Tag Archives: Horse Show

Harmony Halloween Horse Show

Photographing shows at the Harmony stables in Littleton is always a mixed blessing. It’s always fun to photograph the riders and horses but the lighting there makes it a real challenge to get good images.

Two sets from the day are on my events page. (Not all of the photographs are top-notch — some are there just so riders can do a little self-evaluation if they wish.)

Here are a few more favorites from the day…

Continue reading Harmony Halloween Horse Show

Harmony Spring Horse Show

Sunday was a beautiful Spring day here in Massachusetts.  I spent a good chunk of the day at Harmony Horse Stables in Littleton, where my daughter teaches horseback riding and was running the show for the day.

There are a lot of classes and I covered all of them.  Visit my Events gallery to see the highlights…

[url] http://events.dmg-photography.com[/url]

Here are a few highlights from the day:

Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010

Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010

One of the classes featured participants in Harmony’s “Life in the Barn” program, which introduces young children to farm life.  One of the kids was a bit reluctant to get on her horse.  My daughter (along with the girl’s mom) coaxed her up…

Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010

… while this young rider pretty much grinned the entire time …

Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010

“Spot” made his ride exhilarating…

Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010

… and his canter is a bit over the top too  (note the airborne feet):

Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010

Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010

Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010

And the show wraps up…

Harmony Horse Stables Spring Horse Show 2010

Technical stuff:

Canon 1D Mark II, 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS. Indoors shot at ISO 1600, usually wide-open, shutter speeds varied greatly depending on where the subject was in the arena (the lighting conditions there are pretty awful, um, “varied”).   Outside shot at ISO 200, f/4, with shutter speeds around 1/2500 (varies slightly with lighting conditions).    I normally shoot in manual mode, but that’s annoying in the arena, so I tried using spot metering with aperture priority.   That didn’t work well at all, probably because of the lens flare  — so I got the hint pretty quickly and shot the rest of the day with a memorized set of shutter speeds.

Lightroom:  All photos white-balanced for indoor and outdoor conditions, clarity +25, vibrance +25 by default.  Indoor photos are rather heavily processed relative to the outdoor shots, which occasionally have a bit of fill.   Indoor shots are often backlit and have significant lens flare, greatly reducing contrast.   (I wrote about this in an article probably a year ago.)   I refined the “Haze Cutter” preset a bit this time around to make the resulting photograph maintain the exposure while handling moderate haze  (Recovery 22, Fill 24, Blacks 23, Brightness +28, Clarity +44, Vibrance +15).    This worked pretty well for a majority of the back-lit images.

I shot over 1600 images.  There are a lot of bursts, so the numbers add up quickly. A quick review on the laptop to get rid of the obvious junk brought that down to 1525 pretty quickly. Another 35 would bite the dust in subsequent reviews.  So I have a total of 1495 reasonably well-exposed and not blurry images to work with.  I worked through those getting the images reasonably well-tuned.  I selected 500 or so as good candidates and tweaked them a bit further.   I was happy enough with my framing that I think I only cropped 2 images.

Harmony Halloween Horse Show – A Different View


When I do an event shoot I take a LOT of pictures – (often) hundreds to (occasionally) thousands of them.  When I post galleries I edit them down to to a small fraction of the day’s captures and then I whittle it down to a handful of personal favorites for a blog posting.  My editing process involves several passes of the photographs: the first pass involves deleting bad frames (badly blown or out-of-focus exposures, test shots of the ground) — you know, utter garbage.  And I really delete them.   The subsequent phases involve various forms of rating and have a lot to do with the particular event and why I was there and what kind of story I’m trying to tell with the images.

The bottom line is that a LOT of photos end up on the proverbial cutting room floor.   Wouldn’t it be nice if I could use them all without inducing eye-clawing boredom on the viewer’s part?   Well, here’s my quick attempt at such a thing — let me know what you think.   758 images in 100 seconds…


(Also available on YouTube HD)

Technical stuff:

I originally approached this using a new feature of Lightroom 3 (Beta) that allows exporting of slideshows in H.264 video.   This is a really cool feature and I will certainly make use of it for certain projects.  (It is also a slick way to easily produce more traditional time-lapse videos directly from Lightroom.)   As with most things there are tradeoffs and the drawback of this direct-from-Lightroom technique is one of performance and flexibility.  It takes a LONG time for Lightroom to generate the video and when you are done you may find that you wanted a different pacing — and then you’ll end up generating it again.

