Much of what makes horses attractive — their strength, power and a mind of their own — also makes taking great photos of horses very tough.
From tender moments between horse and owner to action shots of horses competing or galloping in nature, it is a wonderful thing to be able to capture the elegance and grace in photographic form; but it takes a bit of expertise.
When photographing horses, you have two main aspects to get to grips with; the animal, and the camera.
In this guide, we offer advice to any beginner wishing to get that perfect shot when photographing horses.
If you want your subject to look his best, make sure you groom your horse before you begin your photoshoot. Be sure to also clean any tack you are going to be using.
You may, on the other hand, wish to catch more candid shots of your horse rolling around and enjoying himself, in which case grooming is not always necessary.
Do be aware of flies, as they will not only show up in photos but may distract your horse and affect his ability to stay still if you need him to. Grab some fly spray if this is likely to be an issue.
Take some time to learn about horse body language cues, as these can help alert you to whether or not your equine subject is happy, or is getting distressed. For example, the position of a horse’s ears can tell us a lot about whether he is nervous or content!
If you are not shooting your own horse, find out about the character of the horse from his owner, and spend some time letting the horse get used to you and your camera before you begin shooting.
Make sure you have good lighting, as if there is not enough light, images can turn out blurry. If there is too much, on the other hand, your photos may end up looking washed out.
Be mindful of what else is in the shot. Aim to have your horse in an environment that isn’t cluttered and distracting, and if you are shooting a horse and somebody riding or holding him, consider what they are wearing. Avoid scruffy or dirty clothing and perhaps consider having them wear colours that are complementary to the horse’s own colouring.
Make sure you have a memory card with plenty of space, and preferably a few spares. A spare battery is usually a good idea too as you don’t want your battery dying on you just as you’re getting into the swing of things.
You should avoid using flash around horses, as this can spook them. It is also a good idea to use silent mode if your camera has this feature.
When photographing horses, use a fast shutter speed. Fast shutter speeds freeze movement, so are suitable even for portraits; as a horse’s moving ears or tails could create blur. If you are shooting an event or race you will want your camera to be able to capture the shot even faster, so set your shutter speed as high as the lighting will allow. In low light you may need bump up the ISO, though this does increase.
If you are new to photography, it’s fine to shoot on the automatic mode. If you have an understanding of shutter speeds, TV mode (which stands for Time Value) will allow you to set the shutter speed, but take control of aperture for you. Many digital cameras have a sports mode, which would also be a good choice.
As you develop your equestrian photography skills, however, you’ll want to rely less on automatic modes and more on the manual approach. Take the time to understand the difference between camera modes (you can find a great article which explains this perfectly here) and don’t feel disheartened if your first images when shooting manually don’t come out brilliantly.
As your knowledge and skills develop, you’ll find yourself learning from mistakes and poor judgements on lighting, shutter speeds and aperture and bettering your last set of photographs each and every time.
Whether you’re new to equestrian photography or consider yourself a veteran, we’d love to see your shots. Why not head over to our Facebook page and share your favourite snaps?