Friday, September 30, 2011

Tips for Taking Reference Pix

Blinking their eyes as they turn into the sun, note the curve in the grey's body as he does so.


It occurred to me, as I snapped photos at the draft horse and mule show, that discussing the shooting of reference photos might be helpful. 

As I mentioned in that last post, face time with the living subject informs our work in ways no image or video can. So getting "down in the dirt" gifts us with two essential benefits: 
  • We get up close and personal with the living animal.
  • We can capture specific aspects we want. 
Two great things that go better together! Also mentioned in that previous post was that sculpting realism requires a vast interdisciplinary knowledge base, one that's developed through (unending) hours of life study and and research. In turn, photos freeze life's information for us and so become an essential supplemental tool. If we teach workshops or write, we already know the usefulness of a good photo as instructive examples. When teaching folks who tend to be visually oriented, like artists, a good one can provide an astonishing degree of insight.

But reference photos go beyond the basics. Every animal has his own physical idiosyncrasies that make each one as unique as each of us. His flesh, motion, coordination, posture and hair also contort in all sorts of interesting ways in every fleeting moment. All these temporary conditions can be overlooked or forgotten no matter how keen our observational skills, which is precisely where our friend the camera comes in handy. For this reason, it's smart policy to have a good camera and the know-how to use it, since the images it'll produce will become important guides once back in the studio. 

But when we're on site, it's easy to get caught up in the thick of things and lose sight of that. We may start snapping away, capturing everything in sight willy nilly. When we get home, however, we may be sorely disappointed in our day's labors, and that's a lot of wasted effort. To avoid this situation, here are some ideas to maximize your efforts... 

Tips for Taking Reference Photos  

Be prepared Have all the paraphernalia you need before you arrive. This includes cables, batteries, memory cards, lenses, filters, tripod, flash drives, laptop, or anything else you need. Always plan to take far more photos than you think. And running out of memory or power in the middle of a golden opportunity is a headache in the making!
Based on this Belgian filly's image on the left, we could assume she's a "clear" pangare chestnut. But on closer inspection (right), we see all those little different color hairs, both darker and lighter. Some in patches. I noticed this, too, on my Dar, who was chestnut, and even on his barn mate, Defiant, who was a bright, clear red chestnut. I've looked for this on all clear colors, including "boring" flat red bay, and found the same effect in varying degrees. This may be why my "clear" paint jobs don't read quite right to me - they're too literal. They "think in pigment" rather than biology. I need to figure out how to integrate the dark-medium-light graininess in my paintwork, at least in some measure. In a word: BLORG.
Have a goal Decide ahead of time what types of shots you need. For instance, know the holes in your reference library to use that opportunity to fill them. Or perhaps you need certain postures, gestures, angles or features for the piece you're going to start. It could be specific conformation or types are the ticket. Whatever it is, be sure to actively seek it out and snap away.
This mare is doing something really interesting with her left shoulder-humerus-elbow mechanism as she's backing up. Among many other things between these two! Wow!
If you don't already know how, practice on anticipating the next moment with equines in order to capture that needed aspect. This may mean anticipating a certain gait phase, movement, posture or revealing of behavior. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it snatches a gem for you!
A really interesting movement as this Belgian pivots on his hind end and steps over in front. Note the lateral curve to his torso and the dainty pointed front toe. Horse spines are rather quite rigid, so this degree of bend is impressive. Despite their size, they aren't clunky creatures!
Above all, shoot from a sculptural point of view, looking for features that either illuminate, inspire, or can be integrated into future work.
I was lucky enough to not just snap this motion once, but twice - and in two different types of equines (a Perchie on the left and a mule on the right). I've long wondered how a horse would bend his body and legs when pivoting like this - I had assumptions, but proves repeatedly that assumptions are a slippery slope. But now, I have an answer! Note how much those hind legs are angled in the direction of movement, even when only one is weighted (in the case of the mule). Again, note the similarities and differences between the two, asking yourself, "why?" I also like the angulation of the Perchie's lifted fore hoof. Interesting.
Take images in high resolution The higher the resolution, the crisper the image, so don't be shy! Just buy big memory cards. However, you don't always have to shoot in maxed out resolution. I usually take mine at 2816 x 2112, a step down from the highest on my camera. I just don't anticipate enlarging my images beyond anything bigger than fourteen inches for sculpting or printing purposes. (However, if you're shooting for color or pattern shots, crank that resolution as high as it'll go.)
This is the same mule as above (who also gave me a host of yawning pix). What I found so interesting about this motion is how the hind legs are, again, oriented in the angle of the direction the hind end is going, especially the one that's really pushing off. Unexpected and really cool! I don't dare say this is a rule - nature is too full of possibilities. But I can say it's an option I didn't know existed before.
Take multiple angles Remember that you're a sculptor and not a painter. You have to account for the full mass and topography of the subject! Wouldn't it be a shame to get "stuck" on the other side and angles simply because you neglected to capture them when you had the chance? Don't forget the up and down angles, too. Think in terms of a 3D laser scanner - if you have a gap in your knowledge of topography, here's your chance to plug it!
With each touchdown of the hind leg, the ends of the loose tail went swish over it. It was so pretty and jaunty, like a swaying tassel. The force of the swish also told me quite a bit about the density and texture of their tail hairs even before I ever got to touch them. This is an important detail for sculpture, in terms of physics, moment and composition.
Leave yourself open to opportunity Serendipity is a wonderful thing, and equines dish it out in spades. So if you see something odd, snap it. Indeed, the odder the position or gesture, the better because it's in those moments that all sorts of new information is revealed. A handy trick is to think in terms of "moments," parcels of time that encapsulate posture, motion, physics, gesture, expression, or situation.
Here's a wonderful moment of serendipity - that's quite a bit of inspirational material! Also note the lovely tail movement on the right mule - wouldn't that be beautiful on a sculpture?
Find continuity As artists we need to fully understand how the equine body functions, a complicated morass to be sure. Equine bodies move as regional systems yes, but they also move as a series of complex interwoven systems, and then as a whole system. This means that a change in one area has a cascade effect throughout the entire body. Equines also express with their entire bodies, so a shift in attitude can change their whole posture in the blink of an eye.
 Another sequence shot, with that same directional angulation of the hind legs in the right Perchie. What I liked about this sequence (aside from the neat stuff going on with the left Perchie) was that it showed how a horse can swivel his hind legs back into normal orientation.
So while it may be tempting to snap away in tight shots of certain areas, it's better to leave those shots for very specific purposes. Rather, think about including surrounding areas in order to capture system continuity. Doing so also provides later clues about the movement or gait that produced the feature in that shot. Another approach is to snap an establishing shot before taking tight detail shots to orient yourself - I do this a lot and it's very helpful.  