The bulk of the time was spent tuning the images in Lightroom.  In a normal edit I only spend time fine-tuning the looks of the selected images, but in this case all of them needed some level of processing.   Fortunately I shoot in manual mode so the input exposures are pretty consistent.  This means that I can apply the same corrections to large sets of images at a time using the Synchronize tools in Lightroom.  I even created a few Develop Presets along the way to make this even easier for the shoot.  The emphasis was on creating groups of similarly exposed images so that the video levels wouldn’t be jumping too far out of whack. There are a couple of ways of approaching this, but in my case I created a separate Lightroom catalog with just this shoot in it — so the edits of my selects didn’t affect the edits for the video.   I could have also achieved the same result with a collection of virtual copies and may well do this in the future because it allows me to keep both end-products in the same catalog.

I used the same Slideshow capability in Lightroom, but opted to generate JPEG images instead.   (This output option is plain to see Lightroom 2, but you have to press the Option (Alt on PC’s) key in the new Lightroom 3 interface.)  For this video I selected the output size 1280×720 to match the 720p HD frame size.  Lightroom took almost an hour to generate the 758 frames on my 4-processor MacPro.  From there I open the images as an Image Sequence in Quicktime Pro and  select a frame rate.  10 frames per second happens to be close to the burst rate of my Canon 1DMk2 camera so the jump sequences almost play in “real time” and the pacing for the rest of the images is pleasingly frenetic.   The important part here is that if I didn’t like the frame rate choosing a different one and previewing it takes a few seconds rather than hours.

It is important to note that the use of Lightroom’s Slideshow feature is important to the success of this workflow.  If you chose to simply export the images they would end up being different sizes (unless you used identical cropping on every single one of them) and they also would not be sized for a video frame.   If the generated images are not identical in terms of aspect and resolution they will not be included in the Quicktime image sequence.  Using the Slideshow option allows you to generate consistently sized image frames with whatever background you want to use.

After generating the frames in Lightroom and rendering them as an image sequence with Quicktime Pro, I imported the video file as a clip into Final Cut Pro where I added the titles and credits and then added the soundtrack (thank you Duke!).  Once I had the music there I realized it might be fun to break up the video a bit to correspond to the music.   This is a creative process where you can absolutely go overboard.  Since this video was meant to be just a fun use of “excess” images I tried to keep it simple.  I then added the titles and credits and then uploaded it to the YouTubes…

I did some basic color grading in Final Cut, keeping the images coming out of Lightroom pretty basic.  I edit video in a different gamma than photographs (1.8 versus 2.2) so it is better to send Final Cut “flat” images and work the final result from within the video editing suite.

I thought the result was pretty cool and tells the story of the event in a unique and entertaining way.  I’ll likely alter my shooting slightly to enhance the results of future videos.  What I would normally consider gratuitous shots can now form the basis of short stop-action sequences.  Yet another tool in the story-telling kit.


My thanks to Duke Levine for his permission to use his music in my blog videos.  If you like what you hear, visit Duke Levine’s MySpace page and pick up one of his albums.

Photos from the Harmony Halloween Horse Show can be found at: events.dmg-photography.com

2009 Harmony Horse Stables Halloween Show

That’s Glenda the Good Witch (Cathy Cosgrove) enjoying the events at the annual Halloween Horse Show at Harmony Horse Stables in Littleton, MA.  The show is a mix of skill and downright silliness/fun including a equitation challenge that requires you to hold an apple under your chin while the riding tasks get more and more complex, and, of course, there are the costume competitions (everybody is a winner…)

Highlights from the show are on the events page and images are available for sale (download or prints).  Visit events.dmg-photography.com

Technical stuff after some of my favorites from the day:

Technical stuff: Shooting without flash in this environment is extremely challenging (I wrote about this last year.) The backlighting, dust, variable light temperatures, and fast motion make for some interesting technical tradeoffs.   I shot mostly with the 1D Mark 2 coupled with the 70-200mm f/2.8L lens at ISO 1600.    I also had the 5D Mark 2 with the 24-70 f/2.8L for wider candids and a bit of jumping.

Exposure management in these conditions is just plain tough. Next year I think I may try using spot exposure for a bit to see what happens – evaluative doesn’t know what the heck is going on.  The widely ranging lighting coupled with the need to freeze action causes me to pick a manual setting (around 1/300) and vary only occasionally.  Later in the afternoon the sun moves around to the end of the barn and I can shoot from there at 1/500 without too much problem, but even that has limitations.

