The week of the biggest year in USA eventing always dawns with a special sort of excitement if you follow the sport at all. For the last couple of years I’ve attended the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event CCI5* as a credentialed photographer with a front row seat for the Best Weekend All Year.
LRK3DE is always a fun weekend to see in person, and while I’ll be -somewhat gratefully- taking the weekend off and watching the competition via livestream from the comfort of home this year, my not attending leaves the door wide open for another photographer to unofficially claim bragging rights on taking this year’s most viral LRK photo.
With my own shows as an official photographer having kicked off during the last month, I’ve spent a lot of time ringside lately, talking photography theory with my team. One thing that keeps coming up is the use of perspective to capture the subject in as dramatic and stunning a moment as possible. Perspective can change the mood of a photo entirely, whether you’re photographing a tiny crossrail, or an obstacle at the top of the sport.
When I’m in the saddle, I want the photo of myself and my horse to match the feeling of having conquered that jump, and I shoot to capture that feeling every time I take a jumpshot.
Perspective and LRK have thus converged as the photograph I took last year of Sharon White & Cooley On Show at the Ditch Brush on course during the LRKCCI5* resurfaces. This is the story of how I used perspective to capture that photo, which is actually only half the reason of why it went viral:
First of all, I knew that using perspective on the Ditch Brush would create drama in itself. I also knew the Sharon White’s stunning grey partner “Louie” has a big jump. I noted the start list & very deliberately made my plan to be at the jump at least a few horses before Sharon & Louie were due over it, with the goal to get the best shot of them possible.
Last year, spectators weren’t allowed to attend Kentucky because of covid restrictions, so this photo was already going to be out of the norm without crowds around it. That gave me the freedom to move around and find the best spot to capture the maximum drama of this fence. In short, that ditch needed to look as deep as possible, so the farther away from it the horse was, the better the shot would be. I took the time to chat with the one or two other photographers who were also shooting the fence, they were near me but a little farther away above and to the right of the fence.
Most importantly and absolutely key to achieving what I did with this photograph was that I got down on the ground like a crazy person and looked for a low to high perspective. Shooting low to high is everything – it makes the jump look bigger and it most often opens up the horizon to put your subject against the sky, rather than putting the subject against brush or worse, the ground behind them. If my camera is close to the ground, the horse will be closer to the sky. And when the subject is against an open sky, they pop. When they are against ground or things in the background, they flatten. To get this particular shot right, at least the front half of the horse needed to be against open sky.
Sharon did the rest for me, coming through with an amazing jump and then going one better and sailing over the darn thing one handed. If she’d been holding her whip in her right hand, it would have been a much different image.
But it also would have been a much different image if I had taken the same photo from a different perspective. I know this because photographer Tim Delgado stood behind me and slightly to the right and captured almost the same image. Now I’m comparing, not criticizing here, because Tim is a fellow professional and knew exactly how to get a correct shot, as well.
However there is a difference in perspective that bears examination. Compare the two and in a sense it’s the same shot. In another sense the two shots are worlds apart. Sharon and Louie are jumping in one photo, and they are flying in the other. This is another reason why you should always trust your own plan, even when and no matter how many other photographers are standing right near you, trying for the same shot.
I knew as soon as I clicked the shutter that this would be my photo of the day. While this shot could have sat in my camera, toiling in obscurity, what would be the point of that? The virality of it happened because I capitalized on the current excitement of cross country day immediately. As soon as I got back to the press room, between when the CCI5* ended and before the CCI4* began, I pulled the photo, edited it by brightening up the color and shadowing the bottom of it slightly, and to the internet it went. Since that moment this single image has been seen by over a million people, been featured in magazines, printed as posters, and it was the photo that Sharon chose as her Christmas card. To be honest, this image made my entire trip to the 2021 LRK3DE worth it for the earned visibility and name recognition alone.
Full credit to Tim, who was working for the show organizers; his shot got to be featured on this year’s LRK3DE billboard welcoming visitors to Lexington. #hattip
So who will get this year’s viral shot at Land Rover Kentucky? It won’t be me and if it’s you, remember that an otherwise simple jumpshot can be an extraordinarily epic moment, if only you see it in perspective. May the odds be forever in your favor!