Snap That Shot! 15 Tips to Help You Take Winning Photos of Your Horse

March 29, 2021 8 min read

Snap That Shot! 15 Tips to Help You Take Winning Photos of Your Horse

How many times do you use your phone to take photos in a day? From capturing the pretty sky to taking a picture of a beautiful plate of food–taking photos has become a habit. It’s not surprising then that we snap hundreds of photos of our beloved four-legged companions. If you scroll through your phone’s gallery, we’re sure they take up most of the space.

Unlike taking photos of furry cats and dogs, though, equine photography involves making the most of available locations, overcoming a few challenges, and learning new tricks with your camera. Though the basic principles of photography still apply, there are certain aspects that set horse photography apart because it requires preparing your horse, picking a location, and making sure your riding partner is groomed for the occasion.

From getting your equipment ready to highlighting your subject, here are 15 tips to keep in mind that will help you achieve display-worthy photographs:

1. Finalize who needs to be present for the shoot.

It’s best to figure out if you need help when taking photographs of your equine or you prefer to do it solo. To be able to achieve good results, have at least two people at the shoot. One can be in charge of taking the photos, and the other, will be the one guiding the horse. For the latter role, it must be someone your four-legged friend is comfortable being around with for a breezy shoot. Doing it alone is not only exhausting, it would need extra precaution, too, because your attention will be split between two vital tasks.

2. Prepare pegs and a shot list.

It’s a must that the shoot doesn’t take up too much time so you can be sure your horse will cooperate. Having a list of poses you want to capture and pegs that can set the tone of the shoot will save you time while ensuring a smooth-sailing day. Check horse photography portraits online for ideas and note the blocking you want to recreate.

Don't be afraid to get up close and personal for beautiful horse portraits!

3. Condition your horse for the shoot.

Make sure your equine is well-rested, bathed, and brushed before he faces the camera. It helps if your riding partner is in a good mood, too! After all, you don’t want to take photos of an unhappy horse.

4. Groom your horse for its close-up.

A well-groomed horse will register better on camera. Make him more photogenic by dressing your companion in nice, high-quality tack. It doesn’t have to be fancy or colorful–just make sure it’s comfortable and neatly secured, especially the belts.

If you’re taking a side profile of your horse wherein the whole body is parallel to the frame, the saddle and half pad will be seen so make sure these are in good condition, too. If your four-legged friend is used to having a head collar on, get a leather one and make sure the straps are secured while looking neat. You can alsobraid your horse’s mane for an extra oomph or use grooming oils to get that extra shine for photos.

5. Showcase your favorite riding apparel.

If you’re having photos taken with your riding companion, it’s a must to look the part. Here are some of thebasics you need to prepare:

  • Shirt – go for a cotton shirt you can wear on its own or layered with a thicker jacket. You also have the option of wearing long sleeves to protect you from the sun.
  • Pants – which will depend on the look you want to achieve. Go for boot-cut jeans for photos showing leisure riding, equestrian trousers for a more pro look, or leggings to convey a balance between aesthetics and mobility.
  • Riding boots– always go for a comfortable pair that suits the shape of your feet. It should be comfortable enough for long rides.
  • Hats - Complete your ensemble with a hat that matches your outfit or consider wearing a helmet.

When preparing your outfit, make sure the pieces complement each other, and most importantly, your clothes need to match your horse’s tack for a cohesive look.

6. Invest in your own photography equipment.

You don’t need the most expensive camera to be able to take winning shots. What’s important is to be ready with different lenses so you can do a variety of ISO and aperture settings. The most versatile lense you can use is the a 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens as it takes good compressed shots while emphasizing the proportions of your horse. Ideally, you shouldn’t photograph horses with anything less than 85mm to get that professional look. Tripods are also essential especially when doing stationary shots to ensure sharp and blur-free photographs.

7. Know the basic camera settings.

Each pose or layout may require a different camera setting. For starters, it’s best to keep an eye on three basic features:

  • Aperture – to control the level of depth of field
  • Shutter speed – to manage blur
  • ISO – to handle image noise

These settings can also be used to adjust the brightness of your photo. If you’re shooting your equine in action while the photographer is standing still, it’s a must to use a fast shutter speed to guarantee a sharp shot. Taking a few shots in the stable where it’s a bit dark? You can adjust the aperture and ISO settings so you can get the perfect balance of brightness, clarity, sharpness, image noise, and background blur.

