Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Copy Cat Assignment

One of the assignments for my photography class is to pick out a picture by a well known photographer and try to recreate it. Of course, I had to choose a photo by animal photographer Tim Flach, since I reviewed his book Equus. Originally, I had planned on doing the traditional eyeball shot or perhaps the rolling hills of a horse's back or shoulder, but it had to be a photograph that is on the Internet, so I can upload the original for my tutor to see. One of the easiest photos to find on the Internet by Tim Flach is the horse muzzle with a tongue licking upward.

I knew this would be challenging in part because I'd have to catch the horse in mid-lick and in part because of the black background. I didn't want to just take the picture and try to create a black background in Photoshop. I wanted to start out with a black background, but photographic equipment is expensive and must be accumulated slowly over time and I have no backdrops nor special lights. Just a camera.

The only black item I had available was my sweater. I decided to hang it on the gate and try to keep the horse's head in front of it. I also decided to put a little honey on the horse's upper lip to encourage the tongue to lick upward. I didn't want to get any honey on my hands and transfer it to my camera, so I tried shaking the honey down to the spout and squirting a little bit out onto Gabbrielle's nose. The spout spurted and sprayed, and Gabbrielle promptly exited stage left.

She was running around doing the Flehmen reflex of curling her upper lip up into the air while I was chasing her with the camera. She didn't trust me anymore and refused to let me near her. I realized that I would have to put down the camera and make nice with her if I wanted my model to cooperate on any level.

Once she settled down, she had already licked all the honey off, so I had to get some more on her muzzle. This time I squirted some on two fingers and spread it on her nose, which she appreciated much more. Unfortunately, the honey spread to four of my fingers and I was suddenly in a situation in which I had to hold the camera and press the shutter release with one hand and one thumb. Then I discovered that the automatic focus wasn't working on my macro lens, because it was getting too dark outside. I had to switch over to manual focus and turn the lens with just the thumb and palm of my sticky hand.

Without a handler to hold her still, I couldn't keep her in front of my black sweater, so I just started firing off shots with a flash as quickly as possible. I had meant to set up the camera to take multiple frames with one shutter release, but was now in as situation where I couldn't even set the ISO, aperture and shutter speed, none the less anything else. I told myself this is just a trial run. I'll do the real photo shoot some other time when I have an assistant.

I knew I was also in a race against time before my nosy neighbors spotted my camera flash and came outside, turning on their outdoor lights to investigate. None of my night photo shoots have been successful, because they always ruin my lighting.

Lostine was hungry and wanted to go to bed, so she started bullying the other horses around in an effort to sabotage the photo shoot so that I would have to put her in her stall and feed her. Each time I'd get Gabbrielle in a good position with the lens in focus, Lostine would bite Gabbrielle and chase her off. This was turning into a disaster.

I chased Lostine off and made it clear that she was to no longer interfere. I was going back and forth between Bombay and Gabbrielle hoping to get a tongue shot of either one. I got a lot of teeth shots because they kept yawning, gnawing on wood and biting each other, but the tongue was difficult to catch. The horses were restless and moving around. I kept following them saying, "Come on, now. Give me the money shot! I need the money shot!"

I have no doubt my nosy neighbors were out there hiding behind their junk vehicles watching all of this and thinking I was completely nuts. I called it a night, put the horses in their stalls and fed them. Then I went inside the house, washed my sticky fingers, and reviewed my shots. I was pleased to see that I did get a couple of tongue shots, and that night had served as a decent black backdrop. However, once I uploaded them to the Mac, I could see that the tongue shots were not in focus, which meant trying again on another night.

The next night I brought my assistant out with me, locked Lostine in her stall, put a halter on Bombay and Gabbrielle, and my assistant did the job of both holding the horse's head still and smearing a honey and salt mixture on the muzzle. It was 9:15 PM, completely dark out, and within one minute of us beginning the photo shoot, my nosy neighbor came outside and...

...FIRED UP HIS FREAKIN' LAWN MOWER!!!

