Langell Photography, LLC

Workshop Photo Tips

Hints for capturing better images during the workshop

ACTION:  Photographing Herds:  

•  With herds of animals, keep the lead animal (closest to photographer) in focus.  This is  visually more appealing than having a horse in the middle of the pack in focus while the horse out in front is blurry. 

•  Black and white images can be useful in higher contrast light.

ACTION:  Backlighting dust

Use light and contrast strategically to strengthen contrast.  The contrast increases visual appeal.

(LEFT):  Notice the back-lighting of the dust creates more contrast, which adds impact and gets your eye to exactly where it needs to be for telling the story.

ACTION:  Background and foreground

Before taking any photo, evaluate BOTH the background and foreground when deciding what will make the best images. 

In this photo, the background helps tell a story and supports the main subject.  Focus is on the front horse, but the mountains and horses in the background help both the image's  story and give a sense of place. 

Balloon Targets

A fun feature of this workshop

ACTION:  Use High Speed Continuous Shutter

Action shots like this are made for using high-speed continuous shutter.  Enabling this setting allows your camera to shoot as many frames per second as the camera will allow.  Some cameras have low, medium and high frames-per-second.  Anything with up to 10-15 frames per second should work well.  Just ensure you have plenty of room on your memory cards!

In this image, the gunfire (which is just gunpowder, no bullets) is coming out of the gun for only a split second.  Getting your camera to capture it requires high speed continuous  shutter--and even then, it is not 100% accurate.  You will also want to use a shutter speed of about 1/1600 of a second to freeze the action of the horse and rider--and gunpowder!

ACTION: Focus & position

Keep your focus on the horse and rider.  Using an aperture of f/8 or so will help ensure both the horse and rider are in focus. 

 Additionally, consider shooting at a low angle  (crouched down) to capture the feet and increase the blur of the ground.  Photographers in a low-position angle will create images that simply look more impressive!

ACTION: Not everything is a closeup

Zooming wider to capture more of the story and setting can give a different look to your image.  Compose using rule-of-thirds to help keep it balanced and interesting.

Gunfire at Dusk

The ultimate challenge--capture the flames

GOAL:  Flame and silhouette

Capturing the re-enactment actors as they fire their guns (with blanks) is one of the highlights of this workshop.  It's tricky to get the timing right, but it's fun when it all comes together for an exciting image! 

1.  High speed continuous shutter is important here.  We will do a "...3...2...1...FIRE" countdown.  When we say "...1..." is when you want to start shooting!  Keep that shutter button held down for rapic-fire images.   

We will do this numerous times over the course of the session, enabling everyone to typically capture at least 1 frame with the gunfire!  

2.  Notice angle at which the photographer is positioned.  The lower position of the photographer to the ground works to ensure the upper body is above the horizon and is silhouetted.  

GOAL:  Flame and silhouette

Consider verticals for this exercise.  Keep in mind the horizon cuts off half of the subject so compose thoughtfully.  Try positioning yourself lower and shooting "up" toward the re-enactment actor. This brings more of the body above the horizon and into silhouette.

GUNFIRE:  Non-silhouette

If we have cloudy/overcast days, the silhouette images are traded for low-light.  A different, but great look!  In this example, the subject was not photographed in silhouette.  The challenge is that the exposure requires high ISO and soft front light or side light at dusk. (Notice the flash of gunfire light reflecting on his face!)  This exposure as at 1/400 sec at ISO 12800.  Denoise sofware can help reduce the noise afterward.

NOTE:  All gunfire for the reenactment group uses 1/4 round blanks.  There is a armorist on site and no guns are ever pointed toward any people.

High Key

Using "crappy light" creatively.


High key style photography uses abnormally bright exposures and the right type of soft, directional light from behind.  We will teach you how as the opportunities arise.  These are examples to help you understand the look.

HIGH KEY: Subject under shaded overhang with bright background

This high-key image positions the subject in shade (under an overhang) with the background in bright sun.  By properly exposing the subject (which is much darker than the background), the background becomes bright and soft due to the wide aperture (f/4) used in this shot.

HIGH KEY:  Subject under shaded overhang with bright background

This high-key image positions the subject in shade (under an overhang) with the background in bright sun.  By properly exposing the subject (which is much darker than the background), the background becomes bright and soft due to the wide aperture (f/4) used in this shot.

HIGH KEY: Outdoors

This image was taken in the sun, outdoors. The subject's dark hair and dark hat helped the image not become over-exposed where details was needed--thus her face stands out with the contrast created. A vintage treatment was done to the image as well, in post-processing..

High Key: Outdoors in overcast light

This image was captured with overcast light on a ridge. Exposure was based on the subject and the over-exposed about 2 stops to make the sky go white and bring out the correct light and exposure on the subject.

Panning with Slow Shutter Speeds

Implied motion that is beautiful!

PANNING:  In low light

Imagine your subject fits on the crosshairs of an imaginary (or real) grid in your viewfinder.  While panning, your subject cannot change position on that grid the entire time you are shooting.  It's HARD.

1/25-1/30 second is what you need.  Turn off image stabilization (Or switching to Mode 2 if available on your lens).  Your ISO and aperture are to be adjusted to support obtaining 1/25-1/30 second while keeping proper exposure.

PANNING:  Brighter, soft light

Another example of panning.  Be prepared to have a very low hit rate for these shots.  The best ones depend not only on your technique and shuter speed, but also the split second movements in the horse's gate when the heads of both the horse and rider stop moving.

Notice the position of the horse's legs in both pictures presented.  They are identical.  THAT is the moment when the heads of rider and horse are not moving long enough to keep them sharp.

