On the spot improvisations

I knew, the moment I arrived there, that my carefully arranged plans for the workshop had to be adapted. It was much too quiet. The quiet before the storm because, in less than a week, a few thousand people were expected to invade the place for the famous Transylvania Horse Show at Cross Country Farm.

It had rained heavily during the past few days. Floods throughout the country. But, as it is already common knowledge that the sun is my good friend, the weather was perfect when we arrived. Mihnea Virgolici, the farm’s owner, wasn’t there. The outdoor arena, where I planned a photo session, was full of mobile stables. The competition area, where I wanted to take photos of horses at freedom, was covered with tall grass that was to be mowed in a few days. I could use only the hill in front of the farm. It was a beautiful pasture, but insufficient for a three-day photo workshop.

I had to be flexible and find solutions. Quickly. My students were looking at me as if asking what to do. I left with Bianca, Mihnea’s most trusted trainer, to see the track arranged for the cross-country competition, which implies jumping over quite a few natural obstacles.

I noticed an area covered with high reed, surrounding an improvised lake that riders were supposed to cross in gallop. Perfect, I said to myself, already imagining horses running free through the water, shinning drops of water around them. As expected, the artist’s view gives headaches to organizers, who cannot simply let horses run free all over the place. On top of it, the water was to be drained within the following hours in order to build a new obstacle there.

I have to admit that, from that moment on, Bianca and her team did miracles. In less than an hour they improvised a mobile fence, on both sides of the lake, which let us drive the horses through the water safely. Meanwhile, at the ranch, I gave a quick technical training to my students and, forced by circumstances, went directly to real-life shooting. The moment’s theme: to capture the horses’ power while running free through the water.

Adrenaline. Speed. Drops of water all over the place. Hard to catch in a photo, as horses ran where they wanted, not where we told them to go. They were either in shadow, or running one behind the other, or holding their heads down. Gallop after gallop. At some point, we decided to change the angle and go on the other side of the lake. Challenge: crossing the reed, which was sometimes higher than us. Giggles and laughs. Runs and drops. Adrenaline.

It was a good start. Bianca takes the horses to the stable and prepares two others. The sunset light is dark yellow, perfect for photos. We move the mobile fence on a meadow where the grass and the flowers are up to our hips. Two sport horses. The moment they are set free, they run as fast as they can. We take photos through the flowers. It’s difficult because the light changes rapidly and the horses switch direction chaotically. I say the technical settings out loud. A few girls are quite stressed, as they face for the first time the power of horses running free around them.

The first evening was supposed to be a warm-up photo session. Forced by circumstances, we warmed up with real-life photo situations.

Fog and horses

Eight free horses running free over the hills in the morning light. That was the theme for the following morning. A quarter to 6. Crack of down, but the hill is covered in fog. After a brief moment of disappointment, I realize how spectacular an image with horses running towards us through the fog could be. The idea takes shape as horses run around us through the tall, wet grass. The Arabians lead the herd by far.

After some time they stop. They breathe heavily. At that very moment, the sun rises through the fog and lights the steams coming out of their backs from behind. The image is almost surreal. Yellow fog, steams and alert horses, on the verge of running again. We shoot image after image. The settings change as the sun becomes stronger. The dogs feel the fuss, chase the horses and stumble upon us. It’s good that I took my boots, otherwise I my legs would have been soaked. It’s beautiful, incredibly beautiful. Mother nature was on our side.

The light is still soft. We bring a pair of Friesian horses at our fence near the lake, as we know how spectacular they run together. I teach my students how to make panning, which is obtaining an image in which the running horse is clear but everything around him seems at high speed.

A well-deserved breakfast and a strong coffee, and we get ready for the horse ride. We saddle the horses, make friends with the animals that will carry us for two hours and go over the meadows. Thrills. A few girls had been expecting this from the moment they decided to come to the workshop. The area is really beautiful, suitable for long gallops. I clearly recommend the place if you are passionate about riding.


I knew that a stunt team was to train at the farm during the workshop, but I didn’t have more details. Two boys and two girls. Surprise, the girls were Bianca and Meli, the two instructors at Cross Country Farm. But Bogdan, the trainer, was at a course in Cluj and didn’t know if he could make it at all during this weekend. And there was no training without him.

I wasn’t stressed. I felt that everything would be arranged at the last minute. And I was right. Bogdan arrived at 8pm. One hour later we were taking the first photographs. Stunts as you see only at the circus. At freedom. Spectacular. But capturing those moments tested all our technical and artistic skills. It was almost dark and the stunts were fast and unpredictable. We kept changing the settings as the light was fading away.

It was for the first time when I ended a photo session, with high-speed characters, at 10pm. We were all exhausted, but smiling. A few glasses of home-made red wine did wonders.

In the morning we were faced with several other out-of-the-box photo situations. Dressed up for competition, Bianca, Meli and a guest from Germany, Kim, made horse jumping demonstrations over the obstacles arranged in the nature. Then we played with studio lights and portrait photo sessions meant to capture the connection between man and horse.

When the workshop was over I still had so many ideas I wanted to test. I’ll keep them for the next time. Till then, I asked my students to send me their best 5 horse photos. Tough job, considering the hundreds of shots taken during these three days.

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Magda Munteanu