One hand gripping the reins and the other raised with an even tighter grip on $5000 worth of camera gear, I spur my horse into a canter. I’m anxious to capture an amazing scene: a column of riders ascending a ridgeline, silhouetted against a phenomenal blue and white autumn sky. We’re entering the Bogong High Plains in Victoria’s alpine region, two days into a five-day ‘packhorse adventure’. I’ve been invited to participate by friends who run a small packhorse tour business: Bogong Horseback Adventures. A full slideshow of the trip can be seen in the new gallery on my website. Behind me loom grey late morning clouds, threatening to kill the light. Meanwhile the brilliant white clouds that make my composition are tearing away in a rapid airstream. I need to make up roughly 150 metres for the right shot. I can’t ask the riders to retrace their steps; we have too much ground to cover for the day. Yet if they ascend much further I might lose the angle that captures the silhouette altogether. Up until this point I’d been cautious in combining riding with camera wielding but this time there was nothing for it. Taking up the reins in one hand I set off. I felt a giddy high-stakes rush observing the scene and evaluating the light at a canter. Arriving at the point where I had my angle there was just enough time to call out to the lead rider to halt and get the shots. I fired off a few in a tricky business of simultaneously holding firm the reins on my horse, supporting the camera and manually setting the exposure. Moments later the column of horses had bunched up and thick grey clouds darkened the landscape. What a relief, I’d managed to capture the moment, but only just. It was one of my first trials in what was an awesome five-day horseback adventure.
Our route followed old gold mining and cattle grazing trails through some of Northeast Victoria’s most spectacular alpine landscapes. We rode through densely forested mountain valleys, up steep ridgelines, across wide open highplains and made a traverse of Mount Bogong, Victoria’s tallest mountain. The vast stands of dead hardwoods and snowgums were an awesome display of the forces of nature acting in the area. Equally impressive for me was the strength, endurance and sure footedness of our horses. I couldn’t help but marvel at how humans and animals could form such powerful relationships. Each night we ate around the campfire and after a beer and some wine crawled into our swags with a view straight to the stars. The trip was actually a complete circumnavigation of Mount Bogong, as you can see in the map below.
Photographically the trip was both an amazingly challenging and rewarding experience. I was often disappointed with my results and frustrated that so many moments slipped me by without me being able to capture them. But I also managed to get some really great shots and I learned a lot about shooting with horses. Horseback photography is bloody hard work. Shooting from the saddle has to be at higher than average shutter speeds because even the slightest movements from your horse could ruin the sharpness of an image. Of course being able to keep the horse still, and retain the use of your hands for the camera is a bit of a madman’s juggle. I’d say whenever possible you should dismount before shooting, but there was rarely time for me to do so. Directing riders and packhorses in a scene was also tough work, they just never stay still! And capturing the horse in a pleasing posture for the horseman’s eye was something I had no prior knowledge of. Shooting a rider on a horse also presented compositional challenges. The dimensions of a saddled rider just don’t allow the figure to fill a frame the way a person on foot does. Overall I think I managed ok, learned a lot and had heaps of fun improving my horse-riding.
I’d like to thank Bogong Horseback Adventures for inviting me to experience the high country by horseback. I can thoroughly recommend their rides as a spectacular and quality experience. I’d also like to thank Ludovic Riffault for designing my new logo and business identity (as can be seen in the watermark on this image), cheers mate you’ve done a great job. As for my next post it remains a mystery but I’m sure I’ll be posting some more from my time in New Caledonia and also a five-week sailing voyage I did with some friends back in September last year. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out the new Bogong Horseback Adventure gallery on my website.