I met Meghann years and years ago online in the cyber world of horse sim games, and have been watching her evolve in graphics and photography ever since. She even joined us in New Orleans in October, 2010 to photography my wedding! So it was a natural choice to interview her for my “Real Equine Professionals” series.
Who are you and what do you do? 🙂
My name is Meghann Belser, and I’m the owner of Meghann Leigh Photography. I specialize in equine photography, ranging from portraits to horse shows. I currently am the USA photographer for WeatherBeeta and am also a photographer and editor for Shawn McMillen Photography.
When did the dream of becoming a photographer materialize for you?
To be totally honest, I never dreamed of being a photographer! I originally specialized in fine art, which then led into graphic art. I had always enjoyed taking photos for fun and in 2007 I bought my first entry level DSLR before heading to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington with my barn. After shooting a lot of our own horses, I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed shooting. It was from that point on I started to learn more and progressed to where I am today.
How did you go from “I like taking photos!” to “I get paid money to take photos!” ?
2012 was my official year that morphed me from amateur to professional, hands down! WeatherBeeta was my first gig that made me realize “whoah! I’m really doing this!”. Before then I had photographed plenty of portraits, horse shows, and even weddings that I made money at. However, getting a gig for a world wide company made me realize that firstly, I had a talent that stood out; and secondly, that this is something I could make my career. Shortly after WeatherBeeta I also got the offer to work with James Parker and The Book LLC, something so many people can only dream of! After my year of success and breaking into the industry I pushed myself to learn new shooting techniques and styles, and upped my anty on my marketing. In May of 2013 the United States Equestrian Federation featured me in their magazine, which confirmed for me this: Photography is how I will be remembered.
Read the article on USEF here: http://www.usef.org/digitalmagazine/2013/may_june/
What’s the best and worst part of a typical photo shoot for you?
SUN! It can be the best and the worst part of every shoot! Especially if you have a full day of shooting to be done at a barn. Between the hours of 10am-4pm I find it the hardest to shoot because of where the sun is located in the sky. During that time it is nearly impossible to escape very harsh shadows, and I would prefer clouds over sun any day of the week. However on the good side of sunlight, when you have a client who is able to shoot later in the day, the photos are unbelievable. The soft, warm look in photos as the sun is low in the sky just adds so much emotion to a photo for me. You can also get the same look with sunrise… But really… Who wants to be manicured and photographed before morning feed (and coffee!)?
Do you consider photography a lifelong study? If so, what’s something you’re still working on improving?
Absolutely! Especially in today’s society where anyone can purchase a decent camera and call themselves a photographer. To succeed you need to find your specific niche market, and work hard to make it individual and unique that way you are guaranteed to have a timeless result that only you can produce. Even though I specialize in equestrian photography, I have photographed it all. From horses, babies, weddings, extreme sports, fashion, runway, catalog products… You name it! Each shoot brings a new skill to the table. I would say something I am always learning about is how to light a photo properly. I love dramatic lighting that usually you would see just in fashion, but using that lighting and integrating it with horses. Of course you need horses that won’t be upset by 2, 3, sometimes 4 lights flashing at once- but the photos resulting from it are epic! It is something I will always continue to learn and love.
So really… how do we get our horse’s ears forward in pictures?
Now you’re asking the trade secrets! This can be a sensitive topic especially if you’re photographing a pony with its tiny human, since the last thing you want to do is spook them! First and foremost, I do not like to use any treats! Once you give them a treat, the effect wears off of the crinkly paper. Then they start begging. Then the drool appears. Even though any good pro horse photographer should be carrying a rag to clean up slobber, the chance of it flinging onto your clean shirt is very high! Secondly, I try and always have an assistant with me on every shoot to work specifically as the ear person, because holding a heavy camera in one hand and shaking something in the other can be exhausting. A small and handy tool for an assistant is to have a container of tick tacks to rattle it to get the horses attention. Some other effective methods include (and not limited to!) walking a horsie friend nearby, shaking a lunge whip, your friend crawling on the ground looking like a fool, and last but not least… Hold onto your breeches for this one… firecrackers and sparklers! Now don’t worry, as this method is used mainly with gaited breeds to get the “snorty” expression!
Best music playlist for editing photos – go!
Oh god! I have such an eclectic mix of music that chances on a near daily basis! I am actually big into musicals, so often I will turn on a movie in the background and sing along to it the entire time. Usually these movies are ‘Rent’ or ‘Moulin Rouge’. But if I had to give you an exact play list? Let’s go with this…
Dada Life: Feed The Dada
Dave Matthews Band: Funny The Way It Is
M.I.A.: Paper Planes
Dada Life: Boing, Clash, Boom
Steve Aoki: Boneless
Modest Mouse: Float On
Spoon: The Underdog
Black Eyed Peas: The Boogie That Be
Speaking of editing, how much time do you think goes into preparing for, shooting, and editing photos?
For a basic 60-90 minute portrait session that I offer, I’m looking at about 6-8 hours of work total. Preparation takes the least amount, consisting mostly of charging and packing gear. Then you have to drive to the location, and I always arrive early so I can scope my shooting areas in advance and get a handle on where the sun is at the time. Then you have the shoot, and then the drive home. The editing absolutely takes the most amount of time. For me, my editing/completion process is:
Import and sort the photos
Edit and make appropriate duplicates to black and white
Export high resolution versions
Export low resolution versions
Create a client page on my website and import photos to it for client viewing
Post a blog entry with top images
Post a link to Facebook with blog entry for all to see!
So as you can tell, the shooting is the easy part… The endless hours preparing the images for print and client viewing is the most time consuming of any photoshoot. However in the end, it is always worth it!
If you could change anything about photography and the business, what would it be?
Naturally I would love to say the competitiveness of it, but that’s a trait that is prevalent in every career field. As I mentioned earlier, I think photography is difficult because it seems as though everyone and their cousin is a photographer. These individuals go lengths to charge minimal amounts, go on jobs contract free, and when things go wrong and/or the product is mediocre, give the true and hard working photographers a bad reputation. I feel as if it’s devaluing the industry. The details of photography are often overlooked, and for those people who make it their career, put a lot of effort into it. We have contracts, pay yearly insurance, and have thousands of dollars in gear (my average WeatherBeeta shoot I am traveling with over $30,000 in gear!). Additionally, cameras are like cars that require basic care and maintenance in order to continue working properly. I just wish when someone is shocked or concerned about the price of a photoshoot that they would consider everything that goes into a shoot to make it successful and timeless. Are they paying more for someone who is truly a professional? Or less for someone who will simply “shoot ‘n burn”, as we call it. Research your photographer, make the right choices, and let’s all work hard to keep the industry at it’s highest! 🙂
Finally, describe your *perfect* photo shoot for us. Breed? Setting? Discipline?
I have to divide this into two, because I don’t have just one perfect shoot scenario! Being a saddleseat rider, naturally I love the shoots with hot horses (Saddlebreds, Arabians, Morgans). The shoots are fun since for the photos you want the horses to be very expressive, so fire crackers are often used! My second favorite is hunter ponies with their little kids! The entire time you just can’t help but go “Awww!” when you look at the photos. There’s nothing cuter then a little girl and a pony with big eyes and a braided mane! And as always, use the sun to your advantage. My favorite time for both of these shoots would be as the sun is beginning to set and the sky is a soft, warm, orange glow. Now that’s perfection!
If you’re looking for a high quality photographer in the New England area or just love looking at lots of pretty pictures, check out Meghann’s professional work at Meghann Leigh Photography. She’s also having a really cool contest on her photography Facebook page. The 500th “like” gets a two free fine art prints!