Sunday, January 27, 2013

How to be a mustang photographer...

What do you need to photograph mustangs?

1. A job- This may sound like an oxymoronic statement but unless you are wildly successful, you won't make a living solely upon your mustang photos. Most of the successful photogs in the mustang industry also do non-mustang horse photography. Horse shows, gymkhanas, private photo shoots, animals other than horses (pet portraiture) etc.
I have a wonderful job I adore outside of photography that allows me to pay for camera equipment, software, advertising, traveling to the horse management areas, printing... Plus my job also gives health benefits so when I cut my leg open on rusty barbed wire in pursuit of mustang photos, I can go to the Emergency Room for a tetanus shot.  

2. Mustangs- another no-brainer. Use this book to find the mustang sites and I can offer suggestions for good hotels nearby. There are a lot of Horse/Herd Management Areas (HMA) in many states- some closer than you think. Also Google BLM, mustang, wild horse, management areas and you'll find a lot of information, once you know the name of the HMA, try to Google that and you will be amazed at the sheer quantity of clubs and rescue groups affiliated with the mustangs!

3. Car with high clearance- four wheel drive is not necessary if you are absolutely 100% positive it won't rain (being a weather psychic is useful too). High clearance is the most useful feature for your mustang-finding-vehicle but four wheel drive comes in handy and will offer you peace of mind. My husband loves to drive all over the place looking for mustangs... Four wheel drive is also good and I won't go out to some of the sites without it...

4. SLR Digital Camera-like a Photoshop below, you need a DSLR camera (digital single lens reflex)- Canon, Nikon, Olympus- whatever is most affordable, start with used if finances are an issue. Lots of megapixels are great but beyond 10- the photos are just taking up space on your hard drive-unless you specialize in posters which require large files for the clearest printing but for most people, 10-12 megapixels or less is fine. Should you include video? Some of the newer SLR cameras come with video. I am a bit of a purist and I bought a GoPro camera so I can shoot video and photographs separately. When I am in the groove taking photos, the last thing I want to do is stop and switch my camera to video and waste tremendous space on my memory card for video... Save it for photos and find a friend with a sense of humor to shoot video for you. Try B&H Camera and Video in New York City- I have been there many times, they have excellent on-line used cameras and lenses and you can search by price. They are very knowledgeable and if you decide to visit, let me know-I will treat you to lunch.

5. Adobe Photoshop- Don't accept substitutions. This is the industry standard in photography and if you want to be taken seriously, you need Photoshop. If money is tight, then you might consider buying it with a student license. There are restrictions with a limited student license but it is substantially cheaper. It is a rather complex program and it will take a while to learn Photoshop but there are plenty of books you can buy to learn this program as well as thousands of free lessons on line. Even video tutorials at Adobe's website or You Tube. They have a new way to buy Adobe products called Adobe Creative Cloud where you pay a nominal fee each month  and you have access to ALL Adobe products and they have a vast library of programs for web design, video, photography and graphic design.

6. A spirit of adventure and professionalism- being adventurous is critical to mustang photography. When it is the fourth herd, located well over a mile away and it is 90F and you are already hot and sweaty...having that "okay, let's hike through the sagebrush for the fourth time in the hot sun and photograph the mustangs" attitude is key... It is ALWAYS worth it. As for professionalism- be polite, respectful, avoid profanity both on your website, Facebook fan page and your personal page. People can see some of your personal page (regardless of friend status) and having questionable photos/content won't bring people to your photography site in droves.   Utilizing your computer's spellcheck and grammar are also pluses though I have been known to post some humorous comments when typing on my phone- granted the comments are spelled correctly, the just don't make any sense grammatically.

Other non-essential but useful 
A friend- driver, video , companionship

External hard drive-always, always, always back up to an external source before you even look at the photos!

Cintiq board/tablet- I bought mine at B&H and this handy graphics tablets comes pre-calibrated for print. I never have to worry about my prints looking different than what I see on my monitor because of my Cintiq. If you don't have a a graphics tablet, try calibrating your monitor so that the print will look similar to what you see in Photoshop. Also when doing fine work on a photograph, the pen is more comfortable to use than a mouse.

Telephoto lens- most cameras come with a 35-110 or 200 mm lens as a package deal. I love my 18-200mm. For mustangs, you will probably want to invest in a 100-400mm and IS is best. (Image Stabilized). I had a 500mm Canon lens- it was a moose, weighed a ton and was utterly useless in the field. Great for photographing hummingbirds at my feeder at home but that was about it. You want the most portable lenses you can carry- literally.
Digital watermark- this is a process that places an invisible 'digital watermark' on all your image (you choose which). It tracks these images throughout the Internet and will find if your image is being used somewhere else even if it has been altered. I use DigiMark.

Nik filters for Photoshop - amazing filters I can't live without!
Alien Skin Filters- also phenomenal 
Adobe Lightroom- an amazingly useful program to preview, catalog and do minor editing- also will upload to a website as a gallery- very cool!

Monopod- like a tripod, this handy item comes as a single cane-like support for your camera. It has only one leg but if you find your images are blurry, try using a monopod or tripod. I find them cumbersome and I have learned how to steady my camera but I carry a monopod in my uber-cool photography vest. Once in a while they are great for panning a running herd or if you find yourself parked next to a waterhole... 

Photography vest- a slightly dorky but rather useful article of clothing. It has about 15 pockets of varying sizes. Make sure, if you don't have a driver friend, put your car keys in a very safe place- zippered pockets are nice and secure. You don't want to search through sagebrush for your cars keys. The nice thing about the vest is it holds extra lenses, water, monopod, memory cards and lens cloths without a backpack. Useful for hot summer days especially when you have to hoof-it for a mile.... 

Memory cards- I use smaller cards, about 32 MB and switch frequently. If I manage to get an amazing series of photos, I will remove that card, stash it someplace safe and continue with a fresh card. This way you don't ever run the risk of losing precious photos. My cards are labeled 1,2,3,4,5... And A,B,C,D,E... This way I remember which are used and which are blank. All cards are reformatted after each day. The photos are uploaded to my laptop. Then they are backed up to my external hard drive which I carry on the plane with me. Only then do I allow myself the pleasure of looking through that day's adventures in mustang photography on my MacBook.

Cell phone with car charger- this is an obvious one

GPS- might be useful, I have never needed one myself - most phones come with some sort of location function. Try that before you buy a Garmin

Water- especially in the warmer weather

Have fun and be safe!!!!


  1. Excellent list of essentials for a wild horse adventure!

  2. A wonderful blog and I look forward to following you.
    Please feel free to visit mine also.


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