Remember, back in the studio months or even years from now, you may forget that the tight neck shot you took was on a standing horse and so you sculpted it exactly into your cantering sculpture! Whoops! So think about how you'll be using these images in the future and frame accordingly.
I used the continuous shutter option for these images, and when I first saw the image on the left I thought, "What the heck is that right horse doing with those hind legs?! Limbs akimbo!" Welp, she was hopping her hind end over to plant that right hind leg in preparation to back up, as revealed in the sequential right photo. Life is full of options! And she knew exactly what to do even before she was asked.
In a similar way, sequential images can be useful for capturing biomechancal or behavioral changes for future reference. This is the reason why I like the continuous shutter option on my camera because it produces a sequence (it's also the reason why I rack up so many images). Small moment to moment changes such as balance shifts, coordination adjustments, or mood changes can be really illuminating. I don't use the continuous shutter all the time, but do actively incorporate it into my overall strategy.
This is another interesting image: note the two mules facing the camera, showing their full left sides. Very similar foreleg positions, but note the very different hind leg positions. They were all trotting. Again - options! Here we also get to compare and contrast those front ends as related to the different back ends. For instance, note the different forearm muscling, and the very different muscling between the points of shoulder and the tops of those forearms, along with the pecs and the triceps. Cool!
Find modes to compare and contrast Try to capture similar moments or motions between different individuals, if possible. This allows you to compare and contrast, a terrific means to insight. Being able to ask, "what's shared, what's different, and why," are remarkably powerful questions because it's these kinds of distinctions that will deepen our understanding and provide countless options for sculpture. They also help us avoid the comfortable formulas and patterns our brains are hard-wired to favor.
This is an incredibly interesting image, providing a pile of information especially of the compare-contrast variety. Note the similar motion but the very different postures, pelvic motion (which is really spinal motion) and coordination. Horses are living, organic creatures, who make their own rules within the confines of their anatomy, and that provides endless design choices for sculpture.
Now sometimes that continuous shutter will synch with the gait of the animal, capturing the same position repeatedly. While this would seem a waste, it's actually useful by providing an opportunity to compare and contrast similar stances but on the same individual. It's amazing what a slight shift in balance or mood can do to musculature and posture! It's these little details that can add so much life to our work. Every image has something new to teach.
Here we can compare how the shoulder and pectoral muscles are similar and different, and why. Lots of good info in this image!

