Kiowa and Reya move away from me after I walked up a ridge to look for Ceal and Shadow. This photo was not cropped but was taken with a 100-400 mm lens at close to the 400 mm setting. Taken Dec. 16, 2007.
A good article about wild horses is in the February 2008 issue of Western Horseman magazine. The author, a WH senior editor, attended a photography workshop last year with photographer Lynne Pomeranz, author of Among Wild Horses. Lynne is a fine-art photographer and wild horse advocate who lives in New Mexico. I was fortunate to meet her during a book-signing in Craig last May. The article contains some tips about wild horse viewing that I would like to reiterate and expand upon.
Wild horses are wild. Would you expect to walk up to a bison in Yellowstone National Park with your Kodak point-and-shoot camera? (Please, answer no.) Do not expect to be able to walk up to a wild horse. Horses are a “flight” species and have evolved as prey – for mountain lions, wolves, coyotes … humans. They would rather run away from you than fight you, but keep in mind that a mama with a foal and a stallion with a band of mares and foals are going to do whatever they think is necessary to stay away from you.
Keep this in mind: You can try to get so close that the only photos you get are of horses’ butts as they’re running away from you, or you can respect their space, stay a fair distance away and get photos of them interacting with each other. Some bands will give you some benefit of the doubt and just stand and watch you – as long as you don’t approach too closely. But when they decide to leave, count on them running far and fast away from you.
Vehicles can often be used as a “blind” from which to shoot. Also keep in mind that the road through the herd area is not maintained, and you travel at your own risk. The road is usually fine from late spring through fall, depending on the weather, but four-wheel drive is usually recommended because of the soft sand and creek crossings through some arroyos.
Please do not harass horses, especially pregnant and/or nursing mares. (By the way, harassing wild horses is against the law.)
Do not yell or flap your arms around the horses to get a better expression. I’ve seen horses seemingly napping, hind leg cocked, tail lazily swishing at flies, but do not for a second think that they’re not following your every move. On the other hand, do not act like a silent predator and stalk them, then suddenly spring up out of an arroyo. I do use the arroyos quite a bit to get around, but I try to do it in such a way that the horses never know I’m there.
A bit about equipment: I use a Canon digital SLR camera with a 100-400 mm lens. I don’t HAVE to get right up on them to get a good photo. The crop tool in your photo editing program is a lovely thing. I also use a monopod to steady the camera and lens.
The above photo is a good example of the power of the (long) lens. It was taken at the 100 mm end of my lens’ capability.
This photo was taken from a little bit closer as I walked parallel to them following a road, closer to the 400 mm end. It also was cropped.
Bottom line, the key word here is respect. If the horses “tell” you you’re too close, back off (or watch as they leave). In the snowy environment that is now the basin, I am particularly careful to stay away from the horses. The only reason I took these photos of Seven’s family was opportunity; I didn’t know they were there until I suddenly saw them below the road – at the same time they saw me. I saw 24 horses that day, but these were the only ones I was close enough to photograph. When they moved on, I did not pursue them.
When taking the photos of the pintos, I pushed my lens to its limit and later cropped judiciously. I was farther from the horses than the photos indicate, and when they trotted away through the snow, I let them go. A benefit to that was that if I HAD pursued them, I would have missed the opportunity of seeing them trot across the far ridge against the stunning backdrop of the La Sal Mountains! Only because I was looking for the very thin mare Ceal did I go even as close to them as I did.