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Ans Roels : capturing the soul of horses

by Yvette Depaepe
Published the 20st of May 2022


Ans Roels combines like no one else her two passions: photography and horses. She loves to be the ‘absent’ photographer and let her models be in their natural way of doing, having the feeling I don’t exist. There is no other way to work with animals, in particular horses.  Every horse is unique and has its own energy.  Ans feels that energy and put it into her images.  She succeeds to capture their soul, their spirit, their pride, their purity and their personality. Read more about this warm and sensitive lady photographer through this interview.


'Yes. I'm real …'


Dear Ans, please tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs.
I’m Ans, 39 years old, living near beautiful Bruges in Belgium and mother of 2 children. Besides photography, sports and especially horse are the things I could not live without.
For 15 years,  I’ve been a French teacher. I really loved my job. But I felt that teaching my 15 year old students all about French grammar and verbs wasn’t my priority. What I enjoyed most, were the long and honest conversations I had with them about life, feelings, future goals… They were so inspiring to me and hopefully, I was inspiring them.
When photography suddenly came into my life, it kept on developing from hobby to passion, to full-time job. I can call myself full-time photographer for 2 years now. It means working hard and being a goer. It comes with ups and downs, but it makes me feel like the richest person on earth: being able to turn my passion into my job. I wish everyone to be that lucky.


 'Light in the dark'



'Joyful Sorraia... #5


Which are your most important experiences that has influenced your art?
People who have been following my work for some time, may already have noticed my love for Portugal, especially the Portuguese horse breed: the Lusitano. It's is the common theme throughout my work. Some 15 years ago Zapata came into my life. My own Lusitano stallion, my soulmate. He came all the way from sunny Portugal to cold, rainy Belgium. Since then, we’ve never separated...
I can’t explain, but I was already listening to Fado music when I was a child. So my love for Portugal, its people, its culture, its music and last but not least its horses, must have been written in the stars.
All horses are beautiful of course, but to me the Lusitano seems like a creature on its own. Nothing can be compared to its spirit, power, looks and personality. Whenever I can, you will find me in this beautiful country enjoying and photographing the Lusitano horse.  Even in Belgium and the Netherlands, he seems to find me and appears in front of my lens very often.





'There was a girl'





What first attracted you to photography?
Initially I didn’t have anything with photography at all. It really was an unexpected discovery suddenly becoming part of myself. To me the prove that anything can happen in life and you just need to go with the flow.
I bought my first camera some 12 years ago, because at that time, I wanted good pictures from my dog. Little did I know a camera has so many buttons and settings. Let’s say I was quite naive. My pictures were terrible! I didn’t even know I needed different type of lenses until I started taking pictures. 
I started studying on my own. Trail and error. Listening to and learning from other photographers telling me to look to my own pictures in a critical way. Soon it became clear I had a photographer’s eye… And so the story began. Photography became a passion, a part of myself. When I take pictures, I forget about the world. It’s my way to express emotion, to put my personality into something I create.


Describe your overall photographic vision.
To me, having a photographic philosophy/vision is gold. Who you are and what you believe in, is interwoven in your work. It gives your images a soul and it’s the most beautiful way to express unspoken feelings: to tell a story.
As I always say: ‘My goal is to capture the soul’.
And I keep that in mind while photographing. I love my work to be pure and honest.
Whatever images I create, I always hold on to spontaneity. I love to be the ‘absent’ photographer and let my models be in their natural way of doing, having the feeling I don’t exist. There is no other way to work with animals, in particular horses. I like to observe and get to know them. I want to discover their purity, their soul. Every horse is unique and has its own energy.  I want to feel that energy and put it into the image.


'From the sea...'



'Horsepower in spotlight...'



'Bless this mess...'





Why are you so drawn by Animal and more specifically Horse Photography?
What I like most in life, is following my heart, following nature. Life can surprise us at any moment. Either good or bad and there’s nothing we can control. In the end, something bad can turn into something positive as it makes us grow and reflect about ourselves and our life.
All we have is now… Sometimes we forget to live in the present, because we are always worried about what happened in the past or because we want to control the future. Neither of this is possible. Meanwhile, we forget to live. That’s why I like working with animals. They’re uncontrollable, unpredictable. They live in the moment and while working with them we are forced to do the same.
Horses have been human’s most loyal companion in good, but above all in bad times. Besides my love for the animal, I always feel a huge amount of respect. Honestly, it’s an honour to picture these animals.


