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Ron Olson and Cisco

Ron Olson and Cisco

     Ron Olson was kind enough to volunteer his time, and that of his horse Cisco, for a “model” photography session for a student of mine a couple of weeks ago. As that session was “micro-managed” I offered a session to him as a gift and promised we’d head out in to the desert just south of his home and “play”. On Saturday, May 16th, we did just that…my assistant (husband) and I following Ron into the desert at 5:15 am to catch the first light as it rose over the Santa Catalina mountains of Tucson.
     Growing up on the outer limits of northwest Tucson, horses were my greatest friends, partners and freedom. The ones who graced my life in true partnership were often ridden as close to liberty as possible. I learned from the horses to ask rather than demand, let them show me what they did as their natural best, and ride without getting in the way of the horse in them. Ron and I are kindred spirits in our philosophies of Equus. Cisco has not had the horse trained out of him, which I very much admire as I’ve encountered many horses that have come to me for training that are either so confused that they can’t even gallop freely in pasture or they have become push-button horses who would walk into a tree if you didn’t turn them. I often  rode with only a halter or a lead rope around their neck with my tack left behind on the branches of a tree. Reckless? Not with the horses I trusted. If a horse really wants to buck or run away with you, not the severest bit is going to help. Ron has almost been banned from trail rides when they’ve seen him ride up without a bridle or halter. I say almost. Once it’s shown how he works with his horse it’s obvious that he is a true horseman and his horse a true partner.
     I was impressed to watch him and Cisco as they came to a stop with no words or movement of the neck-rope, only a slight shift of weight in the saddle and the intent to stop. More impressed still to watch them move through the desert trails and off trail through the trees and brush with alertness, ease, and seemingly with none of the typical “cues”. As I never shared this type of riding with anyone, except as arena demonstrations, and have never seen anyone else do it outside an arena I felt blessed to photograph the two of them as they enjoyed the desert morning. Incidentally, Cisco was an “outlaw” when he came to Ron.
Ron and Cisco backlit

Ron and Cisco backlit

     When I discovered photography as a child, I followed all the rules I knew and made up what I didn’t. First and foremost, I was taught to stand with the sun behind me over my shoulder and concentrate on the subject in front of me. Long before I attended a workshop or picked up a photography book, I grew bored with that and started playing with the light after a few “accidents” became some of my favorite photographs. I am drawn to how the light paints and often am influenced by that light to move to where I like it best and THEN concentrate on what I photograph in that light. Challenging sometimes, yet I love the light that rims a subject when the sun is directly in front of me and also how the wash of light in side-lighting creates depth and texture. This image of Ron and Cisco was created about 10 minutes after the sun had crested the mountains as I stood under my Sunbounce mini reflector to eliminate sun flare. I thank my patient husband who got an arm workout as I moved to different positions and he held that reflector high and steady.
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     This is another favorite from the session. The Santa Catalina mountains are ones I’ve lived close to since 1969. Here they serve as backdrop to a man and his horse as they ride through the rarity of open desert with the early morning sun bathing them in soft light. The colors are complimentary, with Ron’s shirt connecting with the sky, the bit of red drawing the eye to the horse, and the black standing out in sharp contrast to the gentle shadows on the mountains. When photographing black horses, I underexpose by at least 1/3 stop of light and in this image I brought it down by 2/3 stop to ensure a deep black.
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     It took years for silhouettes and I to become friends. I’ve always loved the look of them, yet I struggled to create ones that I felt were worthy to join my portfolio images. A silhouette is so different from a “lit” image and often people and animals need to be positioned more carefully and sometimes in ways that feels a bit awkward to show detail. A leg forward more or a face aligned just right or an arm lifted away from the body to show spacial definition. I tried many ways to properly expose these particular works of art, including simply underexposing them. The ways that work best for me are to expose on the sky and then set the camera manually for that exposure or for a faster solution I expose on the sky/hit the exposure lock button/auto focus on my moving subject and I’ve got my silhouette.
    
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Ron Olson and Cisco at their ranch
Ron Olson and Cisco at their ranch

      Last Saturday morning I met local horse trainer Ron Olson before he conducted a clinic at his ranch that day. A kind, patient, calm soul who has an obvious bond with his lovely Tennessee Walker gelding, Cisco. He kindly acted as model for a woman I’m donating some mentoring to as she is a new photographer who’s been inspired by my photography and I feel she has potential as not only an up-coming photographer but more importantly as a passionately creative soul who just needs a bit of guidance to find her true path. I will be providing a weekend of mentoring to her over Memorial Day weekend as we follow horses through an 1,000 acre pasture in the Dragoons southeast of Tucson…a “herd dynamics” photography assignment that will involve no posing or manipulation of the horses, accepting the blessings of the gifts they choose to give us during these three days. I’ll be working with her on some technical camera assignments, the herd dynamics photography itself, and one portrait session involving at least one horse and person. She’s very excited and I look forward to sharing some of my experience and passion for photography with her to “jump start” her as she moves forward. After we return, I’ll write about the experience here and share her blog with you.

Ron Olson and Cisco
Ron Olson and Cisco
     Saturday morning session began with showing how I start with introductions and guidance to the person followed by a few minutes connecting with the horse. I explained that leaving out any connection impairs what could be the strongest imagery created by those connections. Ron brought out Cisco, on a loose neck line rather than halter and I pointed out the strength of their partnership and how we would be working with that blessing. I directed Ron and Cisco to an area halfway between the stable area and his house, in direct sunlight (about 1 and 1/2 hour after I would usually start a dawn session, so the light was already harsh) and started the dance of finding the best light and positions to best portray the relationship of the man and his horse. Here I emphasize “the relationship” of them, photographing the connection rather than just the physicality of man and horse. I introduced my student to a reflector and diffuser for the first time and saw
 her eyes light up when she realized that she could do so much more with the light. Up, down, around…the dance continued as I asked her questions and pointed out possible disapointing images and their wonderful counterpart images of artistic expression.
Cisco

Cisco

     An example of Art over Snapshot is the headshot to the left of Cisco. In full sun, his black coat in the harsh light reflected in tones of grey. In the shade, he went to deep black, but lost detail and shine. I created two images, one in full sunlight and one in the shade with a reflector directly in front of Cisco which send gold light to his face and a bit of his neck. I then showed the two images to my student and she loved the one in full sun. Granted, the portrait in full sun had a more animated horse with neck up/ears perked and lots of sun that said “Look at me”.  What I didn’t like about it was the shadow that took the light off his eyes and face and the highlight blowout caused by the reflection of sun on his neck. Eyes go to light first, so the focal spot of the “sun” image was right in the middle of Cisco’s neck. I could have used a polarizer to help reduce the reflection. That was not my vision for the image I wanted, so we moved Cisco into the shade for the look I desired. I prefer this image, with it’s gold reflection in the eye and subtle detail. Each photographer has a vision and I have found it best for me to follow my passion and intuition in the creation of my images. This may not be the way another photographer would have created a portrait of this horse and that is wonderful! Individuality and unique expression is exciting to me.

 

Cisco connects

Cisco connects

      I’m also including another image of Cisco, in direct sunlight about an hour earlier, that I enjoy the feel of. I have offered a mini-session to Ron as a gift for his time and will create two more portraits of Cisco I already “see in my heart” that will be photographed at the exact time of day I know will work for the light I’ll paint them with.  I thank Ron and Cisco for their generousity of spirit and look forward to working more with this woman when we go to the Dragoons.

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