As an event photographer, a big decision we have to make whilst covering an event is choosing which jumps to photograph on cross country. After all, with sometimes in excess of 100 horses in each class and leaving the start box every 2 minutes, discovering part way through that your jump isn’t photographing well is a tricky situation to be in!
Ask any competitor (and we often do welcome opinions!) and they’ll say they want a photo over the biggest jump! Sometimes we look at a XC course, and there is a ‘stand out fence’; one that’s solid, up to height, visually pleasing, in good light and against a nice backdrop. Often however, it’s not as straight forward as that and these are some of the factors we have to consider;
- Lighting. Ideally you want the sun behind you, shining onto the horse and fence to capture them at their best, with a blue sky and good colours. I have on occasion had to break this rule! For example at Calmsden in April, we photographed the corner in the 100cm. On day 2, the 100 was in the morning so the lighting was perfect. However, on day 1, the 100 was the last class of the day and the sun had moved round so we were shooting almost straight into the sun. The best position to photograph a corner from is directly side on, and it was one of the stronger fences on the course, so we took the risk and the jump was a popular seller!
- Fence numbering. We always have 2 photographers on XC and it’s usually a good idea, particularly at the lower levels, to have a photographer early on. If there’s a fence on course that is notorious for catching riders out, then it’s a good idea to have one of your photographers before this point to try and capture all of the competitors on course. As an example, at Elmwood this August, we had torrential rain all day (doesn’t it always rain on August Bank Holiday?!) which tends to make the course trickier for the rider, so we photographed Fences 2 and 3 for the 70cm and 80cm for those who ran into problems further into the course. The fences jumped well, sold well and we captured everybody who started. (We obviously also had another photographer further on round the course too).
- Background. I always try to keep the backgrounds clear. Nobody wants a photo on their mantlepiece with a portaloo in the background. Occasionally, fence judges cars are unavoidable but most fence judges are on side and are happy to move to avoid being in the photos. We were absolutely spoilt for backgrounds at Broadway this year and what a difference it makes to the photos!
- Positioning. Sometimes there are fences we’d just love to photograph but that you physically cannot get into a safe position to photograph, without being in the way, being a distraction to the horse, or simply in terms of doing justice to the size of the fence. An example of this is the Ditch palisade at Elmwood. It is a super fence and a ‘rider frightener’ too! However, the best angle to photograph it from would be side on to capture the ditch and full size of the palisade (think Cottesmore Leap!). However, due to how the fence sits in the hedgerow, it’s not possible to photograph the fence from it’s best angle (see below).
- Angle. Traditionally the best and most flattering angle to photograph a fence from is somewhere between straight on and side on. However, sometimes in order to get the fence looking at its most impressive, we break this rule too! At Calmsden in April, one of our best selling photos in the 90cm was over this fence…
We had one customer say, “oh it’s a shame it’s photographed from that angle and not coming towards us”’.
The reason we photographed from that angle? This was how it looked from the back.
The angle we chose showed the fence at its most attractive, showed the size and width of the fence, was in the perfect light, and showed the nice rounded shape horses naturally tend to make over that sort of fence. (Plus managed to keep the Christmas trees from covering horse and rider unless the horse got particularly close to the fence).
There are countless things to consider when choosing fences and often we’ll drive round the course 2/3/4 times making a shortlist and gradually whittling it down to our final choices. Sometimes we get it wrong, and I’ve been known to change fences from one day to another, or change the angle or even move to another jump when possible. Everybody has different preferences when it comes down to photo fences, and it’s our job to try and please the majority on the day!
What is your favourite XC photo?!