At the 2014 Draft Horse Classic, my first plan for the day was to hit up the art booths. For me and for everyone that I attended this event with, there was one amazing art piece that instantly drew us all in and left us breathless. We returned over and over again to this booth over the two days to see this incredible photograph. It’s an image that is both unique and yet iconic. It is a once in a lifetime moment captured beautifully by a spectacular photographer. It is an image that will stick with me, and all of my friends for the rest of our lives. This photograph is Synergy by the talented Jo Danehy of Danehy Photography (the feature image of this blog). A nurse in her day job, Jo is a uniquely talented, award winning photographer in her free time. She specializes in equine, canine, ranch and portrait photography. Her images of wild horses are both beautiful and timely, as we risk the loss of this link to our heritage due to expansion. I am thrilled to present this feature on Johanna and showcase some of my favorite photographs.
How long have you been a photographer and how did you get into it?
I guess you could say I got into photography as a matter of exploration like I did with every form of art. It started because of a love of art itself. As a teenager friends, art and tennis were my only true loves. I was agreeable to struggle through algebra and marine biology if I was enrolled in at least one art class per semester, could play tennis at lunch and get out school in time to hang with my friends. I learned every form of putting things on paper all four years and into junior college. Drawing with pen and ink, charcoal, pencil, pastels. Painting with acrylics, oils and watercolor. I loved silkscreening and even gave pottery a try. Crafts were not my thing. I must admit I was good at my art but never produced anything to write home about. I loved the process which is what kept me doing it. I never took photography in high school but I may have if it was offered in the all girls high school I attended. But then I did not take photography even in college courses. My parents were trying to stir me from the art I was continuing to focus on into more practical studies. That worked part of the time. But I was always looking for a creative outlet. Something I could be good at and enjoy. I found photography.
I purchased my first camera, a 35mm film Minolta on my own at the age of 20. At that time it was spurred on by a big trip to Asia, a 2 month adventure I was to take with my oldest sister (I have 5 ) and my 8 yr old niece. All through Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Nepal I shot with a 35 mm Minolta in color film. Once home and throughout the years I enjoyed photographing my children in black and white as well as color. For a trip to Europe I used a 35 mm Chinon with my first telephoto lenses. I was strictly an amateur and never learned darkroom development. I shot in auto modes not learning about F-stops and shutter speed. I just wanted to form a composition through the lenses. It continued to be a off and on love affair as an amateur while raising two kids in my 20 through 40’s. Then I became serious in my 50’s with the advent of DSLR’s.
What kind of equipment do you use? Do you do much photo manipulating after shooting?
My first serious DSLR was Nikon D40X. It shot at 3 frames per second which allowed me to candidly photograph my 5 Golden Retrievers. Dogs move every second very fast. You need to learn how to capture them. I loved my Golden’s and kind of went overboard taking photo’s of them. But I was learning the art of action photography. Then I decided to “really” learn to photograph by learning how to set my own aperture, shutter speed, light metering etc. I decided to switch to Canon simply due to the ease of the switches, dials, etc. I could manipulate it easier and I liked the feel of it. It helped me avoid frustration in learning what I needed to learn. Right now I shoot primarily with my Canon 7D. I have only two lenses, a Canon 17-55 IS 2.8 and a 70-200mmL IS 2.8. I rent a Canon IS 100-400mmL IS 4.0 when on some wild horse shoots when I worry I may not get close enough with my 70-200. Someday I would love to rent a 500mm lenses to make the job a little easier but that is not in the budget right now. And having a shorter lenses makes me have to get close to the wild horse I am photographing. We become connected and her or she starts to look through me. That speaks in a photo.
I typically don’t do a huge amount of manipulating or I should say Photoshop. I routinely crop and correct lighting. I may remove distractions in the background like a telephone pole or another part of a nearby horse that distracts from the photo. I might saturate some photo’s to make the colors pop more or apply a filter that may change the color or create a bit of softness in the photo. I use Nik software for some subtle filter effects like soft focus or color pop. Sometimes I completely change the color to sepia or black and white because the photo works better that way. I can’t confine myself to just B&W or Sepia the way some photographers do to “brand” themselves. Color is just too beautiful to always do away with.
I am a Mac person. Macs are something that opened my mind to the digital world and computers. With My DSLR and my little Macbook I bloomed. I mastered iPhoto pretty quick then advanced to Apple’s Aperture. I am now learning Adobe Lightroom for photo processing and manipulating. I have learned some Photoshop and should probably work on learning it more because you can create a great photo out of a just an OK photo but PS is not what I love to do. I take joy in the beauty that is presented to me and then being able to capture it.
How does a typical shoot for you run?
It depends of what I am photographing of course.
Lately my love is photographing the wild horses. I LOVE being out there with the horses so I will use every second of light available in a day. When on a wild horse shoot, I wake while it is still dark and try to get near where I will be shooting before sunrise. That is not to say you can’t photograph at any time of the day. Some of my best shots were taken in the middle of the day. I just need all the time I can get to find the horses and spend time with them so they let me come near them. Plus you MAY have to take lots of photo’s to maybe get that one shot that is spectacular. Sure you may get lucky but the truth most action and wildlife photographers take hundreds of shots that are good but only some are stunning and/or unusual. Stunning/unusual is what sets a particular photograph apart and why it will move people’s emotions. This is ultimately why it will sell. Which is what every photographer wants so they can continue doing what they love. And….I won’t be shy, why the photo will become well known, make you famous or at least well known so collectors will go after your work.
