Shoot 'Em Up

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In just a few years, video has gone from an exotic extra to an essential tool in marketing horses. New digital formats and computer video editing have put this tool within reach for most people. But to help you sell, your videos must be first-rate.

“Everyone today is a sophisticated viewer,” says videographer Scott Trees of Glen Rose, Tex. “People are used to seeing good video on television, so your video has to be good.”

To help you turn out top-notch sales videos, we gathered tips from Scott and two other pros, Irene Deem of Guerneville, Calif., and Amber Heintzberger, who is based in upstate South Carolina. Your video, they say, should be a short, businesslike presentation that sticks to the key points. That means you’ll need to. . .

PLAN THE SHOOT

What you choose to include will depend largely on the horse. For stallions and broodmares, it’s important to show offspring as well as the subject horse. If you’re selling a yearling, you’ll show him in hand and moving at liberty.

Plan to show a trained horse:

• under saddle at all gaits.

• performing some action that’s called for in his job. A jumper should be seen jumping; a trail horse could be shown working a gate or crossing a stream.

• without tack, so customers can get an idea of his conformation. Stand him up and take these shots straight on and from each side, as an off-angle shot could distort his proportions.

• led directly away from the camera and back toward it, so customers can see how his feet track.

You can add other footage to these basics. Some sellers include shots of the horse being groomed and tacked up, to show his tractable nature, says Amber. Jogging the horse in hand on hard ground can emphasize his soundness, suggests Irene. Close-ups of legs and feet are another option. Irene adds that when the horse has an attractive head, a head shot—in flattering lighting, against a nice background—makes a good finish to the video.

Don’t let the camera linger too long on any of these extras, though. “You may love the horse and be happy watching endless footage of him, but other people won’t want more than a few minutes,” says Irene.

ON CAMERA

Once you’ve decided what to include, follow these ten tips to get the best possible footage.

• Make the horse look as good as he can for his star moment—bathed, trimmed, groomed, and turned out in spotless tack. “Your video should reflect the price you’re asking for your horse,” says Irene. “Turnout is important—too casual comes off looking careless.” Scott likes to see the horse turned out as if for a show. While highlighting “makeup” is acceptable for Arabians and a few other breeds, he cautions that it may run as the horse works.

• Choose your location carefully. Green fields and trim fences will set the horse off better than a manure pile. But while a cluttered background is a distraction in still photographs, says Scott, it’s not as much of an issue in video, because the viewer’s eye tends to follow the moving horse.

“Put the horse somewhere where he’s comfortable, so he’ll be relaxed and work well,” Scott suggests. “If you’re shooting in a strange location, give him a chance to get familiar with it first.” For a young horse, it may help to have another horse nearby, he adds.

• Shoot in good light. The best light is generally outdoors in early morning and late afternoon, Irene says; midday light is often harsh and tends to produce “hot spots” (overexposed areas) in video. Avoid shooting indoors, especially in arenas where doors and windows create sharp contrasts between light and dark.

• Kill the chatter. “Unless you are talking about the horse on the video, you might want to turn the sound off or be sure not to talk at all,” Amber suggests. “And if the sound is on, make sure that there are no people hanging around talking—especially about the horse.”

• Steady the camera. Use a tripod to keep the camera level and still, our experts agree, or at least brace your body against a wall or a fence. Shaky footage is distracting to watch.

• Shoot for the heart—that is, have the camera level with the horse’s heart line. For an average-size horse, this means getting down on one knee. “Most people shoot from a standing position, and the camera angle makes the horse seem small,” says Scott. Of course, standing may be fine if your subject is a 17.2-hand warmblood.

• Go easy on the zoom. Rapid zooming is annoying to the viewer, and doing too much zooming is a common amateur mistake, our experts agree. It’s better to have a wider view and follow the horse smoothly, says Scott.

• Show the horse large. While zooming drives viewers crazy, shooting from so far out that the horse is just a small part of the picture is another common mistake, Irene says.

• Skip the art shots. Amber says, “Some people like to focus on just the head or the feet to make it look artsy, but when a video is for practical purposes it is important to show the entire horse, to get the whole picture of what is going on. You want to be able to show how the horse responds to the rider and vice versa.”

• Keep the session short. Let the horse warm up and do his stuff, and then stop. “Even on a good day, you’ll get no more than five to seven minutes of top performance,” Scott says. If the horse isn’t going well on a given day, he advises, put him up and try tomorrow—to keep pushing will just make him tired and frustrated. “Unlike still photography, which captures a moment in time, video won’t let you hide the fact that your horse is dogging around,” he says.

EDITING

“Many trainers prefer to get raw footage, because they want to see the horse as it is,” Irene says. But even if you stick tightly to your plan, it’s more likely that you’ll want to do some editing before you send out the video.

Editing makes or breaks video because it allows you to take out shots that didn’t turn out as planned and enhance those that did, says Scott. “A good pass that takes five seconds in real time can be ten seconds in slow motion.” Perhaps most important, editing allows you to show the horse’s good points while keeping the video short. Irene suggests three to five minutes as a limit; Scott feels that two minutes is plenty. “Think of it as a teaser. You want to give people just enough to make them pick up the phone and call you,” he says.

Editing older tape formats requires special equipment, but digital video can be edited on home computers with special software. “The learning curve is steep,” says Irene, “but a computer buff can learn it.” If you don’t feel up to the challenge, you can take your raw footage to a professional for editing. Pros charge $40 to $100 an hour for their services, says Irene.

To keep the cost in line, she suggests identifying the shots you want to cut or keep before you take the material for editing. “Video editing is time consuming, and the most tedious part is reviewing the raw footage. Instead of 45 minutes, give the editor 10 minutes to cut to five,” she says. The key to making cuts is to be brutally honest about what looks good, Scott says. “Think, ‘would I buy this horse if I looked at this video?’”

If you’re making the video to promote a stallion, you may want to blend in footage of his offspring, graphics of his pedigree and show record, or perhaps sound or some stills. Irene, who works with all breeds, notes that acceptable style varies from breed to breed. Arabian breeders go in heavily for background music and graphics, for instance, while sport-horse breeders want to show the horse in a very straightforward fashion. Analyze videos of top studs in your breed to see how they’re done, she suggests, and emulate what’s successful.

FINAL STEPS

Digital DVDs have largely replaced VCR tapes for sales videos, and one great advantage of the format is that you can easily make copies using a computer with a DVD burner. Most video services include a certain number of dupes as part of the service, and you can order more.

Packaging is the last step. Before you send out the disk, says Irene, put it in a jewel case with an attractive label—something you can make yourself with basic desktop publishing software. “The package is part of your sales presentation, so make it appealing,” she says.