In a period spanning over two years photographer Vanessa von Zitzewitz shot in excess of 27,000 photographs of the horses owned by the Emir of Qatar for a major book and exhibition project – ‘The Horses of Qatar – Legend of Al Shaqab’. CPN editor Steve Fairclough spoke to Vanessa von Zitzewitz about this amazing underwater shot of a horse swimming that was part of her ambitious but visually stunning project.
The shot shown here, above, has now been used in posters all around Paris to publicise Vanessa’s new book and exhibition about the ‘Horses of Qatar’. With obvious pride she reveals: "It (this photograph) has become the ‘emblem’ of the whole project."
Vanessa reveals: "For the whole (horses) project I was in Qatar on and off for a period of around two years. I was photographing the horses from above the water to start with but then I realised that I wanted to be in the water with them (the horses) as their movements are so stunning."
To catch what seems on the surface of it a quite simple shot took quite some time: "It took time to get the light right, to choose the right horse, and even to get him to ‘poo’ before he went into the water so that the water would stay clear," admits Vanessa with a laugh. According to Vanessa: "The shoot took about six or seven half days to get absolutely right."
For the shot she used an EOS 5D, in an underwater housing, fitted with an EF28mm f/1.8 lens USM. She elaborates: "For a long time I refused digital, but when I got the 5D I fell in love with the camera as it holds in my hands so well." The pictures had to be taken very quickly so much so that Vanessa only wore a wetsuit and a mask, plus 12lbs of weights to keep her underwater, and no snorkel or scuba equipment.
She explains: "I had to be very quick. The horses come down a corridor to let them into the pool and they can only manage to swim two or three times around the pool, then they have to come out again. All of them aren't as photogenic as Azir – the horse in the picture – and you really don't have much of a chance to get the picture."
Vanessa admits: "Being underwater and photographing these incredible movements in this surreal environment made me realise that I could do much more than advertising in photography, than portraits, than reportage... It is a photograph that has opened up my perspectives in terms of how far I could go with my photography."
Arab horse swimming underwater – Vanessa von Zitzewitz
Location: Doha, Qatar
Camera: EOS 5D
Lens: EF28mm f/1.8 USM
Exposure: 1/60sec at f/4
ISO speed: 800