(It appears Friday the 13th got the best of me…sorry for the delay in this installment of 52 Fridays, hope you enjoy it!)
52 Fridays is a year-long series for equestrian professionals and equine business owners and managers, with marketing and public relations information, ideas, tips, & resources shared here each Friday. New EMAIL blog subscribers receive a ’52 Fridays’ PDF when they sign up; existing subscribers and new RSS FEED & WORDPRESS subscribers can send a request for their own PDF here.
Although I’ve been photographing horses for a while, and have regular contact with pro equine photographers, I still cringe just a bit when the topic of ‘shooting’ horses comes up, even though the only thing aimed at them is a camera lens! Still, it’s a good idea to understand how to get nice-looking, non-distorted images of horses, especially if you’re using those images in your horsebiz marketing.
I’m not a pro photographer, but I’ve been taking candids for decades (remember Kodak Instamatics?), and I’ve always worked to improve my own skills. Here are some things I’ve learned that might come in handy and save you a bit of cash in terms of DIY equine photography.
- Know how your camera works, and when you can push its limits: Because horses and their backgrounds are often monochromatic and have little contrast between the color values, cameras can have a hard time ‘reading’ what’s in front of them, so it’s important to know what your camera can do and how to operate it effectively. And that takes practice, practice, practice…personally, I still struggle with the relationship between all the camera functions, but I work on understanding it because using manual settings has given me better results and some amazing images. Yes, the ‘auto’ function can still give you useable shots, especially if you’re doing conformation shots on a sunny day, but taking the time to practice can up your ‘wow’ factor and bring more attention to your horsebiz through better images.
- Work with an assistant, or two or three: Having at least one person to help you is invaluable, whether they’re ‘herding’ a horse towards you in a big pasture, or working to get the horse’s attention and their ears forward when posed. If you can have several assistants, even better. Review what you want to accomplish ahead of time, so everyone knows their role.
Be willing and able to move around: The best images come when your camera is positioned approximately at the middle of the horse’s barrel. Shooting from higher or lower can result in weirdly distorted images, such as the classic ‘huge nose, tiny body’ looks. Be willing and able to move around, even if you have to kneel on the ground. Kneepads can come in handy here, and always use common sense and safe practices, since horses can be unexpected and dangerous.
- Know expected norms for your breed and discipline: Each horse breed and sport discipline showcases different gaits, movements, and features, so do some study ahead of time to know what they are and how to position or time your shots for those moments. For example, Arabians in hand are expected to arch and extend their necks, showcasing dainty throatlatches and beautiful heads. Under saddle, the dressage world loves an amazing extended trot, while Saddlebreds are shown in an ‘up’ trot motion. Always be willing to try variations and new things, but be sure you get those basics down.
- Horses give you a limited window to shoot, so be prepared: Make sure your horse is groomed and shined to a ‘T’ before you start. Have a beautiful halter, either a show halter or nicely polished and clean leather halter, and a pretty lead. If you’re turning a horse loose in a paddock for liberty shots, do a walk-over before bringing the horse out to be sure there aren’t any holes, rocks, or dangerous objects, and remember to take the halter off and brush down any halter marks before turning him loose. The most animated shots will generally be in the first 5 to 15 minutes of freedom and frolicking, so capture those first; you can always do in-hand or more contemplative shots later. And watch out for those horses that like to roll!
- Some shots can still be salvaged in post-production: You’d be surprised how good some shots can look once you do a nice crop, and fix some basic things like color levels. Try out different software; there are free editing tools available online that can give you nice results.
There are still times when it pays to hire a professional photographer, but building a few photography tricks into your repetoire can give you better results and help you stretch your marketing budget.
Many thanks to all the teachers and pros who have helped me improve my own photography, including the wonderful Gabriele Boiselle, who teaches equine photo-seminars for amateurs in gorgeous settings around the world.
What’s your biggest challenge in getting a good horse photo? Share yours via the Leave a Comment link below. See you here next Friday for 52 Fridays #19!
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