Good pictures of horses are important whether you are selling a horse, advertising your stallion or wanting a good picture of your favorite equine partner for the family album. You do not need to be an expert photographer to take good pictures—-just follow a few basic procedures for successful horse photography.
The digital camera is the most versatile tool that the amateur photographer can have. You can take many, many pictures and can choose only the best to print or publish. No need to pay for rolls and rolls of film to be developed. A “point and shoot” digital is sufficient to take the traditional confirmation shot with the horse parallel to the camera. Do not fill the frame with the horse as the nose side and tail side may be slightly distorted, if you do. Better to back up for the shot and crop later—either with scissors or photo software on your computer.
Avoid three quarter shots or hind three quarter shots with the point and shoot camera. The lens is hardly ever sufficiently long for these photos. We’ve all seen those pictures that make the horse look like he has an extremely distorted head and this is the reason. The photographer couldn’t control the depth of field with the point and shoot camera. The digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera with a long lens (90-100mm range) allows you the most creative control. The auto settings do a good job, but experiment with the manual settings, if you are so inclined. Spend a little time looking at good horse pictures in equine publications—periodicals or books. Look for pictures taken by professional photographers, such as Larry Larson in South Dakota. Also, there are several books on equine photography—-one I like is Photographing Horses by Lesli Groves. And, there is always the option of attending a horse photography clinic, if you want to invest the time and money. To prepare the horse for the photo shoot, groom him to show off his best features. Use a coat conditioner and/or a shine product and don’t forget the fly spray. A swishing tail never adds to the final product. The better he looks, the better his pictures will look! When you are ready to take pictures, always stand with the sun behind you and shining directly on the horse with his shadow directly behind him. Try to avoid shadows on your subject. The camera doesn’t see with the same definition as the eye does. The golden light just before sunset is perfect for horse pictures. Stand in line with the base or just behind the horse’s withers, kneel down to lower your camera angle toward the center of the horse and click! when his ears point forward.
The classic poses and how to shoot them:
The classic profile is the pose most often taken and for good reason. It is the most flattering to most horses and it is the easiest for the photographer. This pose is the most natural for the horse to assume. You want the horse to stand balanced with all four feet showing—-the two near feet (closest to the camera) farther apart than the other two. Ears foreword—Snap! To see the horse’s face, have a helper use a mirror to direct the horse’s head toward the camera just until the bulge of the second eye shows. Ears foreword—Snap!
Another classic pose is the three quarter view. In this shot, you want all four feet squarely under him. Position the camera so there is about the same amount of space between all four legs. Kneel to lower the camera angle and when the shot looks good—Snap! This applies to three quarter poses taken from the front of the horse or from the back. A telephoto lens is essential for a good three quarter shot!
Classic head shots give the photographer a bit more leeway. If you study head shots, there doesn’t seem to be a “standard”. Try different angles, poses lighting and so on. Often you can crop a very nice head shot from a full body picture that doesn’t measure up to a classic profile. Remember, the plainer the background, the better; shoot from below; use available light; and try to capture the horse’s expression, the glint in his eye and the smile on his face.
Of course, taking pictures of loose horses does not allow for all the posing. In this case, patience is the order of the day. You go to where the horse is, sit and wait. Eventually you will get a good shot. The same principles apply—lighting—position—poses—and a helper to attract or distract the horse! And enjoy the experience!
Now for those of you who take pictures of horses to sell on the internet—in addition to the classic poses of profile, three quarter and head shots, there is another picture you should consider taking—-the straight on leg shot. It’s not pretty, but it may be the essential photo that sells your horse. It’s difficult buying a horse sight unseen, so to show those straight legs is critical.
Good horse photography is a challenge. In this article I’ve tried to outline some points that you may find helpful, but a word of caution. Even professional photographers seldom capture the horse perfectly. But it is sure fun trying!