December 23, 2008

Holiday Cards

I spent so much time this last 2 weeks making everyone else's holiday desires come to fruition that I never did get around to those snailmail holiday cards. So, Heres to you and yours, best holiday wishes to you all!

December 11, 2008

So, you want to be a pet photographer!

I borrowed a friend's studio light set (thanks Marie, You're the best!) to take for a test drive. I wanted to see if I understood lighting even a little and I thought I might like to take a few images of my pets and my brothers family. I've taken plenty of very nice available light images of them so I thought it couldn't be too hard.

So, first, I set up the lights and the back drop and got the cat's favorite chair and covered it with a fancy piece of velvet. I took a test shot or two, looks all right so I guess I need a cat! It shouldn't be that hard to get a cat on it's favorite piece of furniture, but for some reason they were ignoring it. I know, how about a favorite toy! So I got one of Cecil's all time favorite toys and put it on the chair. Nope, not good enough. I resorted to tossing it on the chair. That got his attention, kinda. He only plopped his front end up there and fetched the toy and brought it back for another throw. In the meantime, Squeak had stealthily moved in under the chair. To Cecil, that was far more fascinating than fetching.

Cecil spent a great deal of time circling the chair with Squeak under it. Every so often she would launch herself at him and take the fabric with her. I kept putting it back up in the hopes that some cat would get ON the chair. Soon Cecil settled down in a "safe" place and just stared at her through the fabric, taunting, daring her to launch again. Squeak got bored with that game and decided to go exploring..... she got on the chair! Under the fabric. Quite amusing, but not very photogenic. Eventually she wiggled up all the way to the top and morphed into Queen Squeak.

After she jumped away, consequently chased by Cecil, I decided to try a different tactic. What cat can resist catnip? Cecil can, but it sure got the attention of my little kitty-druggie, Squeak. She hopped right up on the chair and proceeded to roll around and around in it. Again, not very photogenic of her not, that she cared about my goal. It didn't take long for Cecil to decide she was having way more fun than he so he joined in. It wasn't pretty, but it's good for cat action shots.

Time to give up on the chair. It just wasn't working out with Squeak continually under it launching herself at Cecil so I decided to try a box. Great idea, she can't get under a box! It turned out to be way too small for big Cecil to be interested in the top side. I tried a bigger box. Cecil circled and inspected it from all sides but the top, again. Soon, he disappeared behind it. I found him mesmerized by a thumb tack in the wall. Placed there to discourage cats getting behind and under the backdrop where they were sure to have more fun than necessary.

OK, I give up. Lets see what the dog can give me. He will do anything I ask and sit anywhere I want and he will stay put. Outside. It turns out all my teaching him to stay off the furniture backfired with a completely non-photogenic guiltily crouching dog when asked to get on a piece of furniture. In this case, the coffee table.

During the attempts to photograph Cody, Cecil decides to goof off on the couch. The couch isn't bad looking so I turned around hoping to catch him striking a pose. I was not so lucky, he was in total fruit loop mode lying on his back and digging between the cushions after another toy. Back to the dog. Once Cecil got sufficiently ignored, he jumped up to take a break, guess where..... the now, undecorated and not in the the ideal circle of light, favorite chair! Uncooperative Toad! Meanwhile, the kitty-druggie, Squeak, is nearby desperately trying to break into the catnip vault. What a zoo!

In the end I did get a few decent shots of the sort I was imagining as well as a whole memory card full of them being totally themselves. I really enjoyed playing with the lights and seem to have a grasp on how to work and position them to get what I envisioned. However, I'll admit that formal pet portraiture is definitely not for the feint of heart or patience-challenged. Stalking them with a camera in ambient light is one thing. Getting them to be somewhere specific AND posed is a whole 'nother ball of wax (maybe I shoulda tried that). And to think, these are my OWN pets! I know them and they aren't scared of me either. After the cat fiasco, I briefly thought maybe I could venture into photographing kids..... on second thought, they can be pouty and they have parents! I think I'll be far more successful, not to mention somewhat sane, if I just stick to the equines!

December 6, 2008

Lights, Camera, Action!

Twice this year I have had the opportunity to mix horses and studio lighting. This first was in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts where we met Jorge Gabriel at his Casa Lusitana. Jorge is one of the kindest people I have met in my travels and he was gracious enough to host Lynne Glazer, Amy E. Riley, April Visel and I for a day. He let us hang around and photograph his regular work day and later in the afternoon he dressed up a few horses to the hilt for us. However the photographic pinnacle of the day was later that evening when we completely took over his indoor riding arena and turned it into a studio. He dressed up one of his Lusitano stallions, Solar, in authentic 18th century dress and performed for us.

