When equine photography icon Gabriele Boiselle recently visited South Africa to photograph some of our top studs, HQ had the opportunity to spend a day in her company as she worked. We left the experience inspired and enlightened.
“I like to work with people who love horses,” says Gabriele, who is in the fortunate position of being able to choose her assignments. “I don’t like to do ‘commercial’ photography. I can’t bear the ‘standing up’ and shaving that some of that work involves; it doesn’t allow me to show the soul and beauty of the horse.” In spite of having strong beliefs about this, she has drawn assignments from around the world, with requests from top equestrians, breeders and royal enthusiasts.
Like most artists, success did not come overnight for Gabriele, but she still remembers the image that was the turning point in her career. “For many there is that one shot which changes everything,” she says. “For me it was a chestnut with a blonde mane; it’s the image on the cover of my book Fascination. Anyone who saw that wanted me to photograph their horses.” Among these was Princess Alia of Jordan – their chance meeting led Gabriele to launch her calendar series; Boiselle calendars have become highly desirable worldwide.
Of course, Gabriele has no intention of staying static. Her next step is a bold move into the world of film, which will allow her to take her workshops to a new level. A recent collaboration with a filming team looks set to provide fuel for her creative fires and she is very excited about the project. “I go to so many places and experience so many incredible things. By filming my workshops and shoots I’ll be able to teach along the way,” she explains.
The zen of horses
She adds that she expects her students to share her attitude. “I’ve turned away people who’ve come to me ‘demanding’ to know my secrets. I know at once that they’ll never understand. Taking photos is my yoga, my ‘zen’. When people come to me stressed, I take away their camera and put them into a herd of horses.
“A photographer can channel his energy through the camera and horses feel it, which is why you can’t be stressed around them. If your energy is bad, you’ll get a bad photo,” she advises.
Photography at this level is not for the faint-hearted – it takes mental and physical fitness as shoots can last hours, while Gabriele pursues the perfect image both emotionally and physically. “You can’t wait for the picture to ‘happen’, you must go and get it!” she says, clambering through fences and paddocks as she photographs horses in motion.
Gabriele becomes completely engrossed in her subject and advises other photographers to do the same. “You have to crawl into your camera,” she says.
Don’t let anyone disturb you. Be 150% on the spot. Even if it’s just a snapshot, give it your best shot. You want to get the heart and soul of the horse in your picture. If you commit to this, the viewer will feel it when they see the image
Working with horses was a natural decision for Gabrielle, whose family has a long history with them. “It was in my genes,” she says. “My grandfather was considered the local ‘horse whisperer’. I think some people talk better to horses than others – you’re either born with a spiritual connection or not, which is why there are dynasties of horsemen.
The perfect pic
- Gabriele likes to do a test shoot to get to know the horse before the actual shoot so she knows what to expect.
- Start taking pictures from the moment the horse walks out of the stable because you never know when your shot will come.
- You get better photos when the light is soft; Gabriele prefers it when it’s a bit overcast.
- Don’t be concerned if something gets in the way; keep taking photos anyway, even if the obstruction is in your frame – your ‘moment’ may be just on the other side.
- Focus on the shoulder or the chest – the head moves too much but the shoulder is a good point to set your site on as the horse moves.
- When photographing a herd, follow one horse – frame that horse and the others will fall into place.
- Encourage them to move – the more you move them, they more they will fall into synch, but only for a split second, so don’t lose focus.
- Follow the horses through the lens of your camera without looking up. Your eye has the equivalent of a 50mm lens and if you put the camera down to look at your subject, your eyes will take time to readjust.
Text: Brigitte Billings
Photography: Gabriele Boiselle
The full article appears in the August issue of HQ.