I am not kidding you. I can understand people waiting until it cools down to mow their lawn, but in the dark??? And worse yet, these people don't even have a lawn. Then the woman came out the front door and promptly bent over to pretend like she was doing something important on her porch. I gave her a big, crazy wave and she quickly disappeared. At least she didn't turn her porch light on. But I couldn't get a shot of Gabbrielle because she was too concerned about the lawn mower to pay attention to that honey on her nose.

I did end up getting a few shots of Bombay with his tongue out, but there were problems with each photo. The shot with the tongue way out and up wasn't in focus at all. Photoshop can't fix that, so I had to move it to the trash. The picture that was in the best focus that had the tongue out didn't have the tongue in the right position, but I used it anyway. Then there was one photo with the tongue up, but you could see the barn in the background, so we had to turn the background black with Photoshop. Which one do you like best?


In reality, I'm not going to be able to take a picture as good as Tim Flach's. He has many more years of experience over me in photographing animals. However, I believe the point of this lesson is discovering just how difficult it can be to take that special photograph... especially with animals. So many variables have to come together just to get a good photograph, and then when you add a living, breathing creature in the mix who speaks a different language from the photographer (with a little honey on its tongue), things get really sticky. Oh yeah, and it helps to have your own private studio so that curious onlookers can't interfere and distract your models from creating the money shot.

15 comments:

Rachel @ Swans' Down said...

I think you did a great job! I really enjoy your photos -- almost as much as I enjoy the posts themselves.

Leah Fry said...

I like the first one better because the second one reminds me of what little kids do with a runny nose LOL.

Cheryl Ann said...

Oh....what fun! I LOVE your top one! I've tried to get some eye shots of the horses...you can IMAGINE! I just gave up! Interesting post!

Sydney_bitless said...

LOL the bit about Gabbirelle getting honey squirted at her and taking off made me laugh.
You did a good job. Too bad you couldn't come take pictures of Indigo. Shes got her tongue out in more pictures I take than not. Might I suggest since you blackened the background you want to highlight the whiskers in photoshop more. You lose them there and they are very important. I like the first because it looks more natural but the second is brighter. Have you tried shooting in RAW (if your camera has it) and using lightroom to get the desired effect?

fernvalley01 said...

Wow I would have honey and crap from here to next week! and the neighbors... just wow! I like the first one where his tounge is out not up . The background is not so stark. Great shots!

Dreaming said...

What a great assignment and you certainly picked a tough shot to copy! I applaud your persistence!
I think most of us know just how hard it is to work with animals....they don't always understand what we want and they don't always cooperate! Then, to have your nosy neighbors on top of everything else...whew - tough!
I like the first shot, even though the tongue isn't up. I like that there isn't as much contrast between the muzzle and the background, which you could change in the second shop with Photoshop.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Sydney - I have to shoot in RAW for my class, but I have a Nikon camera with CS3, and CS3 doesn't support the NEF format, so I have to convert the RAW into a JPG in order to do anything with it in Photoshop. I did get a one-month trial of Lightroom that's about to expire, so I'll have to hurry up and give it a try. But you're right. It's taken so many hours of my time (weeks, really) to get this assignment done that I'm at a stage where I'm just in a hurry and not paying attention to the details like the whiskers.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I like them both, the first one is softer, but the second is the most animated...but the boogeries streaming down the nose are kind gross.

If it were me, I'd have used the editing software (it's free and very quick and simple to use) to remove the boogeries and add just a slight bit of sharpness/detail to the lovely moth area. I love a horse's wrinkly lips. I also would crop it just a tad to bring the tongue away from the middle of the photo and more towards the side and bottom.


For all your effort, though, I think you did a fabulous job!
I bet it's fun to have these photo challenges to work on....but jeezeowhiz! Lawnmower turned after 9pm?

I would have went out with a shotgun threatening to shoot his butt!

~Lisa

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lisa - This is good. This is why I haven't turned in the assignment yet. The lawnmower wasn't even the half of it. Earlier in the day I saw him driving away from his house, so I thought, "Oh good, I can go outside and clean the paddock without Mr. Creepy watching me."