Just a week ago, I was blessed with a second chance to play with horses and lights at Fox Hill Farms near San Marcos, CA. Donna Richardson and her husband and a student each took turns modeling for us with various horses. Exuprey, recently returned from the National Horse Show with the title of Working Hunter Champion. Donna later dressed up and brought out her Lusitano Stallion, Postulano for some quality posing. He also took a time out to give fellow photographer and studio lights owner, Marie Cobb some horsey smooches.

November 30, 2008

Cecil: A Helpful Cat!

Recently I have been taking a lot of images for In fact, I'm on a forced march of twelve weeks in a row due to playing on a team with a select group of people for a select amount of time - 12 weeks! I've got a great team and we seem to be holding on to an overall average score that is keeping us in third place.

A few weeks ago, the two topics we had to choose from were Red and Blue. I spent a good deal of time trying to get a nice image that conveyed the topic and my extremely curious and helpful cat, Cecil, was there to help and cheer me on for both my shoots.

For Blue, I tried to incorporate both his blue eyes and my blue door. It was tricky and eventually I got him to come around the door after I had placed a black matte board against the wall. Cecil had to go through the act several times before I finally got it right on my end.

For Red, he wasn't a planned part of the shot, but he just had to check in and make sure the Gerbera Daisy was the correct hue for the paper backdrop behind. Oh, and he decided he might as well stop and smell the thing while he was there!

All in all, I ended up using a flower shot that didn't have his nose peeking in and helped clinch another decent average score for my team.

There are more kitty photos here. Of Cecil, Squeak, my dearly departed Ollie and various other furry felines.

November 27, 2008

Band of Wild Horse Photographers Sighted

Last week I travelled to California to meet up with other members of the Vision 18 Collective, a band of fellow horse photographers. We were hosted by the ever gracious Terri Miller, Axel Steiner and Tinto. The gathering included several shoots, one at Fox Hill Farm, a dressage barn near San Marcos, CA. The following day we took a drive out to the Imperial Sand Dunes near Glamis, CA to photograph a pair of arabians in the sand dunes. The last day we ended up at the San Diego Zoo where much cuteness of Meercats and the like was observed and documented. We took a wild group shot before heading to some fine wine and dining on Coronado Island in the San Diego Harbor.

In attendance: Terri Miller, Lynne Glazer, Mary Cornelius, Amy Riley (Cody), Darlene Wohlart, Kim Vickrey, Marie Cobb, Karin Naimark and myself Cristy Cumberworth. Sharon Fibelkorn also made an appearance for a short while. Sorely missed were Susan Sexton, April Visel, Melanie Snowhite and Candace Craw-Goldman.

November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day

Whether you agree we (the U.S.) should currently be at war or not is irrelevant on this day of remembrance. Thank a veteran for their service today if you find one. They aren't always super apparent in public but they are there and maybe just under your nose.... or maybe under your horse! In my horse world, I have at least two that I communicate with on almost a weekly basis.

Over the years I have known my horse's veterinarian, Dr. Joe Quintana, I've put together pieces from various conversations that made me aware that he a veteran from the Vietnam war era. My horse's farrier, Cody Mathews is also a veteran from the Iraq war. I depend on these two men for a significant part of the care of my horse. They are both incredibly dedicated to and passionate for their chosen professions and my horse and I thank them for that often. Today I want to thank them additionally for their service to our nation, the United States of America, as well.

Thank you Cody, Thank You Joe, for your dedication to both my horse and my country.

October 29, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy!

The last gasp of event shooting before the winter downtime is almost over. Fortunately, it's been a strong fall show season for me and I'm ready to stop driving so much for a while but you can bet I'll be ready to resume in a few months! Unfortunately, for blog entries, there hasn't been much spare time. I decided to at least sneak in a teaser before I dive back into preparing the next batch of images from the NMHJA Fall Harvest show.

A fun motion blur image of a jumper making a tight turn for the next jump.

October 8, 2008

One Last Wish

Of course, it was granted.

I first heard of Fanny almost four years ago, in December of 2004. My friend had been helping out a new local start-up horse rescue and told me about the plight of eight horses that were starving on the owners property. Four Corners Equine Rescue found out about them and tried to get the owner to surrender them to no avail. FCER contacted the Livestock Inspector to intervene and the horses disappeared the morning they were to be looked in on. You can read the whole story about that part of their rescue here. Some of the images are not for the feint of heart.

