Photo Essay: Blue Ridge Hunt (August 28, 2010)

The photo essay is posted at KLM Images.

An exercise in monochrome

The good and bad of misty mornings

Cubbing starts early in the morning to avoid as much of the late summer heat as possible.  The big challenge was to take effective pictures near dawn in low light and exceptionally heavy mist.  The Blue Ridge Hunt kennels are near the Shenandoah River at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the mist from the river was persistent. There were patches of dense fog just a few yards from bright sunlight.

One of the whippers-in was mounted on a grey horse that was exceptionally photogenic in the lighting conditions.  I took many shots (and published a few) exploring how much you could get out of essentially colorless scenes.  The lighting controlled which were silver and which were sage.

New entry and older hounds excited about hunting on a misty morning

I’m used to the flexibility of zoom lenses that allow me to stand a distance from a subject, using the zoom to get close faster than I can get there in person.  Usually the additional distance has no significant impact on the clarity of the shot, but this doesn’t work when the air is full of water.

Many of the scenes that delighted me on the spot were completely unusable as photos when the atmospheric water made it look like an underwater scene.  Since this was more information than I could see in my back-of-camera preview, all I could do is take whatever shots I could and sort out what happened afterward (as if that isn’t how it always works!).  Note to self: get physically closer if you want anything resembling clarity through mist.

The effect was completely unpredictable, however, since the mist was full of local variations.  Immediately following this less-than-ideal kennel shot, and only a few yards away, I was presented with an endless series of shots in perfect mist conditions.  It pays not to despair!

Huntsman and whipper-in bring the pack out for a morning's hunt


At this point, as so frequently happens, the hunt went off somewhere inaccessible to cameras and we car-followers drove over to where we expected them to emerge.  And then we waited.  And waited…

Mist and light on a cobweb

If you have a camera and nothing else to do, naturally you experiment with whatever’s around: your fellow enthusiasts, local landscapes, bugs, weeds, etc.  Nothing is safe.  This was my day for cobwebs.

Most of my photography is hunting action; if I miss the scene or it was badly lit, I don’t lose a lot of sleep over it since there is no easy way to ensure success.  But static scenes are more frustrating since I should be able to control so many more of the variables.  I’ve taken pictures of many cobwebs, but for the first time I got 4 shots I thought could be published, and now I’ve learned a bit about what is necessary.

First of all, the water in the air (mist or dew) gave essential thickness to the lines.  Then I needed a fast speed to counteract the unsteadiness of not using a tripod so that you could see the water droplets clearly.  And finally, the sun behind the web illuminated it well.  None of these items reflect deliberate planning on my part; I just took lots of pictures with many variations, and figured out what worked.

Tip: Pixels are free!  Take lots of pictures with different settings when you can.

Painting vs photos

Whipper-in waiting patiently in heavy morning mist

I strive for clarity in most of my shots, so deliberately shooting ghostly riders in the mist is tricky.  How much is romantic setting, and how much is just too low contrast to be interesting?

My thinking about this shot is that you can make out the various folds of land behind him, which gives definition to the scene.  Then his silhouette and foreground are sufficiently well-defined to make the scene legible.  But the deciding factor for me was the natural lightening of the mist behind him, the white background which back-lights him.

Is it successful as a painterly scene?  What do you think?

Things you discover after the shoot

Here is a simple little vignette: our ex-huntsman, clearly “old school”, greets two early morning bicyclists, who belong on horseback.  That’s why I took the picture, for the amusing clash of cultures.

A color palette of blue/silver, medium green, and tan/melon

But now that I see it, I realize it’s also a good example of classic color palette design.  When you create a brand, or a brochure, or some other piece of graphic design, one of the things you need is a specific color palette for the design.  For example, the color palette for KLM Images is gray, cream, black, and a dark burnt orange.

There are all sorts of theories about how best to choose colors that go well together, involving color wheels, complementary colors, etc.  The overall goal is to create a palette that is versatile, flexible, recognizable, and above all — harmonious.

This photo shows a full range of blues from cornflower to silvery blue-grey with the wet road highlights – a very suitable family for text in a variety of shades and emphases, with a nice easy-on-the-eyes green for background, and a melon shade for highlights.  You could make a very nice commercial graphic design from those three colors.

Telling a story

My photo essays are stories, and often so are the individual shots.  I see personalities everywhere, whether real or projected.  This essay had many classic hunting scenes, but some had a bit more zing than others.  For example, a moving whip (below) is always eye-catching, but this one catches the lead hound’s eye as well as your own.

Keeping an eye on the huntsman

There are other stories that I share only with the hounds and horses.  The humans are used to seeing me, but the animals – not so much.  Here comes this strange human with a giant, glassy, Cyclopean eye staring right at them.  Am I a threat?  Just a curiosity?  In any case, I am treated to more than my share of hairy eyeballs from the four-footed set.

Evaluating the threat

Not a bit pleased

Worried, very worried

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