Hubertus Hunt or Hubertusjagt in Danish is a strange sounding name that is derived from St.Hubertus the patron saint of hunters. Today it is steeplechase/cross country event run over the old Royal hunting grounds in Dyrehaven near Klampenborg just north of Copenhagen with the imposing Royal Hunting Lodge, the Eremitage Palace at its centre. Traditional hunts were run here in the time of King Christian V at the end of the 17th century and the Hubertusjagt was the final hunt of their season taking place in late autumn. Fast forward a couple of hundred years to 1900 and it was decided to restart this tradition and run it on the first Sunday in November with riders qualifying for the event by competing in various steeplechase events around Denmark in the preceding months. Today there is no hunting involved but the first two riders out who start ahead of the pack wear a fox tail as a nod to the hunts history.
Over the last 110 years or so the gathering has developed an enthusiastic following with the event attracting upto 40,000 visitors that spread out over the parkland bring picnic baskets, plenty of alcohol and warm clothing. Some arrive very early to claim the best spots by the infamous water jump in the hope of seeing someone fall off their horse and get dropped in the freezing water, more of that later. Tradition also dictates that members of the Danish Royal family attend and watch from the old hunting lodge and hand out the prizes and this year it was Prince Henrik and some of his grand children.
I had managed to get myself a press pass through a friend. I was sent a mail with an invitation and details of where to meet and a map. I vaguely knew the area, the map was pretty useless I thought….. It had the route marked on it that the riders would follow, they would be riding over 11km…. Now at this point alarm bells should have been ringing for me but they weren’t….after all I have some experience of photographing this sort of event…..I had all the pieces of the jigsaw in my hands, the map, the location, big fast horses, the terrain. I just could not piece it together.
I met my friend Ole at a the car park nearby, I got there early I always do for the this sort of thing. Ole rolled up got out of his car and immediately stuffed a huge A2 sized calendar produced by another photographer into my hands and gave another friend a box full of Gin! What the hell was I supposed to do with a calendar right now! He then opened the boot of his car up and pulled out 2 mountain bikes….one for him and one for his friend…..who wasn’t me! Now all the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place and I saw the full picture. I was going to be doing a LOT of walking holding the biggest calendar I have ever seen. My first job was to find the Clubhouse where I was to pick up my ticket….that was a 15min walk…2mins on a bike I was thinking. Of course Ole left the car park after me on his bike and got there before me. But Ole had an ace up his sleeve. He asked around at the club if anyone had a bike that this idiot unprepared so called professional photographer could borrow, I had one offer…a girls’ bike, to be more precise a bike belonging to a 10 year old girl, I took it and at that moment it was the best and fastest bike in the World, and it had a basket…it was perfect.
I got my press pass saw a few familiar faces and I tagged along with a couple of other photographers who I had met at previous events. The bike was brilliant it was a 5 minute ride to the starting area, bike locked up I could leave it and go off and take some bloody pictures at last.
Ever been to Denmark in November? In my short experience here it’s either piercingly bright winter light or dark as night during the day and wet….well it was the latter to start with. I took my Nikon D750 and my D810 both with battery grips, Nikkor 70-200 F2.8 Sigma 35mm F1,4 Art Nikkor 24-120mm, Nikkor 16-35 F4 and stacks of memory cards. It was a dificult start to the photographic day but I could see the potential of the event as the riders gathered in the woods with their immaculate horses matched with the riders traditional red jackets and white breeches that contrasted nicely with the trees in the ancient woodland.
The trees had retained a lot of their leaves and they had turned into the most beautiful autumn colors setting an idyllic scene, if only the sun would come out and show it off! I set my cameras to manual and set a shutter of 1/200 sec at either F2.8 or F4 depending on the lens and I let the auto iso function get the exposure right. The iso went up to 6000 under the tree cover to get the exposure I set, it was that dark. Pretty soon I realized it was useless for pictures and so did the other photographers and we decided to cycle onto another spectator point. Now the bike made even more sense and so did the map. A 5 minute bike ride and we were there. Spectators were gathering here but not crazy numbers of them. The press pass was brilliant it got me “inside the rope” I was a VIP for the first time in my life….even the weather improved.
I started to relax and concentrate on the job. I found myself a good shooting point, low down next to a hurdle they had made for the course and I could hide behind a tree and not scare the horses or the riders, perfect for the sort of wide angle looking up view I had visualized. But where were the horses? It seemed to take an age for them to turn up but once they did it was perfect.
I started off with the D750 and the 16-35 I love wide angles but it was too wide and the AF is a bit too slow on that lens so I switched it for the sigma 35mm F1,4 ART lens that is fast becoming my favorite, much better and I could shoot at F2,8. I love these pictures.
Panning is a photographic technique where you use a slower shutter speed and track the moving subject as it moves across the frame left to right. The slower shutter speed will blur the background and the combination of that and moving the camera or “panning” as the subject moves, creates a nice effect that shows the speed your subject is moving at. But it is a tricky combination to get right as you can see……Pre-visualising a shoot is something always do wether deliberate or not maybe some people call that planning but I usually come back with something completely different to what I “pre-visualized” but I did want to try some panning style pictures of the horses as they swept past me. There were around 150 horses taking part so there was enough time to shoot some different styles, but lets say this; “my panning technique needs a lot more practise….”
The horses and ponies passed all to quickly and by now the the crowd following the event had grown a lot! Although I think the poor weather kept the crowds lower. Back to the bikes and onto the next photostop. Again the bike was brilliant although the crowds were filling the footpaths so progress was slower but still faster than walking. After a few minutes I could hear engines behind me a a polite “toot toot” I looked behind to see what was up and it was only Henrik, Prince of Denmark and his motorbike outriders escorting his horse drawn carriage through the park and crowds! I am amazed at how close you can get to the Royal Family here in Denmark. Bet my bike gave him a laugh.
The Water Jump.
One of the main attractions of the whole Hubertus event is the water jump. People get here early to get the best spots in the hope of seeing someone fall off. The weather by now was pretty terrible; dark,very grey and raining. My press pass was brilliant I just walked the course and got to the water jump or “Magasindammen”and my pass got me into the area marked for photographers, literally the first row! I was so close my feet were in the water. Rain on the lens was the biggest problem for all of us gathered there. It wasn’t heavy rain it was just blowing right into the lens but it was possible to wipe the water off and choose your moment to fire off some frames as the horses approached and passed through. It was quite a sight and sound and my admiration for horse and riders went up a lot, you could see the concentration on their faces as they jumped and galloped throught the water, determinded that they would not fall off and get dunked in the freezing water
To be honest I couldn’t understand how you win this event but somebody did; Mette Kaufman. Disappointed not to get all 6 legs in this picture….
The finish line was a good place to catch the riders as they passed by very very close by.
And it was a chance to refine my panning technique, I’m getting better, surprising how fast a shutter speed you need.
Gear wise I was delighted how the D750 performed. It was quite a test for a camera, dark and wet. Sure my Gear Aquistion Syndrome (GAS) kicked in at times when I spotted various exotic lens and camera combos that I can only dream of but for me it was a Grand Day Out and I feel I captured what I set out to do.
That was pretty much it. Prince Henrik dished out the gongs to the various winners and riders, spectators and photographers started their journey home.
For me it was a great day out, embarrassing in parts mainly due to my huge bag and a very small girls’ bike, but next year I hope to be back on a unicyle and an even bigger bag.
I have to say a few thank you’s to the following: Ole Eskling, Mette Kaufmann, Bent Ursin, Danny Johansen and Frederik Petersen.
Thanks for reading this far.