Every couple of years I go to a photography workshop. Equine workshops are usually located in a beautiful or exotic location and put on by a skilled and well known photographer. In 2013 I attended one of Tony Stromberg’s clinics at a ranch in Wyoming. Tony specializes in just equine photography now. At this particular workshop there were over 30 ranch horses that we shot from sun up to sun down all over the ranch in different places and situations. The shoots are mostly staged although with horses in a large area you never know what they are going to do or where they will go exactly so your planned shoot is always exciting. You get to meet other photographers in the workshop as well who you can learn from in addition to the lead photographer. Best of all in workshops you have access to photographing some spectacular horses which you would otherwise not have access to photograph. Also I can’t forget to mention all the friends and connections I’ve made at those workshops. Connections that have served me well to further my reputation.
And last but not least I do occasional personal photo shoots. If I am photographing a client’s horse I ask for a 1-2 hour time slot in the afternoon. We agree upon a location ahead of time in an area set up to lead the horse and let the horse run at liberty. Sometimes the shoot is at the owner’s property or a location in a beautiful park. Somewhere with a nice background so I won’t have to spend too much time correcting distractions in back of the subject. I have even done a couple photo shoots at my own ranch in Cohasset. I have done some ranch shoots and several owner with horse shoots, otherwise human with horse. However I am moving away from that and just want to focus on my fine art.
How do you decide what you want to shoot (what is your creative process)?
Photography is a second career for me and it is something I want to have fun with and have passion for. If I start hating what I am doing or feeling frustrated by it I stop. That is why I am moving away from photographing humans. They get too complicated. I don’t want to spend my time making someone look prettier or skinnier than they really are. Which is what you have to do to make humans happy with seeing themselves in a photo, myself included. Also I try not to get too bogged down in the business of photography, it can zap the creative process right out of you. I have to remember to get away from the computer and get out in the field to take photo’s. Right now you could say my creative process starts with getting excited about taking an adventure to an unknown place to find some wild horses. Or going back to see some familiar wild horses you have not seen in awhile. Once I get out there I photograph all day sometimes for 3 or 4 days in a row. Once home after dark I start downloading and double saving all my content for the day then eat and go to bed and do it all again day after day for as many days as I have to shoot. I don’t start playing with the photo’s on the computer until I have some serious time to sit down and go over them. Even after the initial sitting down with the photo’s to see if you have anything spectacular you have to keep coming back to them…especially if you don’t have something spectacular at first glance. In a photo workshop you can’t do like I just described. You generally have to go back to an indoor location after a shoot every few hours and learn some new post processing techniques with your “teacher.” If I do a personal shoot I try to do the post processing immediately so I can get something to the client who has just paid for my services. With fine art the very end of my creative process is deciding what to print for art shows or sales. That is by far the hardest thing to do. Lately I’ve been posting things on Facebook to get reactions to something I like but not sure everyone else will like it. Someday if my sales increase I would like to start doing some of my own printing. I like to have my work printed on metal and large canvases. Those printers can be pricey with all the ink, maintenance etc.
How did the horse become one of your primary subjects?
I started photographing my five Golden Retrievers and eventually my two horses. My kids were getting tired of too many animal portraits of our animals around so I decided to start asking my friends if I could photograph their dogs, farm animals and horses for practice. Then I started taking occasional photo days all over my area in the Northern California Valley to photograph any ranch animals as well as horses I could find in anyone’s pasture. I eventually fell for the beauty and the spirit of the horse. Once I got into wild horse photography I was REALLY hooked. Horses heal me. By the same token many people say my photography is healing or soothing to them just to look at it. What can be better that that? What animal is as beautiful and powerful as a horse? The answer is a no brainer to me.
Tell us a bit about the most important horses in your life.
Of course my own two horses I own now as well as my first horse, a grey Arab mare who passed a couple of years ago. Right now I have a 20 yr old Appaloosa gelding and a 8 yr old buckskin quarter horse. My daughter rode and showed in Western Pleasure with her best friend growing up and that is how we got started with horses. Long story short she is gone and I still have the horses. I am a somewhat accomplished equestrian although I don’t show horses. I practice natural horsemanship and pleasure trail riding. I have a great group of gals I ride with and I get to photograph all their horses from time to time. The reason I have our ranch “Sundog Ranch” is because I wanted to stop boarding and live with my horses. Sundog Ranch is a labor of love and the subject of my own blog “The Sundog Drift” My husband “Rockin’ Roy,” the horses, the dogs, goats, a wild burro named Rosie , the Manx kitties and the turkeys are all the main subjects.
I must not fail to mention the wild horses who have trusted me, come to me and posed for me so I can show the world their beauty and healing spirit. And why they need to be saved and protected.