"I have seen things so beautiful they have brought tears to my eyes. Yet none of them can match the gracefulness and beauty of a horse running free.” – Author Unknown
With a passion for horses, I've devoted many years of my life to tracking, following, and photographing wild horse herds across the Western United States. And with my extensive collection of wild horse fine art, I aim to portray the deep connection of these magnificent animals to the American spirit and raise awareness about the plight of the American Wild Mustangs.
The Enchantment of the Wild
Imagine standing on the top of a small mountain, looking over a vast expanse of American wilderness, a largely dry plain with the occasional water hole in the distance. You see a series of small dots towards the horizon, which could be rocks, bushes, or cattle. But lifting your binoculars, you are able to see that it is a herd of horses. As you watch, the herd begins moving, gradually at first, and then together as one, galloping across the plain towards you in a great cloud of dust. To photograph these majestic creatures in their natural habitat is a privilege like no other.
The Pine Nut Mountains of Nevada were my first encounter with wild mustangs, and it was love at first sight. The connection I immediately felt with them was inexplicable, and I quickly understood that my purpose as a photographer must be to capture images of these amazing animals in the wild, tell their stories, and share them with the world. Since then, I have photographed wild horse herds in most of the Western states.
A Tale of Patience and Perseverance
Photographing wild horses is not for the faint of heart. It requires a tremendous amount of preparation, patience, perseverance, and a deep understanding of equine behavior. Mustangs are often skittish and unpredictable, making each encounter a unique challenge.
Often I will follow a small band of wild horses for the entire day, spending hours observing their movements, learning their habits, and waiting for the perfect moment to press the shutter. Some bands eventually relax enough with the human presence to stop moving away from us. Then the challenge becomes to place myself in a position that will allow me to carry out my artistic vision for an intimate and minimalistic composition that conveys the raw emotion of the scene.
Chasing the Perfect Light
Light is the essence of photography, and is a critical factor when attempting to photography wildlife - especially wild horses. Too little light and the image will be of poor quality making it unusable; too much light and the image will be harsh and difficult to work with. The interplay of light and shadow can transform an ordinary scene into a breathtaking work of art - if done intentionally.
I often find myself waking up before dawn to catch the first rays of sunlight illuminating the landscape, painting it with pastel shades, then a golden hue. This can be a challenge because it requires being in the wilderness before sunrise, searching for wild horses in the dark.
The other optimal light occurs as sunset approaches, when the light of the "golden hour" becomes richer and deeper until the only remaining trace of the sun is the intense band of colors on the horizon. It makes for a long day, but the right light at sunrise or sunset can make or break an image with wild horse photography.
Working with Nature's Unpredictability
Mother Nature is both a companion and a foe in the realm of wild horse photography. Weather conditions can change in the blink of an eye (thank you Wyoming!), challenging even the most experienced photographers. But therein lies the magic – the unpredictability of nature can add an element of surprise and beauty to each shot.
Heavy snow, intense wind, or even overcast conditions have created a distinct mood in some of my best shots. I'm prepared to embrace whatever nature offers, knowing that it is sometimes in the face of adversity, in the harshest conditions, that my best shots have developed.
The Art of Blending In
Wild horses are incredibly sensitive to their surroundings, making it challenging to approach them without causing distress. It is essential that I be perceived as a curiosity, rather than a threat. This is where an understanding of equine behavior is critical, and one must be able to read the clear signs that the mustangs give to indicate their state of mind.
I've learned to blend into the environment, wearing earth-toned clothing and moving with slow, non-threatening motions. Staying on the outskirts of a band, slowly moving with the band as it grazes, not moving directly towards the horses or making sudden movements…these are some of the practices that eventually allow me to come within distance to photograph them. But, just as often, wariness and distrust overcome a lead mare and she suddenly encourages the band to move to safety into an area that I can’t approach.
The Editing Process: Realization of the Vision
Capturing raw images with technical proficiency that convey the story I want to tell, in the right light, with the desired compositional elements is just the beginning of creating a piece of wild horse art. The rest of the “magic” happens in the studio once I return home from a photography expedition.
As tempting as it is to jump right into editing, the first step is to wait. Usually I wait several weeks before beginning to curate and select images so that my judgment is more objective and I have conceptualized the story I want to tell. Selecting the right images to begin editing starts with discarding any that are not technically proficient and setting aside any images not relevant to the story I have in mind. Then I select a handful of favorites and begin editing to develop a theme and color scheme.
Over the course of a couple of months, I edit, re-edit, re-curate, and come up with a series that best tells the story of the American wild horses in the area that I photographed.
Fine Art Photography: Preserving the Spirit
Wild horse photography goes beyond capturing images. For me, it has become more about portraying the freedom and spirit of the American wild horses through artwork that changes perceptions. And I want the legacy of these magnificent creatures to last for generations to come through my artwork.
To achieve this, I adhere to museum-quality standards, using dye sublimation on metal or archival fine art paper and ink that withstand the test of time. Each piece embodies the emotion and essence of a unique moment in time, allowing art lovers to connect with the wild in their living spaces.
A Purposeful Pursuit
As an artist, I feel a responsibility to advocate for the preservation of America's wild mustangs. Through my wild horse photography, I shed light on the challenges they face in maintaining their freedom and natural habitat.
A portion of the sales from my artwork is donated to non-profit organizations working tirelessly to protect and conserve these beautiful animals. Art can be a powerful tool for change, and I'm committed to making a positive impact with every image I create.
The Joy of Sharing
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is sharing the stories of the American wild horses with art enthusiasts and horse lovers alike.
My collaboration with journalist Elizabeth McCall on "An Ode to Wild Horses" was an incredible opportunity to bring attention to the cause. Through exhibitions and publications like "Calling All Horse Girls," we aim to ignite empathy in the hearts of our audience and inspire action to protect and preserve the wild mustangs on our public lands.
Showcase Your Deep Love for Nature’s Magnificent Creatures!
As an artist, I take pride in preserving this legacy and advocating for the preservation of wild mustangs. I also offer commission-based equine portraits for my fellow (domestic) horse lovers.