The wash rack provided a great opportunity to compare and contrast the hind ends of the different types or breeds, scaled to be of equal size (more or less). Aside from all the other cool stuff, it was interesting to note how the mule's hip joints were slightly more closer set, an important tidbit for future mule sculptures. This may be why mule hind ends tend to appear so top heavy, or "muffin topped," when standing at ease. I suspect they get this from their donkey parent.
Understand lighting Try to avoid blown out photos. Sometimes you can't avoid them, so do your best. When it comes to digital images, clipped whites mean that the information within them is permanently lost, and no amount of photo editing will magically reinstill what isn't there. 
Don't be so quick to dump blurry, underexposed pix. Note the beautifully defined tendon of the levator labii superioris propius muscle on the right mule.
This is why I tend to take my photos slightly darker than needed because I can always lighten in Photoshop. But it's definitely a balancing act since shooting too dark results in a grainier image that can also destroy detail. So tinker with your camera in different lighting conditions before going to the shoot to figure out corrective strategies.
The original underexposed image on the left (because of evening low light) and the correction on the right. Photo editing lets us salvage underexposed photos to some extent. Had I allowed more exposure into this shot, those mules would've been blurred and it was their different skull structures and expressions I wanted.
Shade or low light is a similar problem - I had to really battle that at the draft show. The problem is that in order to capture more light for a better image the shutter speed is slowed and/or the aperture is opened, which results in a fuzzy image, or blurred motion. In those cases, I tend to shoot dark and hope for the best - I'd rather have a grainy image with something useable (even if in outline) than a big blurry smear. Another strategy is to shoot a bit farther back, avoiding close ups. This tends to allow more ambient light into the camera for a more salvageable image, albeit at a loss of close-up detail.
Again using the continuous shutter, I caught this sequence of mules stopping, backing up and starting to walk forward again. I really focused on these kinds of transitions because they reveal a wad about moment, biomechanics and coordination.
Ideally, the best light is sunny in a strong directional to pick up the anatomical features without large patches of shaded portions. A bright overcast day also is very useful, especially for reference shots of coat patterns. Morning and evening light can be dicey, however, since they can stream directly into the camera and block out your subject entirely. But if you can get your lens perpendicular to the sun's orientation, that kind of lighting can work well, too. Again, think sculpturally, using light to "sculpt out" the features of the subject.
The continuous shutter captures another gem: the sequence when this draft pivots, plants and takes off trotting in one stride. That's a heap of neat information there! For instance, it tells me that gaits begin in the spine and flow through the hind leg to initiate, as seen in #2. Look how firmly that left hind foot is planted in preparation to trot, even billowing up dirt. So when I create a sculpture depicting a gait transition, I need to think about this image.
For our purposes, the general rule of thumb is: the faster the shutter speed and the smaller the aperture, the better the image. But do your best with the conditions you have because they aren't always ideal. You may even have to reconsider your target images if the lighting isn't suitable for capturing them. 
Note the difference in expression between these two mules, and the tweaky muzzle on the left one. Fun! We also get useful information about lateral fore leg motion and body coordination during a pivot.
Plan your time Prioritize your shots and shoot accordingly. I wanted to take more shots of type and build at the show, for example, but ran out of time. I also didn't get as many photos of mules as I wanted, or of color. But I also understand this was my first time to this event, which brings us to...

Considering revisiting the situation Chances are you aren't going to get every shot you want. Perhaps the opportunity didn't arise, or the photo didn't turn out as well as you'd hoped. It happens. This is another reason why many artists trek around their cameras, to make use of every opportunity. So keep a tally of those images you still need and pounce when you can.
Drafter heads are intriguing, since they tend to be quite different from the heads of other horses. In particular, the set of the eyes, the formation of the brows and zygomatic arches, the size of the muzzle, and the breadth and length from orb to schnoz are of special interest to me. Also some drafter heads seem "meatier" while others appear quite "dry" - lots of variation.

