A few months ago I was flattered to be approached by a top young eventer, Gaby Cooke, who wanted help with some images for her new website.
The commission also gave me some input into the design of the website because Gaby was keen for her site to be a little different. In the UK event riders' websites tend to follow a very stereotypical pattern, led, I think, by the limited number of designers targeting this market. The first thing that meets the eye on these sites tends to be a big, brash, banner which contains three or more competition shots which have been (sometimes very badly) cut out and merged into a montage using Photoshop. Gaby was keen to break away from this theme and create something which separated her site from those of other eventers, instead hitting the new visitor straight away with something powerful and therefore encouraging them to stay.
We also agreed that many competitors' sites were very "busy", with too much movement, too many graphics and so on. We settled on a very clean and modern feeling theme which reduced the page sizes as much as possible and therefore created a fast load time and easier reading.
Having settled on a basic template which Gaby and her team all liked (hers is very much a Team and she wanted everyone to be behind the project if it was to work) and then decided on a total number of pages that the site would have. Each of the nine pages would feature a top image which would be new and unique - my job. Other existing competition images would feature within some of the pages or in special galleries which I decided to host via my Photoshelter account and embed using their embedded galleries script.
The challenge with the header images was their shape. 810 pixels wide by 300 high gives you a letter box within which it is difficult to include a whole scene unless a panorama was used. In my mind I had already decided that this restriction would be used to my advantage and that I would concentrate on specific details and close crops.
One of the first images created was the one used on the News page. A simple portrait of Gaby, taken at home in her garden, using nothing more than the sun as a backlight and a small reflector to punch light back in and warm up a chilly November day. I felt that the very natural and relaxed face was a nice change from the "typical" concentration seen in competition shots and therefore might suit the News page nicely.
Having taken photographs of most of Gaby's team it was tricky to decide on which to use for the Team page. Again it was detail which won through in the end: a dimly lit but atmospheric close-up of Adam, Gaby's farrier, fitting a shoe. It is quite an abstract shot, with the point of focus deliberately placed way off-centre, hopefully grabbing the attention as soon as the page is loaded.
The close-up image of the eye on the Horses page was taken in the same session. Poppet had only recently joined Gaby's string and was very alert and interested in everything which was going on. It's not easy to make out in the finished crop but the original clearly shows Gaby, myself, Adam and his van and equipment all visible in the reflection in her eye!
The image of the feet on the Sponsors page was originally the home page choice but, sensibly, Gaby decided that it was important for the home page to actually show her riding. The challenge with the detail shot of the feet was the light and location. It was taken towards the end of a long day of moving around and discussing options and before we knew it we were losing the Winter light altogether. We also still had some snow on the ground in some areas of her yard so Gaby has to be very careful about where she ran while recreating this "trot-up" scene or we were going to have trouble with rather unrealistic snow creeping into the edges of the shot. My goal here was to capture both sets of feet not only in sync but also with the leading feet airborne and about to touch down. Let's just say it took a few attempts before I was completely happy, so all credit must go to Gaby for being able to carry on running in those heels!
The Home Page image and that used on the Results page were taken almost immediately after one another. I had asked Gaby to get into her full International dressage kit of top hat and tailcoat in order to simulate a competition environment. We were blessed with a brief blast of December sunshine and I started firing away, constantly changing the angle in which Gaby was looking and my angle to her. The detail of her tailcoat jumped out at me as being the shape I needed so it was simply a case of composing the shot so that the buttons were symmetrical and the Union Flag was included in the far right of the frame. I think it works nicely on her Results page.
They say you should never work with animals or children but I have to say that Gaby's horses could not have been more helpful during the creation of her site. Her Jack Russell, however, was not quite so helpful. The light-hearted image used on the Contact Page took quite a while to get right because the dog was constantly distracted and looking the wrong way or sitting and posing but not interacting with Gaby at all. In the end Gaby hid a dog biscuit under her headband and we suddenly had some focus!
There are lots of other images which were taken during these various shoots and you can find these on the Gallery page of Gaby's site along with some of her historical competition shots and some recent images taken at her yard during a Mountain Horse catalogue photoshoot. Please go and have a look!