My first involvement with them was by loaning an enclosed horse trailer with which FCER's founder, Debbie Coburn, could go retrieve them. After a brief stay at Animal Haven Clinic, I help arrange foster care for two of the mares, Fanny and Bridget, at our barn, with the care given by my sister-in-law, Tammy. I visited all the surviving horses at the vet clinic and photographed them and petted them and brushed them. I've seen some pretty thin horses but these were walking skeletons.

So, Fanny and Bridget come to stay with us. I was to be Tammy's guide to horse care since she volunteered to care for them but was still a relative newbie to horses. Fanny was ancient at 32 years old and the matriarch of the majority of the group. She was a tough ol' bat. When you approached her she'd pin her ears and practically snarl at you until you caught her. She also tried to beat up Bridget so we had to separate them. It's no wonder she was still alive. I bet she fought hard for every scrap of dinner she could get. Once caught, which was pretty easy if you didn't fall for her bluff, she was just as sweet as could be. I had to coach Tammy a little so she wouldn't fall for Fanny's pretty serious looking bluff. I told Tammy, no matter how mean that horse looks at you, DO NOT YIELD. It's all a bluff, just ignore her and put the rope around her neck, her attitude changes real quick. Tammy followed those instructions and it wasn't long before Fanny quit trying to scare her away. Tammy also discovered that Fanny would make the funniest faces when you scratched her anywhere. Oh, she had favorite spots, but really, any place would do.

During her first winter at our barn, Fanny suddenly became very lame. We loaded her up and took her into the clinic for a look-see. Turns out she had some pretty serious arthritis in her shoulder. An x-ray proved that it looked more or less like swiss cheese with all the bone degeneration. She had probably once had a pretty serious injury to that shoulder. She had also gotten very, very muddy in her corral at the barn and it was so caked on it was near impossible to brush, or even chip off her. I talked the clinic into letting me use the bovine barn to give her a mid-winter bath with warm water and let her stay in a heated stall to dry. It wasn't hard. I went for soap and soaped her and scrubbed her and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed. It took me a couple of hours to get her clean. The amount of mud on the floor of the barn was pretty incredible. I put her in the heated stall for the night and when I went back the next day she was ready to come home all spic and span with a little bute on board to ease the arthritis pain. She never got that dirty or muddy again all winter. I think she liked being clean!

It took 6 months for the owner who starved them to get to court and have the horses officially turned over to the rescue. Once that happened, Bridget went to stay at the Rescue and Fannie was adopted by Susan, who lives on the barn property and keeps her horses there too. Susan also adopted Magic, the palomino stallion that was out of Fanny. So, Fanny got moved to her permanent corral and her temporary corral got redesigned with double fences for safe stallion keeping. Now Fanny had a forever home with Susan and never even had to leave the place.

Susan adopted Fanny fully knowing that she may not live very long. She was, after all 32 years old. Susan was more than happy to give Fanny whatever she needed for whatever remainder of her life she had left in her. Three and a half years, it turned out, against all expectations. Fanny still had some bad days and had to go back to the vet here and there. More than once we thought it was the end for her but once she got out of the trailer at the clinic she was just as content as could be. It was almost like she just wanted a trip to the equine spa for a day or so every now and again. She was gimpy from her arthritis and she was beginning to founder a little but she refused to give it up. Her official vet-directed therapy was to be turned loose to roam whenever possible. So, we let her.

Fanny would roam the place and often we would come around a tree and she was just there, minding her own business, nibbling at grasses or not. She often took extended naps under the Tamarisk trees in strange places. We have people that rent corrals to keep their own horses in. She would often scare the boarders in various ways. We would forget to let new boarders know that Fanny had run of the place. Several times I got a call from a new boarder to let me know there was a loose horse and I would have to explain that Fanny lived there and she was allowed to roam freely for her therapy. She never bothered any of the boarders or their horses. Sometimes when I was at the barn I'd run into a boarder and I'd end up with a story of how recently Fanny scared them..... power napping in odd places. Not moving a muscle. They would tiptoe over to see if she was still breathing and she'd flick an ear. Whew! No one wanted to be the one to tell Susan her horse died under a tree somewhere.

