Photo Essay: Rappahannock Hunt (September 12, 2010)

The photo essay is posted at KLM Images.

Before the meet begins

Arm & arm

While the iconic photos of foxhunting at the start of the meet involve hunt staff posed with their hounds ready to hunt, you can find many things of interest to look at well before that point, beginning with the hound trailer.

Whenever I meet a hunt for the first time, I try to be especially diligent about getting shots of the hounds.  I can’t capture their foxhunting abilities with a camera, but I can start to get a feel for their personalities and to identify some of the individuals.  Paying attention to the hound trailer is a good start.

Each hunt’s setup is a bit different, depending on the sort of trailer they use.  Often you are restricted to a view of noses through slits which, while amusing, is a bit limited.  In this case, the interaction between one hound and the huntsman captured some accidental symmetry.

Not just noses: heads

Variations on the nose arrays are welcome in any form — I once had a situation when only tails were visible.  Here we have some scenes of eager heads and some determined jail-breaking attempts.

Checking that all systems are "go"

The riders are always busy doing preparation work with their horses and gear.  Finding something new to see can be a challenge, but a sequence of checks of feet, seat, and guidance systems presented itself.

Not just noses: teeth

If you pay attention, you can also spot more unusual activities.  Here the huntsman decided that letting the cattle with whom we shared the field roam around at will with the hounds underfoot was something to be discouraged.  After cracking his whip to startle them away, he found it necessary to issue a second whip-crack in the air to a particularly curious cow,and the lighting illuminated the dust and mist that were stirred up.

Persuading the cattle to go elsewhere

Coiled energy starting to release

Sequences of moving animals: hounds

Using a still camera with a fast capture rate, you can freeze a sequence of actions.  Many things are made more interesting if you can look at them more closely, since normally they are too quick for the eye to follow.

The “river of hounds” released from a hound trailer is one of my favorites.  When you capture it as a series of discrete steps, you can see how the hounds are stacked on top of each other, how they invade each other’s space in their eagerness to jump out, and how they aren’t always nimble in the process.  There’s a lot of personality on display, as well as the action.

For this, as for all multi-image action sequences, you run the risk of boring your viewer.  You can mitigate it by varying the cropping or scale of the photos within the sequence to call out particular details or the reaction of other viewers, as in the sequence starting with the photo on the right.

Wrapped around the axle

For other action sequences, you may focus on a single animal, and some of the variation for the “river of hounds” sequence is not available for relief.  While duplicate postures can be eliminated to remove padding, still the sequence is likely to be longer than a strict external balance in the full photo essay would advise.

They're leaving without me!

I try to always keep in mind my overall story arch in the essay, but I am indulgent about zooming in on a particular sequence as if it were slow-motion, as a type of variety in its own right — who says the narrative has to proceed at the same pace everywhere?.  If you’ve never seen exactly what happens when a hound flaps its ears, carrying the twist all the way down the body and out the tail while wrapping his ears around his head, perhaps you will be as interested in seeing it as I am.

This essay presented two series of hounds jumping coops, and each had a mini-drama accompanying the action.  In the first one (below) you can see how different hounds approach the challenge of crossing the fence.  In the second one, you can see the distress of the one hound who couldn’t solve the puzzle without the help of the humans.

Over & under

Sequences of moving animals: wildlife


It’s difficult enough being far away from the hunting action on a dark day and trying to capture worthwhile photos.  At least you have some idea where the hunt is and what to expect.  But when the hunting gods gift you with views of wildlife, it’s usually even more of a challenge.

Clarity: At full sprint

From our hilltop perch at this meet, we had a lovely view of a bald eagle sitting calmly on a dead tree.  The view was quite distant so the images are all very small, but even on this dim day the recognizable shape and stance made a group of shots worth showing.

The whitetail buck, on the other hand, was a rather more common sight.  This one was much closer and obligingly running straight across from my viewpoint, so I kept the non-duplicative shots as a series for anyone who is interested in how deer move.

Impressionistic: Through the autumn grasses

Once the buck crossed the fence line and entered the water meadow by the stream, he moved from a clear image to an impressionistic one as the distance and intervening mist interfered with clarity.  I found him just as interesting even so, as the colors shifted and showed how camouflage works in his favor in that setting.  The effect is more painterly than photographic, but that’s a feature not a bug.

The hunt itself, even further away and hunting the stream banks, fades into the same impressionistic haze, where the dappled light on the boscage yields a scene familiar to French and German painters of hunting scenes.

The hunt continues along the wooded stream

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