Life Behind the Lens

Mikaylah asked last week how I got into photography, and I can’t believe I’ve never mentioned it!

Rolex XC shot

D40 + kit lens at work with horse photos [Rolex 2012]

My introduction to photography started around horses (you’re shocked, I know), helping my mother take conformation photos for sales ads- back in the day when everything was film and posting an ad meant paperclipping a printed photo to a piece of paper with the hand-written text on it, and mailing it off to Stablemates. My parents got me my first camera when I was around 10 years old, one of those cheap wind-up film cameras that only operated in Auto mode- perfect for my bounding around the farm and clicking shots off of every creature in sight.

One of my first shoots with the Nikon D40 [Nikon D40, fall 2007]

When I got to college, and transferred from an Animal Science degree to the College of Design, of course I signed up for a photography studio (a studio being a 4.5 credit hour course – and basically the thing that ruled your life as a design student). I had this wonderfully snarky older gentleman as our professor, who’s favorite thing to ask us was “And what were you thinking when you took that?” in regards to each one of our [admittedly mostly] terrible photos. My parents kindly bought me a Nikon D40 so I could take the course- an entry/beginner level DSR camera that came with a couple cheap kit lenses. Between this and my dad’s borrowed film camera, I started learning how to shoot in manual mode, learned how to process and dodge/burn photos in the dank, musty, hot dark room on campus, and in general become obsessed with the instant joy of photography.

And truthfully, I really couldn’t tell you why I took this photo. It was that bad, but at least I learned how to develop in a dark room I guess? [Film photo, fall 2007]

In the beginning, my work was basically awful. I lacked inspiration, what I thought was classy and on-trend was cheesy or tacky. But the more comfortable I felt with the camera as a tool, the more I felt I could compose my shot and create an attractive image. So I took another photography studio, cementing myself as an Art + Design major with a concentration in Photography. Charles started expecting me to lead critiques of other students, and from his snarky feedback I started to improve. My eye developed, I could own my own weaknesses and seek to improve them. I was good enough (emphasis on the ‘enough’) to be recommended as a student photographer for a wedding, which is decidedly my first and last wedding- while the couple was happy, the stress of capturing that moment is more than I wanted to get into.

In my second semester of photography coursework, things started coming together a bit better. [Nikon D40, spring 2008]

In 2010 I made my first real investment into my gear with the purchase of a 50mm f1.8 prime lens. My old learner-D40 was still the only camera I owned, but I was excited to see how this $150 addition would change my abilities. It is this lens that now leads me to believe that the lens is where your investment should be if you are going to spend money on kit.

Swan at Stourhead, England. [Nikon D40, 50mm f1.8, 2011]

From there it’s been learning by doing. Each shoot I feel like I learn a little bit more, get a little bit better. I upgraded my camera 2 years ago from that workhorse D40 to a D7000, and this year made the jump to full frame so I could eek more out of my golden-hour portrait sessions. I also invested in a few more lenses, including an 85mm prime that is now my main lens, though my trusty nifty-fifty still comes with me to every single shoot.

Nikon D7000, 2015, wide angle lens

One of my last shoots with the D7000 as my primary body [D7000, 50mm 1.8, winter 2016]

And so here we are, almost 10 years after I first started applying myself to Photography. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost comparing yourself to others, but the journey has been oh so fun and I am as much in love with the hobby now as I was as a kid.

First time using the D750

First “pro” shoot with the D750

latest shoot [D750, 85mm f1/8]

The Photography Business Check up

At the beginning of the year I shared my goal to take my photography to the next level this year. It started with investing in new equipment, i.e a full frame body (Nikon D750) and prime lens (85mm f1.8), and then using that equipment to shoot two pro-bono sessions with well-known local equestrian entities. I also took a survey on the blog of your opinions regarding portrait sessions/equestrian photography in general, and I thank all that participated- the feedback was incredibly helpful! The photos that follow are just a sample of my favorites this year.

And of course I am now partners with Lilybird Flowers!

Since kickstarting everything back in January, I have officially done more shoots in the last 3 months than I did in the entirety of last year. I used any profits from shoots to pay off my new equipment, and now that it is all covered all pennies earned will go into the #newponyfund.

