By Katie Navarra
Photography by Holley Underhill
Holley Underhill shares her love of Paint Horses through her masterful photography and selective breeding program.
Before the sun has fully peeked its head over the horizon, Holley Underhill has fed horses, cleaned stalls and, if the light is right, snapped a few photos. Her shift at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bath, New York, begins at 6 a.m.—she works in the food services department preparing and serving meals—so that means the horsewoman’s day starts even earlier on her farm.
“It started out just as a job so I could keep my horses, but it’s nice to be able to give back to veterans who served our country,” Holley said.
For some people, getting out of bed early in the morning can be difficult, but for Holley, the schedule is ideal. Her afternoons are free to spend with her Paint Horses, and she has access to the golden hours of sunlight.
The golden hour—that time of day when the sun is low in the sky, around sunrise and sunset—is a special time of day for camera buffs. Soft, warm light allows photographers to create images with a surreal, magical glow that mesmerizes viewers. And it’s ideal for capturing horses with chrome.
“The position of the sun near dusk gives everything a golden hue and reduces the chances of blown-out details that can be common with excessively white markings, like bald faces,” Holley said.
In a few short years, the self-taught photographer has mastered her craft thanks to the help of the Paint Horses that dot her pasture in chestnut and white.
Now 33, Holley first began experimenting with photography back in 2005—her interest was spurred by images that seemed to jump off magazine pages, and horses were her chosen muses.
“Posters in magazines were a big factor because the horses always looked so perfect,” she said.
Holley admired noted equestrian photographer Bob Langrish’s work and says his calendar photography was also influential in getting her started.
“The love of photographing horses started as a hobby and has blossomed into something more,” she said.
Holley attributes most of her success to practice—lots of it. That education came mostly through trial and error, the results of endless hours of shooting. The camera’s instruction manual and online tutorials supplemented practical experience that only comes by getting out there and pressing the shutter.
Nadine Shumway, a friend and fellow horse enthusiast, says Holley’s patience contributes to her success in getting the perfect shot.
“She doesn’t take just one picture and think that’s going to be the golden shot,” Nadine said. “Holley takes hundreds and thousands of pictures; the time she takes to do it makes her photos so great.”
But even though she’s a student of photography, there are only a handful of occasions where you’ll find a photo of Holley—she prefers to be behind the camera and claims she’s not photogenic.
“I’ve always enjoyed holding a camera in my hands,” she said. “The weight of the camera and the power to change the outcome of a photo with the settings is a cool feeling.”
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Winter 2017 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.