BTS by Erwan Cloarec
Natasha Baker – Portrait of an Olympic Paradressage rider by Erwan Cloarec
Natasha and I happened on each other completely by chance. A fan of mine and fellow photographer Dan Foster spontaneously contacted me on facebook and asked if I would be interested in shooting horses while touring through London. As a horse lover, my initial response was: SWEET, HORSES!! but that was soon dampened by the fact that I actually needed a subject to photograph since the purpose of our tour was to shoot creative portraits of artists, not of animals. Luckily for me, Dan and Natasha actually had a shoot scheduled together so he used the opportunity to ask her if she’d be interested in participating in the project. A couple skype conversations later, she was confirmed!
Meeting with Natasha the first time around turned out to be quite a challenging experience. For one, she doesn’t have an actual street address… so while one would assume from the videos that we were in the middle of the countryside, we actually happened to be in the residential suburbs of West London. Erwan and I had a happy moment driving around the town asking people: Do you where we can find a farm with horses? And contrary to what you might assume… few people actually knew there was a farm less than a km away from their houses! After a good 20 minutes of fruitless searching, we eventually gave up and camped at an intersection while we waited for Natasha to come rescue us. Two minutes later, as she drove over, Erwan and I shared a moment of confusion as we commented to each other: “She can drive?”
So yes, turns out she actually she had a pimped out car that she could drive around with using her arms. Pretty sweet. She gave us a tour of her gorgeous house and farm so that I could get a grasp of the space I would get to play with the next day. She also took the time to introduce me to her beautiful horses JP a Polish Warmblood and BamBam a KWPN. With those two elements clearly in mind, we retreated back to her place to sketch out the shots that we would attempt to create the next day.
The result was three concepts, quite different from one another… to give Natasha an interesting variety of shots that could tell a story. I’ve found that planning shots in advance rather than gambling on improvisation skills, and taking the time to doodle them out (even though they can be quite ugly at times) are a great way to communicate with your clients or fellow artists the image that you’re trying to create.
The next day, we returned back to Natasha’s farm with a lot less difficulty and we had the chance to meet Dan, who actually made the trip down to come and assist. It was great to have him on board not just for an extra set of hands (and spare D700 I ended up needing!) but also because he has a lot of experience shooting horses and was able to provide us with constant tips to make the job easier.
Although we had planned to begin the day at 8AM… bright and early so that we wouldn’t have to fight too much with the harsh midday sun, by the time we had lugged the bales of hay and equipment across the field to get everything set up and ready to go the sun had already reached full mid day strength! As I mentioned in the video, it’s pretty much impossible to light a horse from a good 6 feet away with a speedlight in mid day sun (f9!) but luckily we had a set of Innovatronix Explorer Minis to power our studio strobes in the middle of the open field! The alternative would have been to drag out a 1000 feet of extension chords… a far less exciting prospect. To light the shot, I initially threw on a couple softboxs hoping to diffuse the light and avoid getting the harsh glows of sweat from the horses bodies but unfortunately even our 500 Watt Linkstar flashes from lovinpix.com weren’t powerful enough so we had to remove them and live with the shinny horses! To help Natasha pop out of the background, I threw in a pair of strobes directly behind her to make her hair shine & glow. Since I had to shoot each horse individually due to personality issues, this meant that I could focus all my flashes to light the horses individually.
From there it was just a question of getting the horses in exactly the right position. Mints served as a great way for Natasha to tempt the horses closer and from there it was trial and error as well as a fancy little bit of photoshop composition to bring us to the final result:
The second concept was a lot more simple. Since we were shooting indoors, the bright afternoon sunlight was no longer much of an issue and I could actually use it as an extremely soft light source to fill the shot. All that was needed was a LumoPro LP160 Flash directly behind Natasha to add just a little bit of glow to the image! Although we had initially used water to create the tear, we soon noticed that it really didn’t give the effect that we wanted so Dan came up with the brilliant idea of using vaseline instead. Even though the tear didn’t turn out quite perfect (turned out being more white than translucent) a little bit of photoshop helped smooth things out !
For the last shot, we fall into a category of image that I feel the most comfortable in – dark, dramatic, epic… We found a massively long extension chord and plugged in a smoke machine and ran around with it trying to catch the wind so that it would blow in the right direction. Unfortunately for us, the open barn was extremely windy so the smoke was blowing in all directions! We began the shoot by acquainting JP to the smoke, by letting him get used to the sound and smoke and although he was quite jittery for the entire shoot, he soon settled in. Lighting wise, we simply had two massive softboxes on either side and had Natasha ride through them, timing the shots so that Natasha was positioned just a little bit past the flashes. Once the lights were set up, all that remained to do was a shoot trial and error… trying to get everything right at the same time – lighting, smoke, horse and human. It’s important during these trial and error phases to guide your model, to come up with constant ideas of poses… and when you run out of ideas, simply ask the artists that you’re shooting if they have any of their own. Quite often that small exchange between two artists can generate even better ideas and creations!
After a full day of shooting, we finally wrapped things up around 7-8 PM before charging into the portrait interview half of our project. The interview lasted over two hours and Erwan did an amazing job summarizing the entire video into an Olympic level portrait of Natasha Baker.
Note: I hope you find these articles inspiring. The point of them is not to tell you HOW to light your shots, or how to reproduce identical lighting setups but rather to hopefully encourage you to go out there and shoot yourselves! For those interested in exact lighting setups, feel free to browse my blog where I take the time to include a lighting setup of most shots that are posted! If you have any comments or suggestions, please leave them in the box below!
Special thanks to those who helped us make this shoot possible:
- The Workshop Factory
Special Gear used: