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