Photographing horses underwater is exhilarating. Powering through the sea with intense exertion and grace, the sound of a horse breathing is one I can still recall.
Having done my first ‘sea horse’ shoot in 2011, I felt it was time to revisit the experience. The search for a different angle took us to a new location which required local council permission.
Golden Bay on Malta’s west coast is known for its water clarity and sandy sea bed, and I felt like all these ingredients would work well together, though we would need to shoot at daybreak to ensure solitude.
The gear of choice was a Nikon D810 and Aquatech housing, along with scuba gear which would allow me to hover under the horse for the duration of the shoot.
Once on location, the bond between horse and trainer allowed the animal to remain calm, and it didn’t take long for them to find their sea legs.
Then came a few unexpected obstacles. The sea was infested with jellyfish so the horse and trainer both got stung several times. This didn’t seem to bother the horse though the trainer did bear the brunt of it. I was impressed that this didn’t deter either of them from staying on task.
Another challenge, one which I expected, was the horse’s awareness of bubbles rising from the scuba gear. This could have created anxiety however the trainer was there to reassure him. Once settled they just swam overhead, allowing me to work.
I was aware of the danger of getting kicked by the race horse. The sea is not a horse’s natural habitat and their movements can be unpredictable. This made it more dangerous than photographing humpback whales and orcas, as I had to keep adjusting my depth to keep a safe distance.
Swimming is hard work for horses, but a half hour swim is a fine way to prepare them for their next race!