Panning is a LOW HIT RATE type of photography--especially with horses and riders.  Be kind to yourself as you learn this technique!  You will have a lot of "missed" images, but also some true stars!!!!

Rim Light And Back Light

The warm, emotional light in photography.

BACK LIGHT: Avoid the sun directly behind your subject

Back lighting is wonderful but there are two tricks to making it look great.  

1.  Your subject has to be slightly off-center from the sun.  Face the sun.  Your subject needs to be no more than about 15-20° from being directly from the sun.  

In other words, f your sun is "noon" as you face it, your subjects should be at about 10:00-11:00 or 1:00-2:00. This will give you rim and backlight, not side light. sAny more than that and your subject becomes side-lit.  That will not create backlighting or rimlighting.  Subjects directly under the sun, if the sun is too bright, will be more difficult to photograph and capture the rim lighting. 


Additionally, you want your subjects to be below the horizon (or at least not up against the bright part of the sky).  Otherwise you get silhouettes and not rim and backlight.

Be SURE that your background is darker or the "rim" of the rim light will not appear.  Notice the light areas outlining parts of the horses legs and the girls' hair.  You need contrast (darker background) to make that show up well.  

RIm Light and Back Light:

Notice in this image, the backlight is caught by the dust and creates exceptionally lovely contrast.  The horse's necks and manes are lit (outlined) by the sun above and behind them that catches on their fur and hair.  

Rim Light and Side Light:

In this image of a cowboy whose face is light by the fire in front of him, you can notice the rim lighting as well on his face. This is done by a flashlight low and behind him, just touching his face from the back.  The rest is light from the fire at night.

Rim light at morning:

Notice the rim light on the horse's fur that outlines a good portion of his body.  This light is coming from behind and to its left (off camera). Expose for the horse and ensure the horse has a darker background behind him.  This will bring out the contrast in the rim light and make it "pop!"

Rim light:  Poor positioning

This example of rim light is poorly composed.  The cowboy is above the horizon (making him not rim-lit because the sky is too bright and you cannot see the rim as it all blends together!)

The horse has lovely rim light, but the exposure is too dark.  Expose for the horse's body and keep everything below the horizon to help this image shine!

Rim Light:  Everything in front of  darker background

The rim lighting on this model is perfect.  The background is darker than her/the light and it makes the rim light shine, yet she is still properly exposed.  Expose for the subject and keep it all below the horizon and in the "darker" park of the background to make it work.


Composition tips for capturing great silhouettes

Silhouette: Contrast is key  

Look at this image.  The contrast is key.  The dust lighting up gives contrast to the dark shapes.  Without the light (in this case, dust lit up), your silhouette would stop at their hips (where the top of the bushes are). Everything below it would be black.

Silhouette:  Shape matters

Notice the two horses on the left.  You cannot see their heads and thus it's less understood, visually, that these are 3 horses with riders.  The horse on the right has his head turned.  This helps the viewer better understand these are all horses.  

Silhouette:  No merging

Notice how none of the subjects are merging with the backgrounds or other subjects.  These clean lines make silhouettes very enjoyable for the viewer.

Silhouette:  Story + no merging

Notice how in this silhouette, the story is told with the cowboy and horse, but the legs of the horse are free from seriously merging subjects like cacti, etc.  The legs are separated and that makes for a better photograph.  

Additionally, the horizon is in the lower third of the image. This is a good compositional technique to try as it keeps the image from being so "heavy" with darkness at the bottom.

Silhouette: Pull back + wide aspect ratio

Close-ups of silhouettes are great, but in this morning scene, letting the whole horizon shine through with the horse and rider looks so beautiful!  The subject is in the brightest part of the sky, but the rest of the horizon supports the story and subject. Using a wide aspect ratio helps the composition. 

Silhouette:  Composition
& shape 

Ensure your subject is in the brightest part of the image.  Avoid merging subjects.  Look for connections, but ones where merging is not visually awkward.  The hand on the horse's face is a nice gesture and shows connection, but it's not "one big blob."  

Also important:  The horse's head is turned sideways, facing the rider, not you.  When the horse is facing you or elsewhere, other than the rider, the shape of the head doesn't look correct and it will appear as though the head is missing from the neck.  

Silhouette:  Use the sun!

Try for sunbursts with your silhouettes!  F/16 should give you this effect so long as you position the sun so that it's partially hidden by the subject.  It needs to just barely "peek out."  Bam! Starburst!

Silhouette:  Poorly placed horizon

Getting lower to the ground creates better silhouettes on the road.  Notice how only half of these people and horses are visible. Everything below the horizon is "gone."  You cannot tell that the people are riding horses.  Shapes are poorly defined.  

Silhouette:  Get lower

Notice how a lower position by the photographer displays more of the body of the gunman.  

In contrast, the image below has half of the gunman missing from silhouette.  

Silhouette:  Missing half of him!

Review the description above, but notice how half of the gunman is missing because his body is below the horizon.  Photographing him from a low-to-high position, instead of a standing position, will help ensure his body is in silhouette (compare image above vs images to the right or below)

Silhouette:  Missing body!

One more example of how a silhouette photographed when the photographer was not minding the horizon winds up being poor.  Getting into a lower position as you photograph a "low to high" composition will help illuminate more of the body (see image below for comparison).

Silhouette:  Low to high position

In this silhouette, the photographer is shooting low-to-high, positioned at about eye-level with his calves, shooting up.  This allows for more of the horizon to be viewed and thus silhouetting more of the gunman.
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