This simple Photoshop manipulation teaches me something invaluable about drafter heads - they aren't actually wider through the brows, they're wider and longer through the orb-schnoz span, giving them the long, narrow look from the front, and tend to have more pronounced zygomatics. Also note that the eye size is the same, which is why drafter eyes look smaller. It's not their eyes that are smaller - it's their heads that are bigger! These are all important ideas for my future drafter sculptures. Personally, I don't find drafter heads plain whatsoever - I find them irresistibly charming and noble. Beautiful!
For example, I intend to return to the draft show next year, but with a new strategic plan. We're going to wander the barns more, particularly in between classes, and especially target the staging areas. We also now know which parts of the main arena are best for which classes so we can stake our claim early.
Note the difference in head type between these two Clydesdale geldings - one is narrower and lighter than the other. Remember to note the gender of your subject because that really influences phenotype through secondary sex characteristics. Or you can do this by taking a shot of the same animal with his or her "parts" visible to provide a visual future note.
A good reference library is something carefully built. It doesn't happen overnight. So take your time and be diligent...and patient. 
A valuable image of a horse backing up, seen from the front (the horse on the left). This is an image I didn't have before! Woot! It tells me lots of tasty info, particularly that horses tend to track wide of the median when backing up whereas they tend to track along the median when moving forward. Sweet! That has interesting implications for composition and narrative.
Take many Working from only one or a few images for a sculpture is a disadvantage because no one image tells us everything we need to know. Not even a few do. Only a rather hefty pile begins to reveal the story, but even then we have to fill in the gaps with our mental library and book smarts.

So take many photos! You never know what you're going to need until you get to that unexpected point in your sculpture and find yourself asking, "uh oh...what do I do now?" You also don't know which photos will turn out best, so if you've put all your eggs in one basket with just one pic, that's quite a gamble. Also consider tweaking the settings on your camera to get the same pic with different effects - sometimes that compare and contrast can help illuminate some curious things.
This cool photo reveals a whole lot about spinal motion that's immensely useful for sculpture.
Remember the purpose Unlike other folks who snap photos for nostalgia or novelty, we artists have a purpose - we need our photos as tools. While that seems obvious, it's very easy to forget in the thick of things, so stay on target.
Again, we have another opportunity to compare and contrast between similar positions. Neat stuff going on! Realistic sculpture isn't just about what's similar, it's even more about what's different.
Seek aspects that challenge your perception Most of all, take images that challenge what you perceive to be true or "right." I'll get to artistic perception in more detail in a later post, but it really is the crux of what we do. We aren't actually sculpting realistic horses, we're sculpting what we perceive to be realistic horses. And therein lies a boatload of bias and blindspots. 
Another shot done with the continuous shutter option, capturing the moment between backing up and immediate forward motion. Look at the shift in "downhill" and "uphill" balance.
So if something strikes you as weird or wrong - snap away! That might be a clue to an unknown blindspot. Or if you think you don't need to snap that photo because you already know that area well enough - think again. It may surprise you. 

In Conclusion

A good reference photo is an amazing tool, useful in so many ways and an indispensable boon to artists and teachers alike. But it's important they be kept in context.

For instance, some artists take reference photos with the intention of directly creating a sculpture from one. That's fine, but it does paint creativity into a corner. Unless we have images from all different angles of that one position, what do we do? It also limits our compositional options, and that can be a big problem for sculpture because that's all sculpture is about. In this way, we can become a slave to our photos and is that really a place from which we want to create?

Instead, a more helpful context is to regard reference photos as a means to enlightenment and inspiration. Using them to better understand equine structure, motion and behavior tends to more fully exploit their potential rather than as literal "connect the dots" templates. In this light, we can also use them to "Frankenstein" a sculpture together, blasting away all limits to our compositional options while also helping to train our eyes to "see the next moment." 

Indeed, one skill easily overlooked in the studio is the ability to understand the continuum beyond what's captured in a photo. To grasp this truth is to grasp the secret ingredient to compelling realism.

We can be lulled into a kind of daze within the confines of our reference images. They appear so complete and self-contained. But we should remember that's all they are - static images. No photo exists in a reality vacuum! Just as a photo is a frozen moment within an ongoing stream of cause and effect, so can a realistic sculpture be, as well. With this understanding, we not only begin to see the continuum in our images, but we can infuse that sense into our work, too, seating our piece believably inside a "living moment."

