How to Photograph White Horses
In the article looking at white horses and hillside features we have looked at the background to these and in the listing of hillside features we have identified all that we are aware exist now and that you can see. In the location guides, linked from the listing, for many we have information on their history, legends and when and where to find them with a load of other links, including aerial photographs and maps.
In this article we can therefore concentrate completely on how to see these features and how to photograph them.
Some are visible from a very long way away, for example the Uffington White Horse can be seen for up to 25 miles away, due to its size and location. Both the Alton Barnes white horse and Westbury white horse are able to be seen on a variety of roads from many miles away. While some like the Marlborough white horse, and the Broad Town white horse might be overlooked if you did not know they existed.
Most if not all are on sloping hillsides, where they could be both created and maintained. This means that they are not as clearly seen when you get closer to them, as from some way away. It is often said that the best view is from an aircraft, although most planes fly too high for them to be seen, and most have been designed to be viewed from the ground from some way so a low plane is likely to also produce the wrong angle.
They show up best on clear days when the sun has reached a point where they act as reflectors. As they point in a variety of directions this means that they have different ideal viewing times.
At the beginning of the day there is often some mist about, while a little later in the day this has disappeared. However on hot days and viewing from some distance heat haze can make the view less clear. Using a UV filter and on some occasions when beneficial a polarising filter, can clear some of the mist. Where larger landscapes are involved and the sun is at the right angle, a polarising filter can also help to make the clouds show up.
From close up the angle is often wrong, nearby the item is also often partly obscured, and very close, the size may be such that it is difficult to get the entire item into the shot.
The artist and photographer has the option to either feature the horse or other feature or to include a landscape with this included.
Exposure wise the white of the chalk is not usually a problem, as its rarely white enough to produce highlights. Highlights are more often in skies in landscapes shots, when its necessary to reduce the exposure (negative exposure variation) in order to capture the sky, and then lighten or brighten the scene less sky in editing. Another solution in many cases is graduated Neutral Density filters.
People can be included and often useful to show scale. From a greater distance people tend to be so small they are not noticed.
Some white horses are very popular and at weekends and holiday periods you will find many people visiting them, some others are more off the tourist track and you are on your own. Even Uffington, by far the busiest, on any day you will have opportunities to take close up shots with no people in.
Also consider unusual views, perhaps over the horse and showing a scenic shot or a hill and cloud study from near one end of the horse.
The locations are on hillsides and this also provides you with a high viewpoint to take wider panorama and other landscape shots, but you need a clear day to see a long way. Some are also good locations to take sunrise and sunset landscape views. You could try a combination of a foreground flash shot and a distant sunset, however as flash gets far less effective over distance this can be very difficult to do.
Other points to consider is keeping the camera as level as possible and composing the shot in an interesting way.
In April 2008 we visited and photographed all the Wiltshire White Horses in a day, but did not climb up to them, however we did drive to a variety of locations and where necessary walk to places to get a good view. Although we didn't start early arriving at the first at 9.30am there was still too much mist about, and the photos we got at this and the second were considerably sub standard. However there was plenty of time to return later in the day to take these two again. We had time in this day to stop and photograph several other places, as well as having a picnic in Savernake Forest near Marlborough and was still back home for tea. On an afternoon before, we visited Uffington White Horse, castle, blowing stone, the Ridgeway Path and Waylands Smithy, an open multi chambered long borrow. Both of these trips being just over an hours drive from Cheltenham. Part of the reason to do this was to put together a weekend itinerary for photographers visiting the White Horses and other historic features in Wiltshire. As most have no entry fees or parking charges, it represents an enjoyable, yet not expensive weekend for the photographer and family or partner. I have a little more work to do on this, but watch out for this to be published on this website soon.
Photo by Stuart and Fiona Jackson
Megalithic - for more images and details of hillside figures.