I went out, picked up my fork, the man still hadn't reached the end of my street in his truck, must have seen me in his rear view mirror, turned around, came right back, parked in front of his house, got out, picked up a hose, and proceeded to stand in his yard watering one bulb for 20 minutes while he stared at me. Most normal people would drop the hose and go do something more productive while the hose waters the garden, but one bulb probably only needed 30-seconds of water. Obviously, his agenda was not to water that bulb. He was just being his usual creepy self.

Vaquerogirl said...

I think you realized the spirit of the assignment weather you got the perfect shot or not. Good job!

Maybe you should try talking with your neighbors when they come out, but instead of the usual " hi hows the weather", you should drone on and on about your bad periods and how you clot something fierce or how you threw up purple koolaid all night or some other such nonsense. Then maybe the 'aversion techniques' will keep them inside the house where they belong!

Ms Martyr said...

I also like the first one. Can't offer any kind of photography advice - I don't even have Photoshop. Point and shoot is about as far as I go with cameras.

Katharine Swan said...

I like the first one better. I don't know how much editing you did with the second, but the sharper edges make it look too photoshopped. Even if the tongue isn't quite right in the first one, the picture is FABULOUS and I like the muzzle a little darker, too.

Once Upon an Equine said...

I like the first one best. I like the darker muzzle and cute pink tongue and less snot running down.

You did a great job getting the most out of your "model".

Your neighbors are really freaky.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Oh! I forgot to list the editing software I use that is free. ooops! Sorry.
I use Picnik.
Photoshop scares me. Too many buttons and techniques to learn and not enough time...or interest (quite frankly. lol!)
I still haven't even picked up my Canon PowerShot manual and read it.

You know what I was thinking about Mr. Creepy Pants and his even creepier wife?

When I was a teenager, my parents paid one of my cousins to follow me around and spy on me so I wouldn't get into trouble with boys.
It was awful, she went far beyond spying and was always there to get in the middle of any potential boyfriend I met. She would yammer on about useless boring stuff until the boy just lost interest...and I was stuck with the annoying pest.

I don't know how much my parents paid her, but I'm sure they felt it was worth every penny.

Do you have any friends with young kids around 7-10 years old? Or even a boy scout troop nearby?

I am positive there are many kids (and parents, too) that wouldn't mind it if you borrowed their kids to teach your nosy neighbors a lesson while helping give you some sanity.
Heck, I'd let you borrow my kids if I was closer. They work for cheap because they enjoy a project and love to help people.

~Lisa

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Vaquero Girl - I do think the aversion technique might work. I know I hide from people who drone on for too long, but that's mainly because I want to spend my free time riding horses and not listening to someone else's life story, especially for the fifth or sixth time. It's the people who repeat themselves who are the worse offenders. I'm fairly quiet and untalkative, so it would be a stretch for me. I have had friends over the years who told me everything about themselves a dozen times, and I think I only got in a dozen words edgewise in all the years I've known them. I wouldn't consider them good friends since they always cut me off and never asked me about myself. However, I suppose I could pick some acting skills and get a little diarrhea of the mouth. Your suggestions are hilarious.

Lisa - I'll have to borrow your kids. That's true. If the little boy in their yard is driving me crazy (and obviously them too since they kick him out of the house all the time), then I may as well send some kids over to their place and give them a taste of their own medicine. I could just see it now. The kids are pounding on their front door while my nosy neighbors hide behind the curtains praying for them to go away. That'll keep them indoors for a while. I know that if anyone knocks on their door, even the mail carrier with a delivery, they won't open it. Thanks for letting me know that Picnik is free. I'll look into it.

Everyone - I took your suggestions and made some changes to the photo that everyone unanimously liked. I also figured out how to remove the snot in Photoshop with some lessons from my son. I turned in the assignment. Don't ask to see the final product, because I don't want anyone saying, "You should have done this" after I already submitted it. I'll start obsessing over it and not be able to sleep at night. I just checked my grade and got marked down one point because the photo wasn't sharp enough and didn't provide enough contrast. I should have borrowed one of my neighbor's more colorful horses maybe. But it just goes to show you that photography is subjective. Everyone liked the softer image here, but my professional photographer tutor wanted that sharpness with hard edges.