The Cold Pony

by Gert van den Bosch

The weather forecast predicted a cold day and maybe even more snow. The country roads were covered with ice and were slippery. I was driving in my car around the countryside with my camera, searching for animals that looked beautiful in the snow. I knew a few places nearby where sheep and ponies roamed outside. So off I went.
 
 
Sony A550  .  Sigma 30mm f.1.40  .  30mm  . f/8  .  ISO200  .  +0.3EV
 
 
First I just wanted to get a quick shot and get back into my warm car. But when I arrived at this spot, I realized I had brought the wrong lens, so I had to go back to the car and get it. I wanted a lot of space in the picture, a very minimalistic image, so I chose a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens, and then trekked back through the cold to my spot. 
 
I have a condition called Wegeners granulomatosis, which makes physical strain difficult. My feet were about to freeze off as I trudged through the snow toward the ponies. I waited until the pony stood still and to the right of the trees in the background. She had an ice beard, and you can see the snow on her legs. 

"Ask the farmers about the behavior of their animals. Always approach slowly, and do not walk fully upright; instead, stay a little low. Take your time and allow them to gain your trust."

When taking photos of animals it is good to know something about their behavior. Some come towards you, others do not. Most farm animals are used to people. Sheep approach to a certain distance, but then walk away. You need to recognize the moment just before they leave. Cows and goats are curious. Horses and ponies are very friendly. Always be careful in a barn. Never, ever use a flash. The animals might get upset and may crush you by accident. Ask the farmers about the behavior of their animals. Always approach slowly, and do not walk fully upright; instead, stay a little low. Take your time and allow them to gain your trust. 

In an open field things very are different. There is no owner to ask. I basically do the same — stay low and approach slowly to see how they will react. If they run around, I wait until they calm down before stepping over the fence into their meadow. 

"You might tear up your clothes or get dirt on your camera: that is all part of animal photography."

Do not be afraid of dirt when photographing animals. There are smelly things involved when crawling through the mud and straw. You might tear up your clothes or get dirt on your camera: that is all part of animal photography. For the best results, the camera needs to be at their eye level. The picture will then have more impact, and it is a bit easier to eliminate disturbing elements in the background. The animals will also seem bigger when photographed from a lower point of view. Your backgrounds will be more appealing if you use a large aperture.
 
POST PROCESSING
I first used Adobe Camera Raw, and then exported it to Photoshop CS6 to make further adjustments. I also used Nik Viveza 2 plugin to make more specific adjustments and BD Sizer to resize and sharpen the image.

1) I opened the image in Camera Raw and set the correct white balance. 

2) Next I exported the photo to Photoshop CS6 and adjusted the Levels. 

3) In the original version, there was another pony to the left and also a fence. I removed them with the Clone Stamp tool. I also straightened the horizon.

4) In Nik Viveza 2 plugin, I added 10% Contrast and Structure. I then put a control point on the head of the pony and lightened the head by 10%. 

5) I saved the photo as a TIFF file, made a copy of it, and then changed the color profile to sRGB. 

6) In BD Sizer, I resized it with the following settings: Lanczos 3 and Sharpen 10%. I did not sharpen the image before resizing, since the adding of 10% Structure and Contrast in Viveza 2 is also a way of sharpening.
 
TIPS
1) When in doubt, take all your gear with you. It saves your cold feet in wintertime.

2) Buy warm boots — that helps.
 
BIOGRAPHY
I am a 49-year-old Dutch amateur photographer. Today I am in poor health and do not work anymore. Long walks are not possible, but crawling through a barn is. Standing up straight is hard, but sitting in a boat with an electric motor is not. I am a Sony shooter with standard gear and a few excellent lenses. My favorite subjects are animals and landscapes, which I try to combine as much as possible. I also shoot infrared with a modified camera, and sometimes do split-level photography. Recently I won the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards in the Nature and Wildlife section.

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