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BY Elizabeth Leitzell June 02, 2010 · Published by Resource Magazine

Commercial photographer Vincent Dixon talks to Resource Magazine's Elizabeth Leitzell about how he shot an image involving galloping horses, a runner, and a Manhattan streetscape.

This article has been contributed from the Spring 2009 issue of Resource Magazine, courtesy of the publisher. To subscribe to the magazine and explore Resource’s online features, visit the Resource Magazine website.

Artwork courtesy of Vincent Dixon.

Mission: To shoot galloping horses and a female runner on a city street.
Photographer: Vincent Dixon
Ad Agency: Element 79 / Chicago
Art Director: Derrick Ho
Producer: David Safian / Brite Productions
Stylist: Christina Kretschmer
Horse Wrangler: Sled Reynolds / Gentle Jungle

Were the horses really galloping in the street?
It’s really difficult to find a street in New York or Los Angeles that you can block off to run horses. We shot at the Paramount Studios in L.A., on their "New York Street" set. These back lots are mostly used by the movie or TV commercial industry. Shooting there allows us to get shots that we would never be able to do in a "real" location. On a studio set you can shoot at any height you want, have the lights at any height you want, etc.

How many takes were needed?

It was difficult to light for both dark and light horses, so it took some time to get it right. Because of the complications with the lights, we had basically one shot per run. We ended with twenty shots of the horses. We shot the girl running about thirty to forty times, with a couple of costume changes. She was a long distance runner, which helped. She was shot separately as she couldn’t run with the horses due to safety issues.

How were you able to shoot galloping horses?
We’ve shot a lot of animals previously so our crew knows that they need to keep the talking and loud noises to an absolute minimum. This is key—with animals and children, there really needs to be only one voice guiding them at any time, and that voice is normally the trainer or the photographer’s.

The street ended to the right of the frame, so we had to shoot the horses as they ran quickly and then stop them suddenly. The horses were running down the street of an active studio and on harsh pavement (their wrangler put rubber horseshoes on all of them to help with traction). The last thing we’d want to have happened was for one of these beautiful horses to slip and fall.

The biggest issue we faced with the animals was their performance. It wasn’t made clear at the beginning of the day that they would only be able to run back and forth eight or ten times before they became exhausted. We thought they could run all day, while the trainers presumed we’d only need them to run a few times. By the time we got our lighting set and were happy with the way everything looked, the horses were exhausted. When reviewing the files, we soon realized that the best shots were the first few, where the horses were fired up and raring to go. We didn’t have enough images, so we decided to go to the ranch on another day and shoot some more. This time we were well prepared for what was to happen. We set up our light to match the lighting at the studio and did some testing with just one horse, which we didn’t make run—lesson learned! Once we were set, we had all the horses run individually until we had plenty of images of fired up, galloping horses.

What was the camera position?
We had first tried to get multiple cameras so we could get different angles, but we couldn’t sync the cameras as we were shooting at high speeds. We then switched to working from one angle with the camera position on ground level.

What was the mix of on-camera elements and post-production?
Although we’re shooting for one photo, we end up taking different elements from various frames. But we always work to make the final image realistic and seamless rather than like an illustration. We had three to four days of post-production work on this job. Different horses would be good in different photos, and we added in buildings from Downtown L.A. that we had shot separately.

Set Elements, Styling, and Props

Featured photographer: Vincent Dixon

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