Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fun Horse Day / Friday Tip

I spent a lot of my Memorial Day weekend just hanging out with Chinook. He got a bath (his first of the year, he was filthy!) on Sunday, and I fiddled around a lot playing with him and my camera on Monday. I like taking photos of his changing colors throughout the year, and comparing the changes not only through the seasons, but through the years. He is a sooty buckskin, but now that he's getting older, his coat has changed pretty drastically. A decade ago this time of year he would have been a sleek rich golden buckskin, with heavy sooty dappling coming in a little later in the summer. Now however his hair is a bit longer, fuzzier and is mostly a sort of faded black with some light spots valiantly trying to poke through. The changes on his head are pretty dramatic, while the transition on his flank is much more subtle.

And that leads me to this week's tip. We all like to photograph horses for reference, but sometimes it can be tricky, especially in dark arenas. Here are some tips for getting great reference shots. These tips require manual mode (or one of the program modes) on your camera, but it's really not as daunting to figure out as it seems!

Horses move, and they move fast. Even when they're just standing around posing for photos, some part of their bodies is frequently moving. The first thing to do is to set the shutter speed to something that will capture motion so you don't have to guess at what that blurry area really looked like. The shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open on your camera - the time it actually takes to capture the photo. Try a shutter speed of 500. (That's 1/500th of a second.) You can go down to 250 (1/250th of a second), but that's about the slowest you should go to stay safe. If you are photographing a horse in action, you can make the shutter go faster; try 750 or even 1000 to make those legs stay nice and crisp.

Next, consider the aperture, otherwise known as the f-stop. For reference purposes, you don't want to get all fancy with shallow depth of field. Those photos look pretty when well executed, but they will cause part of the horse to be blurry while another part is in tack sharp focus! Try to stick to the f/4 to f/8 range. You will be using a range here because not only does this setting affect depth of field, but ALSO the exposure!

While the shutter speed determines how long light can get through the opened shutter, the aperture determines how much light actually gets through during that time. This is the tricky part, so bear with me for quick explanation. The shutter in your lens can open up as a very tiny hole (a narrow aperture, or high f-stop such as f/16, f/32 or even higher) and only let in a little light. Or, the shutter can open a lot (a wide aperture, or low f-stop such as f/4, f/2.8 or even lower) leaving a large hole for lots of light to get through. The higher the f-stop, the smaller the aperture. I know, I know... it sounds crazy and backwards. All you really need to take away from this is that as the f-stop gets higher in number it lets in... less light. There is a good visual diagram of aperture sizes (and a much more thorough explanation) on Wikipedia. (Don't worry about the technicalities of the differences between f-stop and aperture.) Now, the shutter speed/f-stop balancing part does require practice. The good news is you can just take your camera outside in different lighting conditions, point it at a big bush or something, and play with the settings until you are comfortable with them.

Back to our f-stop range for practical use. If your shutter speed is set to 500 and the day is bright, try an f-stop of f/5.6 and see what happens. Hopefully you are using a digital camera with a preview window so that you can see how bright or dark the photo turned out. Is the image too bright? Go ahead and move the f-stop up to f/6.7. Remember, moving the f-stop up lets in less light, so this will result in a darker photo. If the image is too dark at f/5.6, then try going the other way to f/4 to open up the shutter and let more light in. Always keep in mind that the lower the f-stop number goes, the shallower the depth of field gets. Very pleasing photos can be created with f/2.8 and even lower, but a lot of skill is required to ensure the proper bits of the photo are in focus.

Learning how to use your camera's manual functions will not only allow you to get exactly the results you need, it will often times allow you to photograph horses without using the flash. This is very important! Most importantly, as a photographer of strange horses, you will not know how they will react to a flash. A calm horse can instantly become frightened and dangerous. Some horses are even afraid of the sound of a shutter click. Show horses are often used to flashes, but never assume they are, and refrain from using a flash when photographing on the rail at a competition. Secondly, our cameras really aren't all that clever. They'll want to move on to using flash in situations where it simply won't help. Horses are usually too far away from the lens for the flash to work, so the photo won't turn out anyway.

That's enough for now... Next week, info on the ISO and using histograms to really help you nail your exposure and make sure you get good shots. You can click on the photos in this post for larger versions which you are welcome to keep for your personal reference files if you wish. Mousing over the photos will reveal the settings I used. I tried to include only photos on which I did minimal processing in photoshop for a true idea of what the settings do.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Finn Esse on Auction Barn!

