The Best Horse

The Best Horse
The Best Horse

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki writes: “In our scripture it is said that there are four kinds of horses. The best horse will run before it sees the shadow of the whip. That is the best one.

The second one will run just before the whip reaches his skin. The third one will run when it feels pain on his body. The fourth one will run after the pain penetrates into the marrow of his bone. That is the worst one.

When we hear this story, perhaps everyone wants to be a good horse-the best horse. Those who find a great difficulty in practice of Zen will find more meaning of Zen. So sometimes I think the best horse is the worst horse and the worst horse is the best one.”

In this case, the best horse took a break from eating his lunch to let me take his photo.

Something You See Everyday

Amish farmer
Amish farmer

Back when Vanna White was in school learning prepositional phrases, there was a game show on TV with a duck that dropped down holding a secret word for a chance to win $100. It was a common ordinary word, something you see everyday.

Living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania I see the Amish every day. I see them riding in buggies, working on the farm, stepping into shoes and dipping in the pocket of their raincoats. This may be as close as you can get to the chop wood, carry water way of life.

I shot this photo of a young Amish man working on his farm that is right behind a group of kitschy restaurants and tourists attractions. Places with names like Dutch Haven, Amish stuff, and the quintessential Grandma Jack’s Gourmet Popcorn. The people that see scenes like this must think about their own lives, the choices they made and the games that they play.

There was a time when I went to meetings with many steps and bad coffee, where we compared miseries and complained. Sooner or later, someone would inevitably say that you have to play the hand you’re dealt, meaning to accept the things that you can’t change. But what about the second part of their favorite slogan, to change the things that you can?

The real question might be, if life is a game, can you try for a better hand, or at least draw a few new cards? And what about the stakes, how much should you bet? Knowing that it’s the only game in town, you have to go all in and ignore the odds; you have to bet your life.

But is it Art?

Red Caboose Motel
Red Caboose Motel

It might be, but in this case it’s a photo of a horse at the Red Caboose Motel in Ronks. I used the angled strokes filter in Photoshop, adjusting the directional balance, stroke length and sharpness.

There are dozens of filter to choose from, each with at least three different options, and some have even more. You can then add or adjust other Photoshop effects and layers in literally thousands of different ways, maybe even hundreds of thousands.

People say that you can learn Photoshop in 50-100 hours, but it really takes years to get anywhere close to mastering it. It would probably be faster to learn to paint with oil on canvas, but it would definitely not be easier.

Horse Photography Tips and Techniques

Sunday morning on Ronks Road
Sunday morning on Ronks Road

When you think about photographing horses, you probably picture a naked woman riding an Arabian stallion on a sandy beach at sunset. It’s a good plan if you can manage to put it all together, but until then you may want to practice locally.

Living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania it’s easier to find horses than it is to find good lobster, and they all love to pose. If you have trouble finding horses where you live consider going to a riding stable or school.

Tip 1: They usually have crud in their eyes. You don’t have to point this out to them, but see if you can find one that has less. Another option is to get further away and avoid head shots.

Tip 2: As soon as its gets warm they are usually covered with flies. While this may not seem like a big deal it really takes away from the beautiful animal you’re trying to capture.

Tip 3: Horses are very friendly and will come up to you to see what you want. Despite the warnings, I always pet them and have never had my fingers bitten off. Your results may vary.

Tip 4: Consider converting to black and white. Unless you’re lucky enough to capture the perfect light, choose one of the many ways to do this then lie like a professional. Tell everyone how color is distracting, that black and white forces you to focus on the image, and that you were going for that aesthetic, artistic look.

Tip 5: This is the big one: you want to get a good composition, an interesting pose and ideally something in the background. Most horses have very little to do during the day so they just sort of stand there, which is good because you’ll have plenty of time to think about the shot.

Finally, don’t ask them why the long face? I’ve never met once that thinks that’s funny.