Many of the images require shooting into the light coming from windows along the side of the barn.  This washes all contrast out of the image and makes teasing out a photo rather difficult.  I pushed the Lightroom processing even harder than last year (see aforementioned article) and the result was an interesting stylized look to many of the images (see the girl with the butterfly wings as an example).  After a few tries I found a generally good starting point and created a development preset for it.  I would fine-tune the exposure and black point as needed for the individual image if the preset was off the mark.  Below are two sample “out of the camera” images to compare with the processed/stylized versions above:

wpid1275-2009A-385-3062.jpg wpid1273-2009A-385-2934.jpg

As you can see it is possible to create two very different looks from some low-contrast initial images by attacking the exposure and clarity rather aggressively.

In the jumper image the starting point was very washed out and the result was fairly “natural”.  LR changes were: exposure 0, recovery 23, black point 73(!), clarity +83, and vibrance was +20 (pretty standard there).

For the butterfly rider I went with a more stylized look.  LR changes were: exposure +2/3 stop, black point 27, clarity +65, and vibrance +40.

My thanks to Harmony Horse Stables letting me get in the center of the ring for a little while and try out that vantage point.  It’s a great place to be, but you have to pay attention for the safety of the riders and yourself.  I look forward to returning next year with a few more technique twists to try to capture even more of this holiday event.

Halloween Horse Show: countering some horror lighting conditions with Lightroom


Halloween is right around the corner and each year Harmony Horse Stables in Littleton has their annual Halloween horse show which combines an intermural equestrian event with a dash of costumed fun.  This year the theme was local sports teams and the gates were painted in colors representing the Boston Bruins, Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, and the Boston Celtics.  My daughter is a riding instructor there and went as Tom Brady – complete with crutches.

The full set of images is available at: http://harmony.dmg-photography.com (see Halloween Show 2008).


It was a long shoot, over six hours non-stop, and suffice it to say that I worked it pretty hard and took a lot of photos – a quarter of which were quickly discarded in the initial edit.  I’m not paid to do this, so while I try to document the event I also use it to find some difficult or creative lighting situations and make the best of them.  Consequently the “flavor” of the images varies from straight photojournalism to “atmospheric”.





Shooting in the barn is a challenge to start with, but it gets harder as the day progresses.  The light is 70% natural, streaming in from all sides and some large doors at both ends.  There is no “good place” to stand.  As afternoon approaches the light at the far end of the barn forced me switch ends and shoot from a doorway.  Note that my first goal is to not get good pictures, it is to make sure that my presence and actions don’t disturb the horses and riders.  Many of them are very young kids and novice riders and their safety and enjoyment of participating in the show is my #1 concern.

Most beginner photographers don’t understand the value of a lens hood.  Shading the front of the lens reduces the amount of glare on and internal reflections within the lens.  When light that is incidental (i.e., not part of your image) hits the lens you get flare and loss of contrast.

But what happens when lighting conditions are not under your control and you have to shoot “into the light”?  Well, that’s where watching your exposure plus some post-processing can help make lousy images look pretty good (if stylized just a bit).

The jumps in the Harmony barn go length-wise and you want to be facing the horses for the jumps.  There’s light at both ends, so either way you’re screwed — shoot into the light, grin, and bear it – knowing that you’ll be able to (somewhat) compensate for the glare later.   The result is something like this:


Ramping up the black point, bumping the exposure (to somewhat compensate for the black point change), adding a bit of brightness, and increasing the clarity more than you would for a properly exposed image yielded this:


Now I could spent 10 minutes tweaking each image so that it ends up looking even better — but I had 50 to 60 of similarly challenged images.  Lightroom has (at least) two ways of helping.  I can synchronize the changes across multiple images (Aperture calls this Lift&Stamp) or I can create a “develop preset” that captures the tweaks and allows me to apply them anytime.

What I ended up doing was creating two presets that had different levels of compensation, and I could use the preset visualization window to double-check which one might be best if I wasn’t sure.    Bang, bang, bang – and everything is reasonably well fixed up.

It is important to note that I had another thing that helped with this process — I shoot with manual exposure 90% of the time.  The benefit here is that the adjustments I came up with for one image worked pretty well for a lot of others, because they were all exposed identically.  If I had been shooting in automatic mode, the scene differences would have varied the exposures slightly — making it harder to have batch/codified corrections later on.  And that’s a pretty big deal when shooting hundreds of images.

Manual Exposure + Lightroom Develop Presets = Fast turnaround of difficult images