the day of the shoot we had arranged to photograph in the evening for the best light, so I arrived at about 3pm and started setting things up and making sure everything was going well. This included getting my light that I needed for one image all ready.  This way when we introduced the horse into the equation there wasn't too much moving light stands around (horses don't mind the flashing at all in my experience, but they really do mind the big white thing if it moves). And a scared horse is not a fun thing to be around, so we made sure all was set before the horse was brought out.


So once all was ready we brought our subjects into the set-up and started playing. Here's the final shot we got:


Sometimes I have very specific ideas for a shoot and they all work out well, other times those specific ideas just don't seem to be working. The later was the case on this day and try as I might my subject could notice this. So I moved quickly on from my preconceived idea (that actually did work out, it just didn't feel that way at the time) to a some much simpler shots that came out just great and made us all feel much better. Plus it was much less problematic with the horse.

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This was the end of our shoot with the stables owner and time for Marta and her horse. So they saddled up and we headed off to a couple of new locations. I was determined to shoot at a location I had found even thought everyone who lived there was saying that there was a much better place. My thoughts were - if we can shoot in both then that's better, at least I've seen one location that way. It was the less risky thing to do.

So here are the shots at my location choice - nice, but nothing special.


After my location choice we went to Marta's choice, which turned out to be much better and offered me loads of shot options. So we started off with some seriously fast riding through the long grass - which was amazing to watch!


After that Marta had a quick mid-field wardrobe change and we did some more relaxed photos that worked just great. I wasn't expecting the wardrobe change but embraced it fully and it looked fantastic.


A little location scouting on the way over meant I knew the perfect place for my final shot of the day - a path with tall grasses on either side. So sitting on my backside in the dirt I peered up towards Marta to grab some pictures of her slowly walking towards me.


A massive thanks to all those involved in the shoot: Krzysiek you were a great drinking partner, Marta you rode so awesomely, and Olga I couldn't have done it without you. Also a big thanks to the horses involved, they were amazing.



  1. Easily one of your best blog posts yet. Fantastic photos (as ever!) but it was really nice to get a feel for how you went about the shoot, both on the day and in preparation before, as along with the photos it all became a cohesive whole.

    (And not a technical detail in sight!)

  2. Thanks Jamie, nice to know you found it interesting.