The lowdown from cowtown… Keara’s gear:
Before we begin, please say this to yourself 6 times: “Keara is not a professional photographer.” I’m serious, do it.
Okay. What gear do I use?
Camera: Nikon D300. It’s old, it’s discontinued, but I love it. Built like a beast, you definitely know when it is in your hand: 12.3 MP, crop sensor, and up to 8 fps with the battery grip on. Honestly, I have very few complaints about this camera after having used it for a couple years now. It is excellent for what I do. I fell into Nikon as it was simply what the store had when I bought my first camera, but I have been super happy with it and don’t see myself changing it up anytime soon. In fact, at Spruce Meadows there are about equal numbers of Canon’s and Nikon’s, so take your pick. The Canon lovers will tell you one thing, and the Nikonites will claim another, so do your research, but I don’t think either is “wrong.” For equestrian sport photography digital is 100% the way to go, so sorry film diehards, keep those beauties for other purposes.
Lenses (all Nikon): Since buying it, my 70-200mm 2.8 rarely comes off my camera (the one in the picture). For a hobbyist it was a very expensive lens – I won’t deny that – but it has been phenomenal and absolutely changed my ability to take great show jumping photos. It’s certainly not my first choice to take on a hike due to its size and weight, but I love it in the ring. Furthermore, after buying it, a lot of the professional photographers praised my choice and, once I started paying attention, I noticed a number of them using one. For shooting at Spruce, the biggest drawback is it’s limited reach, but I cannot afford something of the same quality that is longer, so although I may pick up a teleconverter, this is where it is at for me.
Moving past the beast, if I am going for a walk or taking portraits, I am actually a big fan of prime lenses- the ones that are at a fixed (35mm, 50mm, etc.) length. They are small, light, and you can get a great one for ridiculously little. In fact, if I’m shooting an awards ceremony in low light I will throw my $80 50mm 1.8 on. It’s absolutely great.
I do also have a few cheap zoom lenses, and although not my favourite, they are workable. The 55-300mm 4.5-5.6 is a nice walk-around lens, and it is what I used for the first couple of years at Spruce. Super duper great? No, but I definitely got some okay shots out of it paired with my Nikon D3100 (my first DSLR).
Camera: Canon 60D. I previously had a Canon 40D, which I broke in Africa, and now I use my boyfriend’s Canon 60D. Sometime this year I plan to upgrade to a Canon 70D. This series by Canon is a step up from their Rebel series, but below their professional series. It’s a great compromise of high picture quality (in all different conditions), ease of use (I love the little easy-view screen where I can adjust my settings at a glance), and good size and weight (for my tiny hands!). You can bump the ISO up as high as 800 and still get print-quality pictures, which means that with the right lens, shooting in the indoor is completely feasible.
Lenses: Sigma 18-200, 4.5-5.6: this is my cheapest, but most-used all-around lens. The glass isn’t as crisp as it could be, but I’m rarely blowing pictures up to a size where that is noticeable. The f-stop doesn’t go too low either, so it’s basically out of the question for indoor shooting. However, this lens is good, fast, and versatile enough for everything from outdoor jump clinics to shows to cross-country schooling. The benefit of the 200mm portion of the lens is that I don’t have to run all around the arena to get fairly close shots of lots of different jumps.
Tamron 18-35, 2.8: This is my lens for portraits, close-ups and indoor photography. The low f-stop allows me to open the lens up for good indoor shooting, but means that I have to be spot-on with the focus. I can also get really close to my subjects (1 foot) with this lens and still focus, so it’s great for taking pictures of just parts of a saddle or horse.
Canon 100-400, 4.5-5.6: This is my Africa lens and very rarely gets used for equine photography. It’s big, heavy, has an enormous zoom, a fast auto-focus, and takes great wildlife shots. However, excepting cross-country, this lens is always too zoomed in on the subject to be useful. I have taken some lovely shots with it on cross-country though, but it’s a bit too heavy for me to lug around in my everyday life.
Tokina 11-17: This is actually my scuba-diving lens, but I’ve used it to take some fun pictures of horses during jumping clinics. I’d love to get over the top of a jump sometime, but I’m really not tall enough for that, so I just settle for getting below them. You can really only do this with horses that are extremely trustworthy, as the coolest shots come from being the closest to the jump and almost right underneath it. The fisheye distorts things and makes them look a little stretched or compacted, which can be a fun effect if used right.
Keara talking again here! Hopefully this gives you a little insight on what a couple of us use for equestrian photography. Honestly, the options are endless, and I personally think that it comes down to what you: a) can afford or at least justify buying and b) whatever works for you. The trick is, get to know your stuff so you know how to set yourself up for success. Have a slower lens? Be sure to shoot where there is a lot of available light. Not much reach? Be sure to stake out your area and identify what you want to shoot before the class starts so you don’t find yourself with nothing close by. Most of all though, have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to experiment and play around – some of my best photos are extremely non-traditional; you never quite know when it will work out just right.
Keep your eyes peeled for more from the world of photography! Questions? Comments? Requests? Let us know!