Finn Esse has just been listed to the Auction Barn! Click on the banner to see his auction. My first listing there was a positive experience, and I hope that others will make the site a huge success. Much thanks to Shallon and Brian for starting this up!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Friday Tip

And we're back! :-D Bridget suggested the topic "how to keep hair and glop out of drying oil paint?" Thanks Bridget! I can definitely help with hair, and I do believe the technical description of glop may be lint and annoying specks of paint.

First things first. It is essential to work in a very clean area. Always wipe your table off before you begin painting. Dust accumulates in no time and causes major headaches for painters. It is also important to wipe brushes clean with rags or towels that leave no trace of lint. I've had good luck with blue paper shop towels. I don't usually wipe the brushes off immediately before painting (though I will run my finger through the bristles to shake any dust out real quick) because I haven't found it to be necessary for my situation. You might try if you have a big problem with dust, or go for long periods between painting.

Second of all, painting areas must be sealed away from pets. If there is no way to shut off the painting area from animals, hair will be a problem. It can be gently removed, but it is far better to not have to deal with the problem in the first place. If you do have pets, you should consider changing clothes before painting or going near wet horses. The bottom line is, be fastidious about cleanliness. This will help overcome most issues.

As for paint specks that so often seem to "mysteriously" show up... These are almost always caused by painting too fast. When you get to markings, even just blocking them in, go slow. This will avoid splatters that often go unnoticed until after the horse has been sealed. It is also a good idea to only keep one horse near the painting area when basecoating is going on. Brushes can splatter fine specks of paint quite a distance!

Even with all these precautions, sometimes specks of something will get stuck to a horse, especially while the final spray coating is happening. In such cases, let the coat dry and then gently rub the speck out. Since the sealer goes on in many thin layers it is easy to work foreign objects out of the paint job. Blemishes are almost always only to the sealer itself, which is corrected with another light coat on top.

Hopefully with these suggestions you'll be well on your way to "glop-free" horses. Just take your time and be aware of how much deceptive dust and hair is really around!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Burning the midnight oil

I'm in the middle of a marathon week of painting in preparation for Northwest Congress. Before I put myself to bed after another loooong day in the studio, I thought I would share a quick pic of my most recent horse. This is a Finn I was playing around with while I was house sitting last week, so I had a lot of time to play with little fiddly bits. He is a leopard appaloosa, painted entirely in acrylic. You can expect to see him for sale soon too! I haven't settled on a date yet, but it will probably be around next Friday. I have a temporary gallery up here and will integrate him into the website when things slow down a bit next week.

And speaking of Friday, I don't think I'll have time to do a Friday Tip this week, but you can expect to see another one next week. And as long as nothing goes wrong, I should have 3 mules and another horse to share with you!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Friday Tip (early!)

Since I will be mostly away from my computer for the next few days, I'm giving you guys the Friday Tip today. :-D Shelby asks, "how to gloss the hooves,eyes, etc.? I always wonder what I should use, and apply it with..." Good question Shelby! As you can see in the photo above, I use Liquitex varnishes. I like them because they are easy to clean up and are thinner than the old go-to glosser, nail polish. Depending on what I am varnishing, I will use a different gloss for different effects.

For more durable high risk areas such as eartips, I like to use matte varnish in between spraying sealer coats. Always finish with spray sealer over the matte varnish to ensure there are no uneven areas. After finishing with the sealer spray, the other varnishes can be applied. For eyes, glossed hooves, tongues, and the little pink bits inside noses, I use high gloss. To help replicate the look of hoof horn, satin makes a great natural varnish as long as the horse has relatively clean feet. And finally, for those naturally slightly glossier manes and tails, I like to whip up a 50/50 concoction of matte and satin.

To apply the varnish on eyes, use a round brush with a sharp precise tip and do one thin layer at a time. Be careful not to build up too many layers, or the gloss will begin to look cloudy. The same method is used elsewhere, but larger brushes can be used where appropriate. Note that while most of the varnishes should be applied evenly over the entire surface they are meant to cover, the mane and tail gloss should be done sparingly in one or maybe two thin layers or it will seem too distinct from the body. Manes and tails do not have to be completely covered. A light touch on the medium to high spots will create the effect convincingly (and give a little extra protection against rubs).