52 Fridays – #18 Shoot Horses Better, With Better Camera Skills

(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.

Photographing small details can provide beautiful images and 'mood' for your 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.
  • When you've prepared, you can catch the right moments.

    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!

Read other posts about Facebook by clicking on the Sort Posts By Topic dropdown menu to the right and selecting the Facebook category, or you can select 52 Fridays to read posts #1 through #17.


Filed under 52 Fridays, Equine Industry Marketing, Photography, Uncategorized

14 responses to “52 Fridays – #18 Shoot Horses Better, With Better Camera Skills

  1. Another great post! I’ve been taking pictures for years (it’s part of the job) and I use both a digital and 35mm camera. Quite a few appraisers still use film because it cannot be changed or enhanced. That makes a difference to us, especially if the appraisal is to be used in court. Unfortunately, I have to shoot what I see on an inspection trip and some times it’s a horse just pulled out of the field, muddy coat & all.

    Back when I had a stallion, we used to do a 3/4 shot to show off the large rear and heavy hindquarter muscling of the Quarter Horse. If you kneel down on one knee, angled at about 45% from the tail and shoot at the point of the hip, you can get a lovely shot. It is especially nice if you can get the horse to turn his head toward you, as if he is looking over his shoulder. Mine usually did because he was basically a mama’s boy and nosy too.

    • That’s a great point, Susan, about the difference between film and digital and the ‘retouchability’ of each, including legal implications. Thanks for taking the time to mention that.

      And thanks for pointing out the ‘ideal’ Quarter Horse conformation shot angle, that’s good info and since there are so many QHs out there, I’m sure others will find the info useful, too! LK

  2. Thank you for the excellent article! I often use my own horses as ‘models’ for my artwork. I also have clients who commission me to paint their horse. My biggest struggle is to paint from poor photos, especially if the client is long distance and I never get to see the horse in person. I will use this article as a reference for my clients!

    • Hi Sue, that’s a wonderful use of this info! Excellent point about horse photos used for artwork.

      I’m sure your artwork clients will also be happy to use these ideas to have better photos of beloved horses that have passed…most of the photos I have from my childhood horses are of the ‘bad’ (e.g. weirdly distorted, not posed well, etc.) type, so while they bring back memories for me, they’re not ones I’d be able to blow up & display. Thanks for sharing your comment & idea! LK

  3. Another thing…when you use your horse for marketing purposes, or in ab asoect if your business you can right off a portion of expenses paid for your horse..having good records helps in April…Another example of using what you have the fullest.
    Thanks for such insightful posts…Cynthia

    • Thanks, Cynthia, good point, appreciate you sharing this!

      I’d caution horsebiz owners to get an opinion from their accountant or tax specialist who is familiar with their business on how to handle something like this, and review from year to year because tax laws change. And absolutely, you need to have good records! LK

  4. Great article! Another thing I’d like to suggest is for horse owners, before releasing a photo to the public, look at every aspect of the photo – including what the horse’s ears and eyes are saying.

    Not to make everyone paranoid, but, as a photographer, I know that the shutter grabs a fraction of an expression. Part of a yawn or a laugh can be mistaken as pain in humans.

    Likewise, with horses, a feature that’s acceptable or desired in a particular discipline can be misinterpreted by a photograph’s viewers. One equestrian’s beauty can all too easily cause another equestrian disgust.

    So, I’d like to suggest that we look at the horse’s body language as a whole when we select photos demonstrating breed or discipline standards. The horse’s legs and neck may be in the desired position for a photo, but please consider the position of a horse’s eyes and ears.

    A photograph taken in the “right” millisecond can make effort look a lot like pain.

    • Very good thought, Rhonda! And if something looks like that for horsefolk, imagine what those unfamiliar with equine expressions could think.

      Just as with text, it’s always a good idea to review an image thoroughly before it goes online or into print. LK

  5. I like the tips! I will try them out.

  6. Great tips – I’ve recently been taking pics at horsey events and am getting mediocre results. The lighting often isn’t great at indoor venues and the horses move fast!

    One thing that helps me is using “burst” mode on the camera rather than single shot. It results in a LOT of photos, but a greater quantity of usable pictures.

    • Hi Nick,
      Yes, photographing horses is a challenge. I learned a lot from a workshop I attended with Gabriele Boiselle, I highly recommend checking her out. Thanks for visiting my blog! LK

  7. Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll have a read of her site 🙂

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