As cool as they are then, we shouldn't worship our reference photos. An over-reliance on them can be just as dicey as an over-reliance on our mental library or our book smarts. Remember - they're only tools to help us decipher reality, nothing more. But in that lies great potential, too. Coming back to our perception again, it tends to convince us we know enough, or already have things right. It's inherently biased, by definition. But no matter how much we think we know, we often don't know enough, and no matter how right we think we are, we sometimes aren't.

By objectively freezing a moment within a continuum, a photo can help us peel away the skews in our perception if we're open enough to seek and See them, and in our own time. This is why reference photos work in partnership with life study and research, a kind of realism trinity. Keep them in that context and you'll be in fine shape. So go out there and snap away!

"It's through my artist's eyes that I see wonderful things in nature that I never saw before." ~ Kathy Connelly


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Walking Amongst Giants

Bullet, a handsome Percheron gelding. What a mug!

As I mentioned in my previous post, we spent last weekend at a horse show. But not just any horse show - the 35th Annual Idaho State Draft Horse & Mule International Show in Sandpoint, Idaho.

I've been meaning to get to this event for years, but the daunting nine hour trek always seemed to kibosh it. With the advent of my book series, however, that excuse went out the window, since I want to use my own photos. And drafters and mules, being so unique in terms of sculptural concepts, warranted this expedition because I had none of my own photos of them.

The massive 2-Up class. I couldn't fit them all in my frame!

More importantly though, I'm at a point with my work where I need to start stretching and only the source can provide those pathways for me. Indeed, I've been meaning to sculpt a slew of drafters for some time, but wasn't confident I could capture them faithfully - in body or spirit - without adequate up close and personal exposure to a variety of them. They are so very different from other types of horses.
Lovely dapple grey mules pulling a restored vintage stagecoach on loan from the Pendleton Round-Up.

So I needed to observe them, interact with them and soak them in since no photo, painting, video or grandstand view provides an adequate base for me. I also had questions that only the living animal could answer, and I wanted to capture those esoteric things that are personally interesting to me for future work. I'm also at work on a special project involving a lovely draft mare (which I'll get to in a future post), but felt I needed more "face time" with drafters to do her justice.

Beautiful German Warmbloods giving a demo on Combined Driving. Ham was totally jazzed when I told him about this sport and so a trip to a Combined Driving event is in order! Woot!

I'm a firm believer that photo-dependent sculpting loses something in translation. Getting out there to connect with the subject, to experience the animal, is necessary to inform my work and remind me of deeper things. Our mental libraries aren't formed only of images, but of feelings, too.

A cool 8-Up mule entry.

And boy - did I get a lot of feelings that weekend! I'm not embarrassed to admit that I was moved to tears so many times that perhaps people just assumed I had an allergy. To feel the ground thump and rumble with each foot fall as they trotted past, to hear the bellows of their breathing and the blow of their snorts, to witness their majestic was overwhelming.
A dramatic 4-Abreast team of Clydesdales.

Then to have them intently watching me, staring down from their 18-19 hands (that's a minimum of six feet at the withers folks), blocking out the sun with bodies so massive that only being alongside them truly conveys their size. A precocious boy we met at the show described their enormous feet as "cement trucks" - an apt description! Indeed, to my 5'2" frame they were monumental statues come to life. How something so enormous and powerful could be so gentle and gracious was humbling. A true testament to equine nature.

Two lovely mules watching the log skidding.

Then to have them look through me was an important reminder, and a horsey characteristic I happen to relish. So often we forget that horses live in their own world alongside ours, and I keep their world closest to heart as an artist. So it was a delight to watch them interact with each other, with every distinct personality clear as day. Even in the midst of work, they have their own "office chatter."

This is a line up of Belgian mares. The mare with the wide blaze was so put out by her brethren - she was still the boss mare even when tied up. They were an intriguing bunch to watch. Mare bands are considered among the most complex social systems in the animal kingdom.

I was also astonished to discover how nimble and energetic drafters were despite their size. Here were one ton creatures who possessed a degree of dexterity and grace that rivaled light horses. They also coiled naturally and pranced quite a bit, especially when doing something they seemed to enjoy. This was quite clear in the weight pulling contests - they often nearly dragged the driver to the sled and the moment they heard the clang of that pin...they were off! 

Prancey and gorgeous after their weight pull. I believe they were up to nearly 7,000 lbs at that point.

These horses don't mess around! Doing their stuff in the weight pull.