For the first time since I started my photography side-business, I actually am at capacity for how much I can handle. That’s 5 sessions booked for the month of April, and though it feels a little harried between balancing the 9-5 job and time in the saddle, it’s still a pretty cool feeling. The next step feels like building a pipeline of bookings for the future- and this is something I’m less successful in, as most of my sessions are planned weeks out instead of months. Part of this is probably the financial culture of horse people as well as obvious worries about weather, pony soundness issues, and other concerns.

One of my other goals for growth is to incorporate portraits into my horse-shopping travels, which helps offset the costs of hotel/gas/etc. I also love meeting new people and experiencing the relationship they have with their horses. Every equestrian’s journey is slightly different, and every single one has a story to tell. Facebook has been helpful in spreading the word, as well as my connections (and I include blogland in that!) in various areas. My next possible trip may be to northern Virginia/Middleburg area, maybe even this weekend, and if I’m lucky I’ll squeeze in a shoot while I’m there!

Photographing Cambalda will forever be a highlight for me- Ping is the man!

One of the main struggles I have found with this business is the sheer amount of competition there is. While I feel like I am reasonably priced given the work involved, there are others out there who charge a fraction of my fees, or even work for free. Mostly these are younger photographers looking to build their portfolio or just make a little spending money, but I simply can’t, or won’t, attempt to enter a price war that will leave me not being able to cover even my gas. All I can hope is that my style and quality of work will be attractive above the mayhem, but it’s easily to enter into an oblivion of self doubt when faced with the daily barrage of local photography ads.

Still, I am more than excited about the sessions completed so far in 2017 and flipping ecstatic when I think of all the sessions to come. Sometimes I wonder if I am boring readers to death with my Friday photography posts, but I just love to share this other side of my equestrian passions. Thanks for being part of the journey, and if you have something you want to see please let me know!



Photography Friday: Lilybird Flowers Round II

Sorry, not sorry, I couldn’t not share more of the photos from my styled shoot that was also last week’s Photography Friday post. Today’s round of portraits again feature the beautiful work of Lilybird Flowers, and seriously- are you guys not just in love with these flower crowns?

Thanks to Leah of Lilybird Flowers again for including me in this exciting opportunity! Let’s get this party started!

The Queen of Flowers herself.

Photography Friday: Dr. Fernando and Quincy Car


Here in North Carolina, Dr. Fernando Cardenas and his stallion, Quincy Car, are something of local heroes. They compete at the highest levels of showjumping, and even represented Colombia in the most recent Pan Am games, qualifying them for a trip to Rio.

So it was definitely quite the honor to have them in front of my camera. This was my second shoot with a stallion, and Quincy was fit as a fiddle and just as shiny and conditioned as a horse ever could be.




While I was there, Fernando’s sweet family also joined in on the fun, rounding out a field of highly photogenic subjects!


I mean really, how sweet is this??



The other addition to our shoot was a recent import from Denmark, and the latest addition to the 3H team. Calvin is a hunk of a guy, and I definitely couldn’t leave without snagging a couple portraits just of him!


This was a very exciting session for me, and a real treat. Here’s wishing the Cardenas family lots of luck as they compete in Wellington this season!

Happy Friday, everyone!

Broadening the Photography Horizons – A survey of readers

2016 sessions

2016 sessions

As I shared at the beginning of the month, one of my major goals for this year is to grow my photography business. I’m attacking this aspiration with a vengeance- I revamped my portfolio website (though still a WIP) to reflect my photography centric mission, and tried to include some pricing and examples of my work that I feel like speak most for my brand.


It seems like I’m not alone in this endeavor, however, and a little part of me has lost courage after seeing my local market flooded with other people offering similar services, but at a cost that to me, wouldn’t even cover the gas and time costs at a minimum. Marketing is not my strong-suit, admittedly, so I would love to reach out to you all for feedback.


Since most of my readers are equestrians, and equestrians, especially those active in their local communities and on social media, are my target audience, I would love to pick y’all’s brains. If you have a few minutes, would you, kind reader, be willing to answer a few questions regarding equestrian photography?


If you filled out the survey, thank you, I really appreciate it. If you have other points you would like to discuss (such as pricing, your own experiences, etc), or even better, you want to talk about doing a shoot with your horse a 1,000 of your closest friends (hey, a girl can dream, right?), please shoot me a note at brittwgillis at gmail dot com.


Next weekend my plan is to head off to sunny Ocala, to visit a friend who is a working student there, and then to spectate and schmooze with the fancy folk (from afar, of course) at the Wellington Eventing Showcase. While I’m there I also hope to do a couple portrait sessions, namely highlighting my friend’s bee-yutiful Irish Sport Horse gelding. And who knows where my photography will go from there!


