One thing I never get tired of photographing is Yabusame (Horseback Archery). This weekend was another Yabusame event and this was the first time for me to see Yabusame on the beach of Zushi near Kamakura. For this post, I will share some of the information and technique behind the shots and how I prepare for the event.
I usually take my two Nikon cameras (D3s and D3x), one which is mounted with a 70-200 VRII, and the other with a 200/F2 and I interchange the cameras some time during the event depending on what I would like to photograph. The 200/F2 is usually on a Gitzo 1257 with a Wimberley head and I also occasionally use the Nikon 2x tele-converter to get close head shots. Key is getting to the location early and scouting a good location which is at a curve and where one can see the rider at full gallop. I usually choose either the first or the third target since the riders have enough time to load and fire. My experience is that many newer riders miss the second target since they approach the first one too fast. Since there are usually only 20-24 times that one can photograph the riders during the event, each approach is critical.
My metering is always manual and I use continuous focus on both cameras for the telephoto shots. I have not had too much luck with the auto-focus using 3D tracking and so I use a single point of focus technique. Focus point is usually the eyes but I try to allow enough head room for the full bow. Since I am manual metering, I also use manual settings of 1/800 to 1/1000 of a second and an f4-6.4 setting varying the ISO as needed.
Different riders employ different shooting techniques and it is always interesting to be able to photograph a variety of the approach shots. I personally prefer the over the head shots since the approach is classic and “cool”.
During the course of the event, the targets get smaller and smaller. Occasionally, I will also pre-focus at the target to get the wide angle shots since it is difficult to get the rider in focus and compose correctly in time due to the fast speeds of the riders. This is a hit or miss technique since the riders shoot from various points in the curve and often shoot back at the target so I use f6-8 depending on how much light I have and what ISO I am using. It does become a challenge since the background when in focus is usually very distracting.
For this event, three of the horses were brought in specially from Hokkaido. These were examples of typical thoroughbred Japanese (Dosanko) horses versus others in Japan that were imported.
Lately there are many female riders and it was good to see them getting more and more competitive. Depending on the location, some temples still do not allow female riders for religious events.
Yabusame events tend to have a regular following and it is always nice to run into people who recognize each other from other events. Some of them are photographers who are continuously attracted by the pursuit of the perfect photograph, and some are just attracted by the artistry of the riders. I think I belong to both camps 😉