Horsing about in the dark

At XMAS, I took some pictures of my daughter riding and jumping her horse, Bazil. It was a quiet day at the stables, no-one else around, so we had the arena to ourselves.

What we didn’t have was a great deal of light. We were there late morning but it was gloomy and overcast, hardly any shadow. My challenge was how to get some usable shots.

I wanted some pictures of Bazil jumping but it was very hard to get a fast enough shutter speed on my Sony A100. It was also very hard to get the lens to focus. In the low light the focus mechanism was either too slow or simply unable to work properly. Time after time it would miss with the focus. I had to resort to manually pre-focusing the Sony 18-250.

This is how I went about it. I picked a place to stand by the arena fence, near the jump, and focused on the bar of the jump with the lens at 250mm (so I could see when it was properly in focus). I then turned off the auto-focus and set the lens to 18mm, mainly to get away with the slowest possible shutter speed, and set the aperture to maximum (F3.5). ISO was set at 400, the fastest I dared risk without inviting unacceptable noise.

The camera was on Aperture Priority and the shutter speed was coming out at 1/400th which was just fast enough to freeze the action. The camera has built-in image stabilisation but that doesn’t help to get a moving horse sharp.

It was then all about waiting for Esther and Bazil to come around the arena, reach the jump and go over it. As they approached I would start a series of frames on continuous shooting.

The hope was that one of them would catch the peak of the action. I hadn’t brought a tripod so I stood against the fence for support.

Esther kept changing rein so the horse would then be moving away from me as it approached the fence. I had to wait until Bazil was going the right way again. The results aren’t too bad. A bit affected by noise, and I couldn’t get in tight with any of the shots, but I did get some worthwhile action pictures.

I also managed to catch Bazil with all four hooves off the ground.

This was a bit of a fluke. Esther thinks I took the picture at the instant of a flying change of rein.

The ten best pictures from the day are here.

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2 responses to “Horsing about in the dark

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