Photography Friday: Worth a Shot Farm


I met the owner of Worth a Shot farm last summer during my horse shopping adventures. My vet insisted I go see a lovely gelding she has, and I admit, if it weren’t that he was an unbroken 2 year old, I would have snapped him up in a heartbeat. But besides my drooling over the horse, I also got to meet the farm’s other inhabitants. The farm proprietor also happens to breed beautiful Cane Corso dogs along with stunning warmbloods. One of her herd is the country’s lone passported silver dapple warmblood stallion, and despite being just a baby he’s quite the eye-catcher! So when the owner offered to help me with some trailer loading work with Smitty, I was keen to pay her back in photographs- and these are the results!











As I continue to grow my photography business, I hope to offer more and more of these black background shots. The silver dapple was an interesting color to photograph, as it is so rich and contrasts dramatically with that blonde mane and tail- and I hope to go back in the fall when this fella’s coat is even more dapply and extreme!


Have a great weekend, y’all!

Photography Friday: Olympia


Olympia was for me, the event of a lifetime, and a memory I will never forget. The equine performers and competitors were absolutely top-notch, and getting to see some of the world’s best showjumpers warm up, up close, was enlightening and inspiring.



My camera was my only companion for the night, though I did make some acquaintances while in the more personal viewing area at the warm up. But despite being alone, the entertainment was enough that really I didn’t mind.



You can see I was quite struck with this particular act, the Stallions of Portugal. The dressage and riding in this segment was really impressive, combined with lighting effects and an excellent soundtrack- well, what’s not to love?




Most of the images I took in the warm up ring you will have seen by now in a former post, but here are a couple more worth sharing.



Here’s hoping everyone has a wonderful weekend! I’m doing two photoshoots (assuming the weather cooperates) that I am super excited about, and I can’t wait to share them with you all!

Photography Friday: Upgrading the Equipment!

So I did a thing last week, a totally fiscally irresponsible thing, and I have to admit, I don’t regret it one bit.

I upgraded to a full frame camera, which basically means more pixels, faster shutter speeds, and better low-light imagery.


And I’m thrilled!

As soon as I got my grabby hands on the new beast, I took it to the barn and convinced my friend to let me take a couple photos of her new pony. I’m super happy with the result, and I can’t wait to hopefully make good on my resolution to expand my photography practice this year!

Happy Friday y’all! Stay warm out there!

Musings from the Olympia Warm-up Ring

As part of my night at the Olympia Horse Show in London, I purchased a ticket to go visit the warmup ring backstage. This was essentially a spectator area filled with tables and seating and its own personal bar (which you know I took advantage of on my way out!).


So before the final class of the day, the 1.55m Martin Collins Christmas Tree Stakes (not to be confused with the Mince Pie Stakes – not kidding), I scuttled down (or rather, up, over, down- very confusing to someone who’d already had a glass of wine or two) to the warmup arena to watch the big names go.



PS of Sweden made an appearance!

PS of Sweden made an appearance!

I think one of the most interesting things about showjumpers is the variety of tack that they employ. I saw every combination of hackamores, drop nosebands, figure 8’s and double bridle variations, and that was before even looking at the bits. The most popular bitting option appeared to be a gag bit, but I did see a few standard snaffles here and there.




Other trends included leaving a patch of hair on the sides of the horse (like above), something I hadn’t noticed before in other disciplines but surely to avoid any spur marks that might eliminate an otherwise clear pair.fb-england2016-66-copy

Besides the horses themselves, it was fascinating to watch the riders warmup so differently from one another. Many would take a medium sized oxer (say 3’3″ to my eyes) and then go over a small vertical like below. I would have loved to pick someone’s brain to know the reason for the small vertical, but alas, I never found the opportunity.




Others, like the horse below, would repeatedly stop their horse in front of the fence. My guess would be to get their horse listening and on his haunches, but again, I really can only speculate.


As you can see, I took the opportunity to document as much as I could without being absolutely obnoxious, and enjoyed chatting with the other Olympia-goers about their horses and their favorite riders and horses. It was awe-inspiring (because let’s be serious, I am never going to have to prepare for a 1.55m track) and educational to see all the differing approaches in the warmup ring, and amazing to get to see some of the world’s top riders up close!

Lots more photos to come!