I’ve been pretty lucky to have wonderful friends and clients who trust me to take pictures of them and their best friends. Even when I ask them to stand in strange places, or make awkward poses!

      I’m pretty terrible at remembering to take behind the scenes photos, particularly when on a shoot with a client, but I thought it would be fun to pull a few that I have and a corresponding shot I took to show the difference.

      Sometimes it’s very easy to see how the photo will turn out, and sometimes it’s a complete surprise! I grabbed the photo I snapped pretty much at the same time as the phone shot, so the lighting and positioning is as close as possible.

      The settings I use on my camera can determine the look of the photo. (Shutter speed, aperture, ISO – I shoot in manual mode 95% of the time.) So can the lighting and the specific camera body and lens I use.

      All the phone shots were taken with the native camera on my iPhone 5 or 6 with no edits. All final images were shot with Canon gear, both bodies and lenses. I just don’t want to write the word ‘Canon’ 50 times. 🙂


      On to the pictures:

      1. This first one is a shot I took back in 2014 during my very first trip to Assateauge Island. I went during mid-August during the busiest time of the year there. To say people were an obstacle to shoot around is a bit of an understatement! Angles and patience were my friends.


      Sleeping pony on Assateague Island


      Photographed with 70D and 70-200 2.8 II:


      Sleeping horse on Assateague Island beach


      2. Shot in late 2015, I was still wildly experimenting with my studio setup. You can see my makeshift cardboard barn doors/flags on the strobe.


      Behind the scenes equine studio shoot


      Photographed with my 5DMIII and 70-200 2.8 II:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens--12


      3. Another shot from a different trip to Assateague Island. In between naps, this stallion checked a few blankets for snacks. (Don’t feed the wild horses!!) Occasionally I will have to remove a person from behind the horse, but I try to wait until people pass by, or just blur the crap out of everyone with a long lens and wide open aperture. For this one, I just waited until he turned to look at something behind him.


      Wild Horses Assateague Island


      Photographed with 5DMIII and 100-400:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens--21


      4. This shoot came about by my participation in The Traveling Dress Project. A photographer who was also involved saw a photo I did and contacted me about collaborating on a shoot. We live only a couple hours apart, and discovered our styles are very similar, even though she shoots mostly fantasy, while I shoot horses. She brought amazing dresses and props (those wings!!) and I set up models and locations for us to shoot together. #communityovercompetition #PhoneCamCantHandleTheFlare

      behind the scenes purple horse designs


      Photographed with 5DMIII and 70-200 2.8 II:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens--22


      6. The elusive black background shot. There are many successful photographers who photoshop the background to be black – and they are very good at it. I tend to only use naturally dark backgrounds or my studio lights to control the light. You can see in this photo, how the barn lights were turned off and the doors behind him shut to make it as dark as possible. Then the horse was brought just to the edge of the light for the most contrast.




      Photographed with 5DMIII and 70-200 II:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens--11


      7. This was taken maybe 15 minutes before sunset – there was gorgeous golden side light. It was so low that in many spots, it wasn’t hitting his whole body anymore, so I focused on headshots.


      grey andalusian stallion


      Photographed with 5DMIII and 100-400 II:


      white andalusian stallion autumn colors


      8. This may look like the same horse at first glance, but it is actually a different stallion than the one above. The easy way to tell is the one above has pink on his nose, while this one does not! In this shot, the sun had dipped below the trees and was very, very soft – just barely glancing off his mane and tail. #thinktheywillnoticeifonegoesmissing




      Photographed with 5DMIII and 100-400 II:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens--13


      9. Back to the studio with Folly from A Mustang Named Folly. Despite growing up wild, she is probably the coolest cucumber I’ve had in my studio so far. She was quite unimpressed with my setup, as well as the people crinkling paper, doing jumping jacks, and opening umbrellas to get her attention!




      Photographed with 5DMIII and 70-200 2.8 II:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens--14


      10. During my last stop at Assateague Island in October, the ponies were more elusive since people (and therefore food) weren’t crawling all over the island anymore. I’ve been trampled, kicked, and bitten by domesticated horses, so I’m even more aware of what’s going on when I’m photographing wild ones and always keep my distance. Ideally though, my photos don’t give away how far away I really am sometimes! In this photo, I’m laying on the marsh boardwalk.




      Photographed with 5MDIII and 100-400 II:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens--20


      11. I shared this one on my Snapchat when I did it, so some of you may have caught it. (annasmolens) I rarely remove halters in Photoshop, so yes, that’s my horse standing in the driveway at my farm with nothing on!




      Photographed with 5DMIII and 24-70:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens-7831-2


      12. Another elusive pony on Assateague Island. In this BTS shot though, you can see the marsh boardwalk that I frequently mention.




      Photographed 5DMIII and 100-400 II:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens--15


      13. And for the last one, my friend Cody hanging out with my horse Bravo catching the last of the Autumn colors. I had done most of this shoot with my 50 1.4 to challenge myself, but switched to my 70-200 at the very end. There’s a reason I shoot most of my horse photos with the 70-200 lens. The versatility is tops, it’s wonderfully sharp, and the compression is excellent – bringing all those sparse leaves into a silky, solid background.




      Photographed with 5DMIII and 70-200:


      Purple Horse Designs Equine Portrait Anna Smolens--17


      You’ll notice I did not include my settings. One thing I’ve learned is that in the grand scheme of things, settings don’t really matter. Sure, the aperture can make a difference in the look of a photo, or how blurry the background is, but you can shoot similar photos with different settings. At one point when I was shooting the photos of the Andalusian stallions, I was shooting at f/2.8, while the person next to me was shooting the same thing at f/8!

      I will say that I frequently shoot close to, or as wide open as a specific lens will allow me. That may be f/1.4, 2.8, or even 5.6 if I’m at 400mm on my 100-400 lens.

      This year, I promise to be better about behind the scenes shots so I can do more of these!




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