How to Take Better Pictures of Your Horse
Equine Photography is an art form all to itself. Each breed has special poses and preferences that one should note before attempting to take pictures of their horse. To make matters worse, photographing horses often involves no less than three people, the rider or handler of the horse, the photographer, and the person whose job it is to stand out of the picture and get the horse to put its ears forward.
Get the Location in Order
Decide where you will be photographing the horse. A green pasture looks better than a muddy coral. Professional breeders often keep a special pasture (or their front yard) used only for photography purposes, as such it always looks pristine. Less clutter makes a better picture. You will want the sun high or behind you (the photographer) as this will put the light on the animal.
photo source a very nice picture, note how the horses head is in front of the sky rather than the trees, which would have been distracting. I would have prefered not to see this large halter on the horse.
Get the Horse Looking its Best
The horse needs to be bathed and groomed as if it was attending a horse show. Clip its whiskers, bridle path, and ears (how much you clip the ears depends on your weather, but at least pinch the sides together and trim the fuzzies that stick out). They can have baby oil on their muzzle, around their eyes, and in their ears (if fully shaved). In shots of the whole horse care should be taken that it is groomed well, white markings look white, the feed should be polished. Tack should be equally cleaned and prepared. The rider should be as equally turned out for the shoot.
Have an idea in your mind of the pictures you want to capture. Perhaps you are looking for a natural shot of your horse at play, or a more posed one. Perhaps you are looking for a shot of the whole horse, or just a neck/shoulder shot. Perhaps you want an action shot, of the horse under saddle, or going over a jump. Have your plan in mind. If you are going to get some natural shots, and some under saddle, do the natural ones first or you will have a sweaty horse with saddle marks.
Again it is a good idea to look at pictures of your breed to know what kinds of poses are best suited to it.
photo source Quarter horses are frequently photographed from behind to show off their muscular hindquarters. Usually they are stood square with their head turned, this one is clearly at play. They could have cropped the person out of the picture.
With most horses standing shots, when taken from the side, should show all the horses legs. This is best done if the near front leg is placed slightly ahead of the far front leg. The near rear leg should be placed slightly further back than the other. The horses head should be either a perfect profile or turned slightly towards the camera. Care should be taken that the entire horse is within the camera frame.
The main trick is to get the horses ears forward. This is where another helper is important. They need to be creative and have a “bag of tricks”. Throwing balls into the air, jumping up and down, dressing up in mascot costumes (I have even seen one assistant wear a white bear skin). You need to do things that the horse is not familiar with and will not expect. If the horse has been handled well to this point, it will not be spooked, but instead will be keen on the unusual activity and put its ears forward.
Action shots involve using a better camera. Move the camera with the horse so the background is blurred but the horse is in focus. Except over fences, most action shots are at the trot, particularly for English horses. You will want to take the picture when the far front leg is at its height. At a canter, or lope, take the picture when the front legs are extended. Over fences you need to take the picture just before (or just as) the horse girth area is over the fence, when the knees are tucked.
Be sure you have yourself at a good angle, the horses head should be turned so you can see the markings, but not so angled the photo becomes out of proportion. Again, having the ears forward is key to having a good picture.
photo source a good picture except for the fact the horses ears are back, a bit more light on the face might have been good too.
When the photos are done be sure to crop out excess areas of space, but always leave more room in front of the horse. Take care never to crop too close to the horse or to remove parts of is body, legs, ears, or tail. Crop head shots close, but make sure you keep the neck in the picture, ideally showing a bit of the shoulder too.
photo source a nice amount of space was left in front of the horse, but sadly its feet were cut off.