Photo Essay: Thornton Hill Hounds (September 19, 2010)

The photo essay is posted at KLM Images.

Clarity vs liveliness

From the outside

Be aware of your own blinders — hard advice to follow.

I am prejudiced in favor of clarity, so I use fast shutter speeds to see the action.  Unfortunately, this results in some dim shots in early morning light.  I also have a somewhat deadly tendency to look for those classic static foxhunting shots that I’ve seen so often in the sporting literature.  However, just because the scene had to be stopped in order to paint it doesn’t mean I need to do the same thing with a camera.

The more control I get over my camera and ability to make it do what I want it to do, the less I benefit from accident and luck.

Well-lit vigorous action

My husband, nothing inhibited by my standards, shoved his point-and-shoot camera with slow shutter settings into the hound truck and rattled off some shots more or less blind.  Those wagging tails may be blurred and that first hound a bit, um, in your face, but I know which shot I like better.

Look for different approaches to your work — it’s too easy to get into a rut without noticing.

Those classic shots of foxhunting

Arches, lines, and frames

It’s always a pleasure to see the classic images of hounds and horses, but don’t turn down the sort of thing you’ll never see in a painting.

I had several shots of this scene, including those with a straight horse tail.  I chose this one instead for a number of reasons.

Most obviously, the hound’s head is beautifully lit and set off against the dark background.  The bare curve of the back of the horse’s upper leg is one arc of an implied circular frame surrounding the head.

I also see a sinuous curve running from the horse’s (off frame) rump down the back of the hound’s neck and back, and running off the hound’s tail.

Finally, the natural arch under the horse is roughly repeated in the middle and right of the image.  There’s a lot of architecture and geometry going on here, to my eye.

Classic, with attitude

Next we have a classic scene: huntsman and hounds in the early morning light on a beautiful day, waiting for the request to move off.  I would never have believed it a few years ago, but it really is possible to get jaded about these perfect scenes.  They remain lovely, but not exciting.

I had many variants of this shot and published some, but this is certainly the best of them.  The horse’s head is completely framed by the vegetation, and we get a quizzical look as a bonus to really hold the focal point of the picture.

When I look attentively at this, I also see a sine wave running up over the green curve behind the horse’s head and back down under the horse’s belly that locks the left and right halves of this picture tightly together.

From the rear

I must have a thousand shots of the rears of hounds and horses: it’s an occupational hazard.  This one, however, has some redeeming virtues.

The raised hound in the middle is a reminder of the individuality of the hounds in the pack, no two alike and each with his own opinion.  It’s also an expression of the exuberance of the pack finally released to begin hunting.

The horse’s tail and oblique angle also communicate movement, pointed at the lowest part of the sloping vegetation as though headed for a vanishing point.  The high relief muscle and hock joint are architectural, making the horse seem more massive and thus giving the movement more momentum.

The pack is at the top of the slope and gathering speed like an unstoppable boulder rolling downhill.

Below is another classic scene where I captured many variants and published a few.  The composition of a long line of hounds with a mounted huntsman in the middle presents itself over and over if you photograph foxhunting.  What makes this one better than the others in this essay?

The horse’s nearest front leg is leading, which I always find more pleasing to look at than the opposite, since it provides a more balanced look to the front of the horse.  The crossed legs are echoed by the huntsman’s left forearm.

At least one obvious hound is looking at the huntsman for guidance while he is looking about for other hounds.  The horse is alert (ears forward), the hounds are well packed up, and the huntsman looks like the master of his tools, thinking about what he will next set them to.

It would be better if I were positioned on a level with the pack, but this is Rappahannock County and I’m lucky to only be a few hundred vertical feet away from the action.

In the middle of the pack

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