It was also interesting to watch them fidget while waiting to flaunt their stuff, sometimes tossing their heads in anticipation, or impatiently stomping the ground. Seeing how they interacted with each other in harness was fascinating, too. Here were working partners who had to function as a team, but who also existed within their own equine hierarchy. 

Two handsome grey mules.

Beautiful entries in the 2-Up mule class.

Above all, though, the intelligence of these animals was unmistakeable in their keen interest on the goings-on, their interactions with people and children, and their astute responses to all the voice commands from the driver who told them what to do - by name - through all the different driving courses. 

Two beautiful Clydesdales in the farm class.

So let's just say it was a weekend of "verklemptsia." Of course along with all those impressions came a heaping wad of reference images and videos - all 9,951 of them. Sculpting 3D realism entails a vast sum of interdisciplinary information, gained by life study and research. Photos act in partnership with these by freezing information for later use. This is why most artists working in realism have such ponderous reference libraries.

We had breakfast here super early in order to be at the fairgrounds by 8am for the halter classes. Unfortunately they were all canceled except one, but we spent that time at the wash rack. Anyhoot - this place had super friendly service and really tasty "greasy spoon" food. A local hang-out with lots of character.

As for the actual fairgrounds, it was nicely put together and not so large as to be cumbersome. The main arena is against a beautiful backdrop of pine studded mountains, but that does mean it's always in partial shade. Great for attendees, but tricky for photographs! On top of that, the other half of the classes were in the evening with low light, again making it difficult for photos.

Friday's attendance was good, but not crowded. Lots of "grey hairs," which was great, but had us worrying about the future of shows like this. Though we did love the row of wheel chairs in front. Look at that bonnet!

But the grandstand was packed Saturday! With all ages! So we realized it was a function of school and work that kept the masses a bay the day before. Phew!

And they got quite a show with entries like these! Beautiful Belgians in the 6-Up horse class. The ground rumbled when they trotted by, like an earthquake!

The program was nicely done, as were the T-shirts - we each bought one, of course. And overall the schedule was well planned and the classes were very entertaining, even if you knew nothing about driving. We totally enjoyed all of them, but my favorites were the farm class, weight-pull, log skidding, Gambler's Choice, 6-Up, Tandem and 4-Abreast.

A fabulous blue-ribbon winning entry in the 6-Up horse class. That's the judge driving them now, which he did periodically as a perk.

Ham really enjoyed the weight-pulling. He couldn't believe those horses got up to pulling 8,000+ lbs on a wheel-less sled, stopping only because the judge cried uncle! And you could tell draft and mule folk have a good time. A hefty dose of humor was peppered throughout the show, and the grandstand roared with laughter at regular intervals. Mickey, in particular, was a fun entry into the farm class (below).

To add a bit of levity, here's wee Mickey in the farm class. He has fuzzy leg wraps, simulating the heavy feather of a Clydesdale. Apparently Mickey was "training" to be a Clydesdale and, of course, he was a huge crowd favorite.

It was also great to have the Canadian flag displayed alongside the American flag, and the singing of the Canadian anthem along with the American anthem. This show has a large proportion of Canadians who attend and participate, as Sandpoint is only about 30 minutes from the Canadian border. 

America and Canada were both celebrated at this show.

So I was amongst some of my favorite things: Ham, horses, Canadians, and the best chocolate chip cookie I have ever had (gluten free to boot!) from Jupiter Jane's Traveling Cafe. The gals who ran the cafe were a hoot, and had some mighty tasty food! Try their popcorn! I thought my popcorn-poppin'-junkie hubby was going to pass out from sheer euphoria from their popcorn.

Jupiter Jane Traveling Cafe - a converted school bus turned into a fully functional cafe. So cool! And great grub - check them out when in the Sandpoint area!

Speaking of Ham - he was a blessing! He snapped photos and shot video right alongside me. He intuitively knew what kinds of images I was looking for, which made for some awesome treasures. He also did all the driving and made sure I consumed sustenance throughout the day because I'm prone to forget that with my noggin in high gear.

Look at all those grey mules in this awesome 8-Up hitch!

I was deathly worried he'd be bored out of his gourd on this trip, so was I thrilled to discover that he was as enthralled with these creatures as I was! He definitely considers the drafter his favorite horse now, and wistfully thought about having a herd of them one day. No complaints from me! 