'Together... #3'



'Together... #2'



'Together... #1'


What is more important to you, the mood,/story behind your images or the technical perfection?
If it comes to technique, I’m not at all a queen. Although I believe technique is very important. It can save you in difficult circumstances, conditions. But I’d rather  call myself a belly photographer. What I feel, is what I do. It makes me feel very humble sometimes when looking at technical masterpieces of my colleagues.
Of course I like my pictures to be technically as perfect as possible. But for me emotion and mood are most important.
Creating a picture is a process. From clicking the button to the finishing touch is like a  journey. It’s like a story you write. My main purpose is to touch, inspire and grab people’s attention. Emotion is something unique. One can be touched when seeing the image, while the other feels nothing at all… There is nothing deeper and more personal than emotion. You can never ever convince or force someone to feel the same as you do.
I think that’s the exciting thing about creating and experiencing art!


'I see you...'



'The eye...'



'All black'


What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
I didn’t just start photographing horses by accident 😉
Horses have been a passion since I was a child. Let’s say I breathe horses. I started horse riding when I was 6 years old. Now I’m 39 and I still can’t imagine myself not being among horses. I believe that the more you know about the subject you’re photographing, the more you ‘feel’ your subject, the better your images become.
Working with horses somehow feels natural to me. I know their behaviour, the way they move, their body language. All very important skills if you want to capture horses in a good way. Colleague photographers often tell me this is the most difficult subject to photograph. I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that it’s not at all easy to picture a horse in a way so its power, elegance, personality and energy almost seem to pop out of the picture.
A strong, powerful and impressive young stallion can easily look like a common retired horse if you as a photographer don’t know how to picture it. Using the right angle, point of view, knowing the right timing to push the button. And then coming home and being able to select the right pictures when it comes to the expression of the horse.
I believe that whether you are photographing an Olympic Champion or a retired 25 year old horse, you should always aim for that elegance, power and personality in your picture.
Photographing a horse for the first time is always a process of getting to know each other. While having a photo shoot, you’re creating a bond. We have a different energy, me and that horse. While working together we try to find, understand and feel each other. The ultimate way to get to know my model, is when I can ride it. Which often happens. A big amount of trust and the finest communication is needed if horse and rider want to become one. Working together creates a bond. There is only one way to blend together, that’s when trusting and understanding each other.
Once I’ve experienced the horse’s energy, I often feel like becoming a team which feels so good and ends up in even better results.


Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?
It depends on what images I have in mind. If I have the chance to do so, then I’m lucky and I can get the best out of it. I often have a chat with the owner about the location where the horse is staying at that moment. It’s the best way to know the possibilities and limits once I start taking pictures. Some horses just don’t feel like being moved to another location, which means I have to deal with the circumstances available. Sometimes the location is not charming at all. Then I have to use the maximum of my creativity. Difficult, yes, but also very challenging. Which I like.  It’s also something you learn by doing it time after time. Arriving somewhere, not knowing what to expect and then scanning the whole location to see all possibilities as quick as possible.

What gear do you use (camera, lenses, bag)?

Currently, I’m using a Canon 1D and the Canon lens L series 70-200mm for portraits as well as for action shots.


What software do you use to process your images?

Let’s say 30% Lightroom and 70% Photoshop.


Can you tell us something more about your work flow?
I always start in Lightroom to do the first adjustments. I like my picture to look correct (light, colours and crop). It is important to me that the image looks natural and close to the original. Then I go to Photoshop to add some extra mood, atmosphere and dimension. Usually I’m not into big manipulations. I like to add every adjustment in a subtle way to end up with a nice result.
Anyway, every editing process is a journey. It is like a short trip, while sometimes it is like travelling around the world. As much as I like photographing, I really enjoy the whole process of editing and watching my picture changing into what I have or had in mind.
That’s how it goes most of the time.  But it also happens that pictures turn out to be totally different from what I had in mind, at the end. In my humble opinion, being flexible and open-minded while photographing as well as while editing is a great value to have as photographer.

