Horses Shot North of Austin
Article & Photos by Robbin Cresswell

Sharp shooters from as far away as Canada, Florida and California, converged just north of Austin to shoot horses. The unpretentious equines were shot repeatedly over a 4-day period. The weapons used were Canons and Nikons with long telephoto lenses, compact flash cards and 35mm film. Reloading was quick and effortless and curious horses were shot again and again. The Bluebonnet Shootout was the scheme of the newly formed International Horse Photographers Association (IHPA).

Equine photographer Andrew Wheeler founded the association last fall, which now sports about 100 professional equine photographer affiliates. Leander, Texas equine photographer, Candace-Craw Goldman donated her time to organize and coordinate the “cooperative workshop” held May 6-10. The photo shoot schedules over the course of the workshop took on a Texas and western theme with spurs, 6 shooters, chaps and Bar B Q. Models were the horses of course, some longhorns and people made up of family and friends.

One photo shoot location was at Spirit Reins,125-acre facility dedicated to helping at-risk youth. A beautiful ranch in Liberty Hill, Texas where the wild flowers still blanket the hillsides and the pastures were a lush and green.

The average human, with any sense, would quickly get out of the way if a herd of horses were galloping straight at them. Photographers are a different breed of people. A galloping herd of horses fast approaching means grabbing the right lens and getting in the best position quickly so one can shoot the herd straight on.

Unlike a mob of photographers at a White House press conference vying for position and protecting their territory, the twenty IHPA photographers were courteous and supportive to each other. They would go out of their way not to get in each other’s shot. Several shot scenarios were set up at any one time, giving photographers a choice.

Wedding, portrait and school photographers are in controlled environments. Horse photographers are always on location. In addition they must deal with the elements like heat, cold, wind, rain and bugs. Even shooting at inside locations there are dusty barns and poorly lit arenas. This may discourage and frustrate some photographers. Equine photographers see past these physical barriers and are inspired! Florida photographer Bobbie Whitman ads “be flexible, work with the elements, whatever is thrown at you.”

A spring thunderstorm with wind and lightning kept everyone in a dimly lit barn at Spirit Reins for part of one morning. Photographers adapted by climbing on panels, leaning against walls and lying on the barn floor. Later that day as the sun bathed the pastures with a golden light, photographers were busy with more shooting opportunities before sunset.

All but four photographers were using digital cameras. Michigan photographer, Deb Morrison believes that the quality of digital is as good as film, but the initial investment is what keeps her from changing. Digital cameras still cost more then their film counterparts, and you must have a laptop, digital wallet and image enhancing software. “With film I can print a photo 50 years from now but, am I going to be able to open up a digital file years from now”, was Morrison’s other concern.

The photography business is competitive and it’s not uncommon for jealousy. Not among these photographers. Canadian Andrena Shaw, April Visel from California and Candace all agree that IHPA gives equine photographers the freedom to be expressive, take risks and be creative. During downtime laptops were whipped out and images downloaded from the days shoots. Photographers would gather around to “oo” and “aah” at each other’s work. The atmosphere was more like best friends gathered together for a weekend retreat then competitors.

They also give to their communities. Bobbie Whitman plans to give a seminar at her place in Jacksonville, Florida to her local camera club. Also, Iowa photographer Leslie Heemsbergen conducts a camera tech seminar to armatures.

Although most of the time is spent making images, some time is dedicated to improving and learning new skills. Charles Hilton conducted an Adobe Photoshop seminar. Hilton empathizes that a professional digital equine photographer “needs a good digital workflow in place”. This starts with capturing the images through to the final product.

IHPA’s goal is to “create and foster cooperation and interaction between horse photographers and the industries that use the imagery that is produced”. The organization now has an image bank of stock images that clients can view and contact the photographers. The IHPA website features a “Photographer of the week” so all can view his or her work. Quite a lot of accomplishments for such a young organization.

As photographer Deb Morrison eloquently states on her website, that she is “passionate about the act of discover and recognition” and with horses exists the potential knowledge. It is the love of horses, their power, vulnerability, mystery and magic that brought all these artists together to share their passion for photography and the horse.

Special thanks to Candace Craw-Goldman and Andrew Wheeler for allowing Robbin Cresswell of The Horse Gazette to attend a small portion of IHPA’s Bluebonnet Shootout!

We also talked to some of the models from the shoot - Jerry Lee Sewell, Zack Metcalf and Mike Franklin after the shootout and they had a terrific time!


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