 A cool 4-Abreast mule entry.

Personally I've always been far more interested in driving than riding (I'm also an abysmal rider), so I've been cogitating taking classes. Perhaps Ham would be interested, too? Anyway, he had no idea about their size and power, or the close human-animal relationship required for the level of driving at the show. How the animals worked with their people to accomplish the job fascinated him. So it all was doubly satisfying to find that he thoroughly enjoyed himself, too.

A scene inside the tack up barn.

He also saved my bacon - twice! And predictably, in a technical way. I'd bought some new memory cards for my camera in anticipation of the bajillions of photos I'd be taking. But worried I'd run out of space regardless, I wanted to download our photos into his laptop every evening to empty them for the next day. So - of course - what do I forget to pack? My camera's USB cable! I swear, if we were to trek through the Mojave, I'd forget to pack water. Luckily, being the techno boyscout he is, he packed his and it was one I could use, too. Sweet hallelujah!

A modern day work horse: a railroad cleaning car parked in our hotel parking lot! I'd never even heard of these things, let alone seen one. Ham knew what it was, though, and explained that those little metal wheels come down hydraulically for the truck to ride on the rails, cleaning them with a big brush thing on the front bumper. Crazy time! Apparently the Sandpoint area is a huge intersection for some major railways so a train could be heard about every 5-10 minutes! Note to self: don't camp in Sandpoint or Ponderay if a railway is near the site.

My second batch of bacon was potentially catastrophic: two of my cards developed a communication error. Never happened before, but it meant that the thousands of pix I took would be lost. I knew there were some truly awesome shots on them that I desperately wanted, so much so that I considered hiring a data retrieval company for buku bucks. As you can imagine, I was in a panic, to the point of almost collapsing into a buggy-eyed singularity. Until (cue trumpet), Ham to the rescue! In a flash, he diagnosed the problem and solved it with some random gadget, and then downloaded all the photos perfectly. Can I have another sweet hallelujah? He saved the trip!

 Ham doesn't mess around - who else would bring a fifty foot ethernet cable to avoid the security nightmare that is hotel wifi.

As for those photos, this year we focused mostly on motion, though I also took shots of heads and posture, too, though not as many as I would have hoped. We just ran out of time. I also didn't get as many photos of mules as I wanted, or of color, or build. But we're definitely returning next year, and with a new strategic plan. For starters, we're going to wander the barns more (and in the morning when the light is better) and especially target the staging areas for the ring. We also now know which parts of the main arena are best for which classes so we can position ourselves early. 

Party at the wash rack! It was really handy to be able to compare Belgians, Percherons and Clydesdales side by side.

We were able to hit the wash racks Friday, which proved to be a real boon. The wash racks are always the place where the party is, and wow - did it deliver! Sculptures galore! So we intend to hit the racks even more next year. Ham also suggested I bring my tripod, which is a good idea especially for the low-light conditions. I really have to figure out how to tackle that next year a bit better. We did miss the 8-Up horse class because it was on Sunday, so we'll save that for next year, as well. I figure we can't do everything at once; otherwise we have nothing to look forward to next time!

A smart tandem entry.

In addition to all that, we've really fallen in love with the Sandpoint/Ponderay area. Lake Pend Oreille is geologically incredible and so peacefully beautiful, as are the surrounding areas with all their amazing landscapes and geology. Great riding country, both horse and Harley! The towns are small and quaint with original old architecture, and the people are so friendly and laid back. So me thinks a nine hour trip is well worth it for such occasions.

An exciting 4-Up horse class.

We headed for home at 3am Sunday morning in order to be home early to decompress before the beginning of the week. This also allowed me to sleep for half the trip to keep from driving Ham insane with "when are we going to be there" questions. But truth be told - I'm still decompressing and processing everything I experienced and learned. And I'm definitely eager for next year's show. They're going to feature new classes, such as a chariot race, and I want to try some different photography methods.

Three at work in the log-skidding class.

Through it all, it occurred to me that draft horses were an equine version of Ham (or Ham a human version of draft horses). Large, intimidating and robust, but gentle and very sweet! No wonder why he likes them so much! No wonder why I like them so much! It was a weekend of Hammie Horses! thinks there's a series in there...hmmm.

Anyway, I can say with confidence that herds of drafters will be galloping from the studio now - and I can't wait to get started! 

"In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag." ~ W.H. Auden

Related Posts with Thumbnails