Who are your favourite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography? 
It’s difficult to name just one photographer in particular. I really believe that any photographer of whatever level, whether he or she is ‘just’ a hobbyist or a pro/ beginner or advanced can create a picture that can blow you away.
But yes, some photographers leave you blown away with EVERY picture they create. Just because they stay true to themselves, to their own style, to what they believe in. Just because they breathe what they picture and create and to me, that's the most important quality a photographer or artist should have. It’s not the easiest path to follow but it’s definitely the most honest and purest one. A wonderful example is my Portuguese colleague Rita Fernandes. I’ve known her work for many years and she has always been a photographer I admired. To me, she’s a great example of what the combination of passion for photography and horses (in particular the Lusitano horse) result in. Years ago my wish was to create pictures like Rita does, but throughout time I’ve learned that it’s not about ‘being like someone’. It’s about being yourself and knowing how to use and develop your own qualities, finding your own photography strength, creating and holding on to your own style. That’s when you’re exploring your own photography path. A never ending journey: fortunately.

Is there any specific photo taken by another photographer that has inspired you a lot and why?  
I would like to share this piece of art by Rita Fernandes.
To me it is the ultimate example of how beautiful simplicity can be. The unique and impressive expression of the Lusitano horse speaks for itself. It almost seems like a statue, yet alive. To picture this animal in such strong way, it ca only be done by someone who is deeply passionate about the horse breed and about the art of photography.


By Rita Fernandes


Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
My biggest goal is and will always remain, to inspire people by creating pictures and teaching about my passion. To me that’s the most satisfying feeling to have. Of course I would be dishonest not to admit that I would love my photographic level to grow forever. Let’s say the sky is the limit.


 'Like a rock...'


Describe your favourite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you? 
Pictures in which my own horse, Zapata, is featured, often are very special to me. Photographing my boy is always a challenge. Capturing the soul I know so well, often leaves me with doubts about the end result. It’s like it’s never good enough. It’s like I’m not able to look at the picture in a spectator’s point of view.
One I love very much, one I could watch forever, is the one with Zapata and Patrick. You can read the story behind below this image in my portfolio.


'Imperfectly perfect'


Another, is the one with the three Portuguese ladies. It represents the typical atmosphere during the well-known National Horse Fair in Golegã, Portuguese culture and tradition, the beauty and power of women and last but not least, the Lusitano horse, who is the king of the whole event. A picture which has a special place on my wall at home…



Is there anything else you wish to add  and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?

First of all I would like to thank 1X and in particular Yvette Depaepe for inviting me to this interview.  When I decided to become member of the great 1X six years ago, I considered myself to be gullible thinking I would ever get one of my pictures to be published. Not in a million years I could ever believe this would happen. But it did…
Since then, 1X has become one of the most important references to the quality of my work. I never will get used to receive an email announcing one of my pictures is published or even better: awarded. It always makes my day.
Being invited for this interview really means the world to me. Knowing that the 1x team considers my work to be of high quality, to be published and/or awarded is a huge honour. It is and will remain my biggest motivation to challenge myself and aim higher.


I love and admire your work for some time now, it's always a feast for the eye to see new work. Congratulations !
love your work and interview!!
Excellent work
verdon PRO
Breathtaking, great interview , magnificent portfolio , congratulations
Excellent shots and connection with horses
Wonderful interview down to eart and impressive work, I can feel the affinity, the connection you have with "your" horses.
Great interview and beautiful portraits of horses. Thank you for sharing the magic!
Grazie mille questo bellissimo articolo, e le belle fotografie. I cavalli sono eccezionali, con tutti gli altri animali su questa meravigliosa terra.
*meaningful way
Wonderful interview and story behind these amazing images. I understand so well the connection between the photographer and the horse having spend many years in the field with a herd of 18 horses at my former riding stable. Every word here connects with me in such a deep and manful way. Thank you for sharing your photography and equine journey!