No matter what you do in the horse business — training, sales, breeding, instruction — you probably find yourself regularly in need of some decent photos of your horses. Equine photography is a challenging practice, which is why there are so many professional photographers out there just waiting to take your next conformation shot. So what are some great ways to improve your eye for equine photography? We have some tips for taking great horse photos.
Pick your lighting: Either full shade or full sun, there is no in-between. Camera light meters, even relatively basic ones like your smartphone camera, will work best in consistent lighting. The camera is going to focus on either the dark shades of the photo or the light ones, which can lead to over or under-exposed photos when it’s trying to pick and choose. So if your horse is in the shade, make sure you and the background are in the shade, too. Otherwise, you might get a mess.
Snap, snap, and snap again: When’s the last time your horse stood perfectly still for more than a second. Take multiple photos in a row, even if you think you nailed it on the first shot. You’re going to have tail-swishes, muscle twitches, head-bobs, eyelid-blinks, and leg-resting to account for. If you’re using a smartphone, it’s easy to tap the screen repeatedly to get multiple photos within milliseconds.
Pose for your audience: You know different disciplines and different buyers are looking for different things. Are you tailoring your photos to meet their needs? If you’re a quarter horse breeder, you might be used to taking conformation shots that focus on your horse’s hindquarters, but if you need to sell a thoroughbred making its way through your barn, that picture isn’t going to help out the average thoroughbred enthusiast or breeder.
Selling a performance horse? Get performance shots – a nice balanced trotting photo is usually a good choice. Remember that multiple photo trick from above, because there are a few moments in every horse’s trot that look downright messy. You want a photo of a foreleg swinging forward in front of the chest, not bent underneath in mid-stride.
Shoot from below: Did you know that many photos could be improved if the photographer just crouched a little? Getting slightly below eye-level (a lot below eye-level if you’re photographing a foal or pony) can really improve a shot. Looking down on your subject — which in this case might be some of your horse’s finer points such as his shoulder — is rarely flattering.
Obsess over your background: A poor background ruins your photo in obvious ways, so avoid clutter, forgotten farm tractors, broken fencing, litter, kid’s toys, etc. What’s less obvious is how one uneven fence-line close to your horse’s back, abdomen, or hooves can make your perfectly balanced horse look off. Take a few test photos of various spots around your farm before you decide on the right location for your confirmation shots.
Get technical: If you really want to produce professional photos, you’re going to have to dive deeper than point-and-shoot photos. You can start online with pages like Learn to Take Photo’s Basics of Equine Photography, but eventually you might want to invest in a full course that examines the principles of photography and today’s high-tech cameras. Websites such as lynda.com offer photography courses to get you started; then you can add in special equine-friendly techniques by taking a workshop with a professional equine photographer.
A great horse photo might look like wizardry, but it’s really about study and practice. And with your business relying on photos in our digital, visual-heavy economy, it’s a technique worth learning.