8. Be ready to take photos in different backgrounds and locations.

It’s a given you would want to take photos in your horse’s stable or in the arena he’s familiar with. Here are tips to keep in mind if you’re shooting in different areas:

In a stable or barn:

  • These areas tend to be cluttered so look for an area that has less clutter so it’s easier to manage.
  • Take advantage of your barn’s best features. Considering taking a photo by the barn door if it has a fresh coat of paint. It not only serves as a good backdrop; it also adds a nice texture to the photograph while giving a feel of the space.
  • See if you can get a good shot with you and your horse looking out the window. The window can work as a frame.

Taking photos outdoors:

  • If the weather is nice, and you need to check the weather prior to your shoot, consider taking a few shots with nature as your background.
  • Snap a photography along the fences or take a few action shots along the riding track. When taking such shots, be extra cautious as there might be factors that can scare your horse or make it feel uneasy.

Going for studio-like shots:

  • If you’re not too keen on bringing your four-legged friend outside, you can turn a corner of your barn into a studio-like setup where you can work with different backgrounds such as canvas, muslin, seamless paper, cloth, vinyl, and chroma key, to name a few. Pick a background that’s easy to work with and edit.

9. Know which lighting to use.

Unless you’re preparing for a studio shoot, the quality of lighting depends on the amount of natural light available and how you make the most of it. It’s best to take photos a few hours after sunrise or just a couple of hours before the sun sets. Avoid the harsh, direct sunlight of noontime as these produce hard shadows. If natural light is not available, you can always use a large soft box. You can only depend on artificial lighting when taking stationary shots of your equine.

10. Understand what makes a good horse photo.

When do you know you’ve taken a good shot? They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there are universally accepted factors of what makes a winning equine shot. Whether you’re shooting stationary or action shots, take note of these things:

  • Make sure your horse’s mouth is closed
  • Check the eyes – the rule is that the white part should not be seen, especially around the pupils as it signals fear or distress
  • For the ears, you would want it upright and a bit forward

Feel the photo move with captivating action snapshots.

11. Have your horse’s attention at all times.

Keep in mind that when it comes to taking photos of your riding partners, their heads tend to move often and getting them to look at the camera is a challenge. Rustling papers, making soft vocal noises, and playing horse noises using your phone can call your horse to attention without scaring him or her. If all else fails, you can always use grass or hay to capture your maned friend’s attention.

12. Compose a good shot.

You don’t need to be a master photographer to be able to compose a good shot. Conventional wisdom when it comes to composition also applies in horse photography. Taking advantage of the rule-of-thirds grid is a good starting point since most cameras have it on its viewfinders. Using leading lines can work wonders if done correctly as well as these elements guide the viewer’s eyes to the subject.

Framing is also important when taking photos. One trick to achieve good framing is to add a blurred foreground element whenever you can do so as it adds depth while emphasizing the equine more. Filling the frame, on the other hand, works best if you're taking a close up shot of your riding pal.

13. Avoid taking dull stationary shots.

There’s only so much you can do to make stationary shots shine, unless you can make your horse do unique poses. For standard standing shots, always keep in mind the aforementioned tips of checking the mouth, eyes, and ears. Remember that horses look better when their backs are curved.

Skip taking a shot from the front, where both body and the head are facing the camera, especially if the head is a bit lowered. If you’re doing a simple portrait, try to lead your horse to a side profile pose so more of its body can be seen. To achieve this, you need to make sure the angle of the body is turned sideways while the head is facing the camera or vice versa. The same rule applies when shooting from the side or behind of your four-legged friend.

14. Feel the photo move with captivating action snapshots.

Taking a photo of a moving horse can be tricky because it involves good timing and positioning. When shooting a horse in action, always look for elevation as you don’t want to shoot a horse that’s down on the forehand or where the front half of the body is lower than the back. Try to always capture your equine in the gate of powering through the hind.

The tail on the other hand, is at the mercy of the wind, but you would want it flowing out behind as much as possible. Meanwhile, the legs are probably the hardest to time – whether the horse is walking, trotting, or doing a canter. You would want to capture the point in the cadence where there is lift and power from the quarters. One good example of this is when one rear hoof is still pushing off all the three other hooves as if your horse is airborne. For the trot, you’d want to capture the extension of the front and hind legs as if resembling two pairs of scissors.

15. Always err on the side of caution.

All these tips sound exciting and you would want to schedule a shoot soon. Always practice safety first by working with someone who can handle horses or a friend who is familiar with horse behaviors to make it easier. Take breaks in between layouts so your horse won’t get tired and act up. Water breaks can help keep your riding companion in a good mood, too.

As with any other endeavor, horse photography takes practice and patience. Don’t rush the process just because you want to hang a frame in your house. Take small steps and be on your way to accomplishing a successful shoot with your riding partner. In time, you will have a gallery featuring you and your equine friend in action.