There are times as a photographer when you are obliged to shoot the whole story, and not just the bits you want to show or reflect.
Now let me start by quantifying that statement a little. I’m not talking about the press style, chase your round the countryside to create a story or entice you to think about situations in a certain way. That form of photography isn’t me, never will be and makes me frequently comfortably. As an aside, I was once told I’d never make it in a journalism environment.
That was totally fine by me. I mean this from an equestrian event photography aspect.
So let me tell you more about why there’s a need to photograph the whole story and why, sometimes you need to push beyond the comfort zone. I’m going to take you back now to a time in my career when I was a freelancer working for many of the Official Photographers who cover equine events. I used to spend many weeks each year going from event to event, I shot everything from local Pony Club shows through to International British Eventing and all things in between. I came across all kinds of falls during that time, everything from pretty hilarious girth slip moments with red faced riders, lots of ‘left legs’ and unship moments, through to the ones you really don’t want to be present for.
Why we shoot the falls…
On this occasion I had my freelance hat on for Ultimate Images at Withington Horse Trials up in Gloucestershire. It was late on the final day and I was on course for the CICP* cross country phase. This course has a fence that pretty much drives pony riders from far and wide to tackle. Visually it’s impressive, particularly from the landing side, but overall its a really honest and fair question.
It’s in a quiet spot on far side of the course away from the potential for lots of distracting crowds. It’s on flat ground and there’s no technical questions before or after. It’s just a big table with a dirty great ditch under but take off is much higher than the landing.
Essentially its an event photographers dream fence and sales on this fence were always strong.
I’d not shot it before but was pleased to be on it for the Pony class this year having seen the results over the years from my colleagues. It always amazes me how bold and courageous these ponies and their, often diminutive, riders are.
So watching these youngsters tackle these fences as I work was always a real pleasure. There’s far more appreciation from the Fence Judges and Officials I think too. Lots more chatter after a pony has passed through compared to the adults and their horses.
All was going well with each pony pinging away over this awesome obstacle. However as one pony took off I instantly knew this wasn’t right. It seems to chip in a little stride just before take off and then didn’t get both legs up in time. A classic case of leaving a leg.
He slid sideways across the table I kept the finger firmly pressed down to get the sequence. I knew it was my job, and responsibility, to keep shooting whatever happened.
Now I’m telling you as a human being this part is really tough. Ultimately I have with feelings. Feelings for both the horse and rider.
There’s actually a moment in the sequence that I hesitated, there’s a clear gap just before impact with the ground. I also stopped too soon really too, but that’s the inner fight I have at times like this. I’m wincing knowing that this is going to hurt.
As I stopped shooting, a lady close to me turned on me and screamed ‘utterly disgusting that as a human being I felt compelled to take pictures of that fall’.
I calmly turned to the lady and explained that the need to shoot is based solely on the requirement of providing the medical & Vet teams with information on what happened and British Eventing for their reports. I put the camera down, stepped over the rope and caught the pony who was on his feet as the Fence Judges called for medical support and went to the rider. These things take seconds to happen and seconds for people to react positively towards the situation. All credit to the FJ team. I just stood calmly talking to the pony until someone took it away to be inspected.
At this point the BE Technical Advisor approached and asked if I had the sequence. I did and I showed it to him. He reviewed it, established what happened and went off to tell the medics what he’d seen so they could also act accordingly if necessary. He also asked for the full sequence to be provided to him later in the day for reference. I turned and discovered the lady who had screamed at me watching me.
At this point she then understood everything I’d seen and the role we, sadly, play at times like this.
To the best of my knowledge the young rider was fine and so was the pony, which was confirmed later on.
Here’s the main sequence from off the back of my camera.
It’s exactly the right thing in keeping shooting, we have, in effect a standing request that we shoot and keep the images, these are not only of utmost importance at the time to the paramedics / doctors so that they can administer the correct treatment in a timely manner, but also so that BE can use the images and fall report data to continually improve and enhance the safety of the sport. I had a minor fall at Whitfield BE and the rider was complaining to the doctor about elbow pain, yet she quite clearly landed on her back, on reviewing the images it was clear that the pain would have been caused by an over rotation of her lower arm as she came to ground as she attempted to hang on, without the images it would have been a guessing game.
Many of the photography companies I worked for back then were contacted by riders / owners to see the images as the horse may not be responding to treatment and the vet wishes to see which parts were impacted and rotated, so that they can confirm or modify treatment plans. There is almost an obligation to continue to shoot no matter how horrific, in some cases the more horrific it is, the more important the images are.
So please, please don’t think that on the occasions a photographer shooting while a fall is happening that we are in anyway glorifying a bad situation.
It’s about providing proof and support to all concerned.
Have a fabulous week!
All images, despite from my own camera, are copyright of www.ultimate-images.co.uk and reproduced with permission.