Despite all the momentary fears instilled in many people, including myself and Tammy, over the last three years by a loose horse or a power napping horse. Susan was just sure that Fanny would tell her when she was ready. Despite all the aches and pains, Fanny refused to give it up. She looked bad sometimes but every time Susan or Dr. Quintana would ask, Fanny said "not yet." Well, tonight, Fanny changed her mind. After a lower than normal water intake over the last 12 hours and a totally missed bonus lunch, Fanny picked her place. When Susan fed the whole crew at about 9:oo, Fanny was just hanging out under a tree. About an hour later, Susan went to fetch her to put her away for the night and found her lying down and not wanting to get up. Susan called me and we sat next to Fanny for a little while and contemplated calling the vet. We tried to get Fanny up once and Fanny tried a little but wasn't very interested. We talked about her and how is was a nice place under a Tamarisk and beautiful moonlight. Fanny had picked her spot, it seemed.

We called the vet. He came and checked her out. Her heartbeat was irregular and had a bit of a swoosh sound to it that wasn't there before. He let both Susan and I listen. It was kind of like the heart valves weren't in a hurry to close anymore. Her temperature had started to drop some and her reaction to being pinched on her pasterns was very slow. The vet said he didn't see any reason to try and fight it off, she picked her time and her place and that he would grant her wish of going with dignity. He went back to his truck and drew up the kindest drug and whispered to her and petted her as he gave it to her. And we waited. Her brain died peacefully then her body reflexively fought for a few more breaths and then all was still.

Fanny had her last wish granted at 11:30 pm Wednesday night the 8th of October. She was 36.

September 12, 2008


A few days ago, the "World Famous" Lipizzaner Stallions show came to town. Over the years I have accumulated many memories of the Lipizzan shows. I have had the pleasure of seeing them several times. At one, I talked my parents into purchasing one of my very first Breyer models a very long time ago, it was the Lipizzan in the levade pose. I still have it (and have collected many, many more Breyers since). I drove through the closest thing Albuquerque can get to an ice storm one January to view them again. That was also the first time I thought of photographing them since I had been blessed with the gift of front row tickets!
The lipizzan show has always been very good about allowing photographs by the audience in the past. This tour was no exception. The only rule was no video and the venue also was fine with cameras. So, of course, I took mine. When I first arrived I was disappointed that there were not going to be any spotlights. It was all just under the coliseum's regular mercury vapor lights. I was worried that any images I took were going to be a waste as I had to set the camera to 1600 ISO and use the lens at it's widest aperture, 2.8. I thought I'd give it a try anyway. While waiting for the show to begin, I noticed the storm that had been on the horizon had gotten a lot closer. Close enough, in fact, that we could see lighting and hear thunder in a all but completely enclosed building.
The rain started, and so did the show...... well, for a minute anyway! Lightning struck one of the power poles just outside the building and the place went dark! A few moments later, I could see sparks raining down by the outdoor arena through the one open door at the end of the coliseum. I thought, well, there goes this show. After a few minutes, the power came back on but only the lights over the audience and the PA system. It was VERY obvious that the PA came back online due to the LOUD hum coming over the speakers. After trying to reset the power again, it was still humming and the coliseum staff finally cut it off and rerouted some wires and we again had sound without a hum. The announcer noted that there was a live wire down outside and that had created the hum but they were good to go again. I was ready, except for the fact, the mercury vapor lights were not yet warmed up. No worries, they did manage to get to almost full brightness by the time the announcer finished his introduction and soon he had us all singing the national anthem together.

This show is all lipizzans. They have only one Andalusian and that horse only does one solo. This is also a great show for the non-horsey sect since throughout the show they give a short demonstration on some of the dressage movements to help the audience know what parts are special. They show the difference between walk, trot and canter as well as collected and extended versions of each gait. They also point out several of the more difficult moves such as the two-tempi (a change of leads every two strides of the canter) and the piaffe (very collected trot with close to no forward movement). They show the moves but they also keep it short and sweet so they don't lose the non-dressage audience too much. For the audience members that know dressage, most of the moves are executed fairly accurately although once in a while the riders will let the horses get a little sloppy. However, horses will be horses, and they have good days and bad days and they do this show several times a week so they can get bored with it too.

After the show started, I made my way to the walkway over the entrance of the arena so I could see the dressage arena from the long end. This turned out to be a great place from which to shoot. I got to shoot directly down on a few of the riders as they entered and exited as well as seeing the patterns from a vantage point that made them almost symmetrical. Plus I could see just about the entire audience as well. It made the trip that much more fun and interesting for me since I didn't have the option of spotlights to light up the horses. I love the Pas de Trois, a ridden pattern with 3 horses, the Pas de Quatre with 4 horses and the Quadrille, which had 6. Between the multi horse demonstrations, they also showed the "Aires Above the Ground", the Lipizzan's specialty movements that were originally taught to them as maneuvers for war. They also offered up some of the history of how the horses were saved by General Patton from potential destruction during WWII.

