Behind The Lens – Katie Mendl

In the spotlight

ShutterflyThere is something inherently beautiful about horses and photographer Katie Mendl has spent hours upon hours sitting in paddocks surrounded by these magnificent beasts, capturing their effortless beauty. As a way to unwind from stressful work commitments, Katie heads out into the countryside and happily snaps away…the culminating result being her collection entitled ‘Calico Pony’. Learn more about this magnificent body of work below.

What is your earliest {childhood} memory of horses?

I always had a pony growing up. My first one wasn’t broken in (Dad bought it from a sale and had no idea what he was doing). Every time I got on it, it would buck madly until I was on the ground. Its name was Speedy.

I would spend hours riding around our farm on the next few ponies to come, along the dirt roads on late cold evenings, along our creek and jumping what I thought were huge logs. Turns out they were a foot high! I was a pony clubber and pretty much a horse lover from a very, very young age.

What does riding or being with horses mean to you?

I worked as a polo groom for 3 years and then I spent six years on a standard-bred breeding stud. I was studying Agribusiness however I seemed to always be working with horses. I just love being with them. These beautiful, big, magnificent creatures are so trusting and willing to give themselves to their humans. I love the way they smell, how they move and I am taken with their beauty. It’s hard to put into words what they mean to me. When I am in a paddock full of horses, I feel as though it is where I belong.  

Ojo EspanolWhat have horses taught you the most?

Not to take for granted the trust that an animal puts in you. A massive animal like a horse could kill you, however it chooses to put its trust in you, and work alongside you, not against you. They give you their all, and they don’t have to. So respect the animal, like it respects you.

NicholasCan you remember the first {horse centric} photo you took and if so please share this moment/experience with our globetrotters.

In relation to ‘Calico Pony’, it was an image I shot in the very late afternoon light, of a sweet, old grey mare. She wouldn’t be classified as a rare beauty, however the photo of that horse started this amazing journey I am on. The image that I took had a sense or presence to it. It evoked an emotion. I think that’s how I knew that what I was doing was meant to be.

How did ‘Calico Pony’ come about?

I have a beautiful little 5 year old daughter, who has some challenges. So on the weekends, for some time out when I didn’t have family or wedding photography work, I would just go out driving, photographing beautiful scenes and things that I saw. This precious time was my release. Obviously I was drawn to jumping fences into horse paddocks, and when I was sharing these images via social media, they were receiving a great response. People began asking if they were for sale, and so it went from there.

What is the most challenging part of this project?

How ‘Calico Pony’ has taken off was very unexpected. So the main challenge that I face is being a mother, and trying to keep up with work and parenthood. I am managing it all, and just getting processes into place as time goes by. Sometimes I am tearing my hair out, but I love it so much that I can’t give it up.

dark imageWhat is the most rewarding part of this project? 

The most rewarding part of ‘Calico Pony’ is being able to create something that other people enjoy while loving what I do. It took me a long time to come full circle back to working with horses. I studied Agribusiness and teaching, and it was a winding path until I finally found my way back to my first love. I can now incorporate my photography with my love of horses, and I feel so lucky that I can do this.

I also like being able to show my daughter that I am a woman that works hard, has a level of success and to hopefully be an example of what I would like her to grow into.  Don’t get me wrong, there is no harder job on the planet than being a mother and I take nothing away from those incredible stay at home mums that devote their lives to their children and families. I have just chosen another path that is important to me as well as being a mother.

TheTwoWhat photograph in your photography collection are you most proud of? I would love to hear the story behind this image and why you love it so much.

My favourite image is ‘The Two’ (above). It was my first image. I remember the horses, the light, the time of day, and just how much I loved being in that moment – in the paddock, surrounded by horses, camera in hand.  And I remember there was a cranky mare in the paddock that kept putting her ears back and charging me. She was very protective over the gelding in the image. I was on my toes that day.

What is it about equines that you love capturing? 

There is something about horses that is inherently beautiful. When you think about it, horses where painted on cave walls. They hung as paintings and tapestry on aristocratic walls throughout Europe. They were carved in stone and brass as statues. They are just incredibly beautiful creatures. I think, similar to a human relationship with a dog, we have a particular bond with the equine species.  I love capturing them and I love spending time with them. I leave my time with the horses more relaxed, on a high, and smelling like a horse! I love it.

Straight Through YouWhat are your ideal photographic conditions? 

This just depends on the final result that I am looking for really. I like a harsher light for my black and whites to bring out the contrast in an image. If I want something a little softer, I will work in the later afternoon. And I love windy days. It blows the mane and tail and creates another element to the image.

How would you describe your photography style? Do you like to shoot ‘off-the-hip’ or do you prefer to plan?

I am definitely ‘off-the-hip’.  My mind is always in ‘photo mode’ though. Everywhere I look, especially when travelling or in the paddock, I am thinking of the elements of an image, and if it will work. In saying that, I do have particular angles and tricks that I use to photograph the horses. I am always watching the light and the shadows to make sure that the photograph will work when I convert it to black and white. If it won’t then I either move myself of the horse/s. There are so many elements to an image that become second nature once you have been a photographer for a decent amount of time – light, composition, camera settings and the subject. A lot of things need to come together to make a good image. It’s easy to get one off great shots, however to actually make a living from photography, I think you need to have the knowledge and the formula to know how to get a good image almost every time.

JamesWhat camera and lenses do you use?

To shoot the horses, I mainly use a Canon 5Dsr or Canon 5d mark III.

I use only L series lenses due to their quality glass. My main one is 70-200 2.8 and a range of primes that come out of the bag on the odd occasion, mainly 35mm 1.4 (or 1.2 – can’t remember the aperture of that one).

For our globetrotters – do you have any trade tips in capturing equines in their best possible light?

I would look for the early to late afternoon light. When the sun is softening and the golden light is starting to creep in. Try backlighting, panning, different angles…just experiment with your camera, the light and your editing until you develop a style that you like.

Katie headshotTo view more of Katie’s work or purchase a print, please click here.

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