Ten Tips

Tips on how to photograph horses

Only forward.
Moment of Suspension.
Into the wind.
As the first snow falls.
I can't be superman.
Love like children.
Collect your strides.
You spin me.
Pony Express.
April's Painted Sky

Your friend owns a barn a ways away, and he or she has just asked you to take some pictures around the barn next weekend. You'll even get money. Great. But you know nothing of what makes a good "horse" picture, because you have never been around horses in your life.

Being a rider myself, I know what the difference is between a right or left lead, or what good equitation is, and that helps me take better pictures, but for people who have less experience around equines, some tips might be helpful before you go out to that barn.

1- Treats: If you will be working closely with the horse or doing portrait type shots, a pocketful of treats will prove very handy. The horse will be more comfortable around you, and more intrigued by that tasty smell coming from your direction. They'll look at you more, which is great for portraits, and might even follow you around if you start to walk away. Horses love carrots, apples, oats, and peppermints. Some even like crackers. You should give them a treat every once in a while to reward them for being a good subject.

2- No flash. Ever. When near horses, never use flash photography. It spooks most horses, which can be dangerous for you, the horse, or for the rider if there is one involved.

3- Keep facial features in mind. Perked ears mean a horse is interested, while ears pinned back against their head indicate anger or frustration. The eyes are the most emotional part of the photograph. If they are not in focus, the picture is near meaningless. Watch carefully, however; if you can see the whites of their eyes, they are frightened.

4- Positioning action shots: Be wary of the motion in a horses legs when you shoot. A certain angle may make a position of their legs look awkward and non-photogenic. A shot of a horse cantering with its foreleg being the only appendage on the ground is usually thought of as less than ideal.

5- Use a high shutter speed and low ISO when shooting. This is especially true when shooting outside, or at outdoor shows. If you must shoot inside, you may have to sacrifice the low ISO to keep the shutter speed. 1/500 sec is usually the lowest preferred shutter speed for action shots, with a wide aperture around f/2.8. On a bright, sunny day, an example of a possible array of settings might be: ISO 100, shutter speed 1/840, aperture f/4.5.

6- Expect the unexpected. Horses are living things, not cars. We can't always predict what they will do. Always have your camera ready to capture that rear or buck or fall (even if that isn't very nice of us photographers, but most riders love pictures of them having problems), but always always always be ready to book it if the horse decides to bolt.

7- Be patient. If you have ever had to deal with stubborn children, whether your own, baby-sitting, or teaching a first grade class, working with horses is the same. You must refrain from getting angry at them, or you may not get that shot you wanted, because you won't have a happy horse anymore if you scare them. They have feelings too, and we all have to respect that.

8- Be creative with your shots! When around the barn or at a show especially, take pictures of things people aren't normally looking at. No one really cares about that boring, typical headshot. Take pictures behind-the-scenes. Candid shots are great!

9 - Clean ponies: This is fairly self-explanatory. The cleaner the horse, the more professional a shot is bound to look. If you are hired to take pictures for a barn, make sure you tell them to clean their horses rigorously before you get there.

10 -The rider: If you are photographing people riding horses, the rider is just as important to the picture as the horse. We all know that horses are much more beautiful than humans, but we must work with that anyways. A bad expression or position may take an otherwise fine picture and make it ugly. Smiles and correct posture can't detract from any photo taken, and most certainly not when dealing with horses and riders.

Got all that?

Now go grab your camera, and you're ready to be an awesome equine photographer.

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2 responses

  • John W Decker

    John W Decker (Deleted) gave props (17 Jan 2009):

    Great story. I've only photographed a few horses (with limited success) so this info is priceless!

  • tim gilbert

    tim gilbert said (29 May 2016):

    I must disagree about the use of flashes. I've used flashes with many horses and have never had a problem. I always test the horse with his handler holding him first but have never had a problem. They don't even flinch.

    Just be sure to stay awake if you're in the arena! Horses can change direction faster than you can move.

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