Today, I am delighted to share a guest post from my favorite people, Corina Roberts. Thank you so much, Corina, for the inspiring words and photos. You've almost made me wish there was snow in the forecast!
Let it Snow…
by Corina Roberts
When I was a kid I had a vision of how I wanted my life to be. I wanted to live in the mountains with German Shepherds and trucks and horses. Buckskins and Palominos and Pintos. Try though I might to convince my parents that I would grow up a better human being if I got to grow up with horses, that’s not how my life worked out. I discovered model horse showing, both live and photo showing, in the 1990's and vicariously began recreating my childhood. A childhood that was not only lacking horses, but also snow.
The ground is sooner or later where I usually end up, although I have had the good fortune on several occasions to be able to leave a table set up outside over night that would allow me to stand - sort of - for my photo shoot. I think it’s fair to say that “comfortable” is not necessarily an apt description for shooting in the snow.
Challenging, fun, frustrating, cold, sometimes very rewarding…better descriptors.
The perfect model horse snow is not very deep…an inch or less is ideal. If you have patchy snow, there’s all kinds of creative options available … you can play around with the shapes of pinto horses and get Bev Doolittle effects, making the horse blend into the scene like a painting, or you can achieve super sharp detail and have your models really stand out against the background.
Your snow does not have to be shallow, however. If you have deeper snow than you need, you can wait for it to compact on its own, or tamp it down manually. If it has gotten warm and cold several times it may have a crust on it hard enough to support tiny hooves, no matter how deep it is.
Perspective can be a challenge with snow. If you are working with fine powder or a powder that has heated and cooled again and turned to a glaze, your perspective of horse to snowflake should be good. If you are working with “popcorn snow” or frozen rain or heavy, wet snow, perspective can become an issue. I absolutely love to work in falling snow, but if it falls on a horse’s face, it’s no good. The rest of the horse can be drenched and it won’t bother your sense of realism, but the face…no bueno.
Snow is highly reflective and can trick a camera’s internal light meter, so that pictures come out over-exposed. Study your results as you are shooting. Snow is one of the few situations where I find my point and shoot digital camera is more adept at understanding what’s happening than my DSLR…but the challenge of working in the snow is forcing me to learn how to use the DSLR in manual mode.
The lovely thing about highly reflective snow is how it makes your model look. It’s a bit like being lit from all sides, including the bottom, with diffused light. And depending on the sky, you can get lovely blue reflections along the model’s top line and soft white highlights underneath.
The sky tends to change a lot in the presence of snow. The sun may be shining bright one
glorious moment and gone the next, and when it’s gone, I am always amazed at how dark and lackluster my pictures can look. My favorite lighting for snow is not a clear blue sky however…that is almost too intense. Partial clouds tend to soften the reflectiveness and add tons of interest to the image. And just as we understand a dark sky to mean impending weather, if you can get a picture that gives that feel - like the sky is going to bust loose any minute - and still maintain rich colors in your horses, the picture will be successful in a realistic and moody sort of way.
Some models just lend themselves to snow. My favorites tend to be sculptures by Susan Sifton, with Brigitte Eberl’s work being another favorite. Much of what makes a horse or pony look good in snow is what the horse is doing, and although I have taken my share of horses standing square and looking pretty, it’s the ones in motion that really make a snow scene come to life. I find I am particularly fond of how ponies and draft horses look in snow, even if they aren’t galloping full-tilt. They appear believable, and at ease, in the snow.
A vast expanse of snow can be rather ho-hum. Snow needs context and contrast to be effective. But if you can’t find the perfect background to go with your snow, turn to the sky. If you can get your vanishing point on the horizon to bring the snowy ground and the sky above together with your horses in the middle, the perspective will work itself out and your horses will come to life in the image.
Original finish plastic models can play in the snow all day. With anything else, exercise caution. Customs well sealed in dull coat seem to do very well in the snow, but how long they should be allowed to stand or play in it is an unknown quantity. I try to limit the amount of time they are directly exposed to moisture.
With tacked up models and riders, you’ll want to be careful about the potential for stains and dyes getting water-spotted, or transferring onto other surfaces. Leather is durable stuff, but most model horse tack is not created to be water-resistant.
If there’s snow in your forecast, get ready the night before. That way, if your window of opportunity is brief, you are ready to make the most of it.
Let it snow!