Overall it is an entertaining and educational show for both horsey and non-horsey folks alike, without being too basic for horse-lovers or too specific for the non-horse owners. You can see more images from the show in my gallery.

September 6, 2008

Dirt Bath Drama

I'm well aware that chickens like to take dirt baths, but this hen kept bathing and bathing and bathing!

Lou and Auryn

Lou is big. He's a Belgian/National Show Horse cross and he can be either one when under saddle, so Amy, his owner, says. Auryn is smaller. A section D Welsh Cop colt, but he is oh so much more of a brat! At least to Lou, who mostly puts up with Auryn's juvenile self. Amy took me to the place she keeps them, together, at a local boarding facility.

For some reason, every time I go with Amy to see Lou, and now, Auryn too, a storm rolls in. This storm was dark and moody and while we were there, the area came under a tornado watch! Tornados are uncommon in the Cape Cod area and Amy was alarmed just enough to ask me what is the right thing to do in a tornado! Well, locate the nearest cellar, I told her, or, if all else fails you lie in a ditch, the goal is to not get hit by debris. I'm not really sure why she was asking me in the first place, I come from a mostly tornado-free part of the country too..... but, then again, I DO have a sister in Kansas! The barn owners had a cellar and were keeping abreast of the situation on the tv so we remained outside with the horses. I managed to get some images despite dark overcast.

We chased them around a little and I got a nice series of Auryn teasing Lou. Lou finally got tired of the bratty antics and told Auryn off. Amy then spent a little time with Auryn while I brushed Lou. The tornado threat abated and after Amy did horse chores, like fly spray, we left back for the house. I'm sure the fly spray all came right back off immediately because once we got home, I checked the radar and it was a downpour where we had just left. Maybe next time I go there the sun will shine!

August 26, 2008

Draft Horse Pulls

One of the places Amy took me to was the Barnstable County Fair. We strategically planned our trip to coincide with the evening Draft Horse Pulling competition. We knew we would have limited light since the pulls started in the evening.

Once we got there we moseyed our way to the main arena via the petting zoo. I'm not a big fan of petting zoos and haven't really seen all that many over the years. I don't mind the animals that get to interact with the public, but the caged, usually exotics bother me. This particular petting zoo had very few of them, fortunately but it had plenty of begging goats and llamas.

Well off to find the all-important horses. We found a few in a small barn, a 4-H display. The aisle was packed with people. There was one horse that has shoved itself into the back of his stall not wanting to be touched and petted by the adoring public. I looked at him for a minute and then turned to talk to someone. I glanced in the direction of the horse and he had come over and was sticking his had over the door and looking right at me. I went over to say hello for a moment and when I left he returned back the far corner of his stall. Horses often like me but I have never been sought out so intensely before.

Finally, we made our way over to where the competition draft horses were. They were just starting to tack up for their classes. All of the horses at this pull were Belgians and they were big!They were tall but mostly they were wide! I was fascinated by the shoes on their feet. really wide toe grabs and huge heel caulks. All the better to grip with I suppose.

The horses started to arrive right as the sun was beginning to set. The first team came in from the pretty side of the gate! Backlit and in step with each other they looked mighty fine for heavy drafts. All the teams came into the arena and found their places along the rail. Most of the drivers hitched the teams to the rail but one driver backed his team up and put their tails to the rail, got out a lawn chair, parked it in front of them and had a seat. Amy and I took to calling this team the refrigerator and the freezer. The Fridge is on the left and he's big. The Freeze is on the right and while not as tall, he's built solid as a rock and super wide.

Let the pulling commence. The teams come up to the front of the sled with the weight on it and the drivers back them up to the sled. A couple of extra hands is necessary to put the tree on the hook to the sled. the most important rule is to keep all hands an toes out of the way of the sled at this time. Many of the teams start pulling the moment they think the sled is hooked. A few teams wait for their drivers cue, very few.

As the night goes on, weight gets added to the sled. Once the team cannot pull the sled a certain distance within 3 attempts, it is eliminated from any further attempts or weights. Some of the drivers know their teams well and bow out before the load gets too heavy for them, many of the driver at this fair took that option, a few teams went on for the win with the big weights.

All in all it was interesting to view and photograph. I had fun pushing the limits of my camera's available light capabilities since I was taking pix for the fun or it. I also was able to get a good close-up look at the harnesses and try some detail images. Here's a link to many more Draft Horse Pull images.