Marit Hilarius

Tips on horse photography

wednesday 20 April 2016, 11:57 by | 6602 times read | 0 comments

If you've never worked with horses before, or you're not a horse person, horse photography can be really challenging. This is because there are certain 'rules' when it comes to the shooting and how horse owners want to see their horse in a photo.

I will give you some tips, so you can deliver great photos even without any knowledge of horses.

Your lens

When shooting horse, photographers pretty much always use zoom lenses. It's important that the horse maintains its own proportions and that its physique is framed realistically, and with a zoom lens there's little risk of possible deformations. Using a wide angle lens will lead to deformations much more quickly.

Another advantage of using a zoom lens is that you can shoot from quite some distance. Aside from the fact that this provides some extra security, it's also simply more pleasant for the horse. The horse will usually not even really notice you and will become fearful or nervous less quickly.

Ideally you would choose a fast zoom lens, so as to really separate the horse from its background, and to be able to create beautiful bokeh. My favorite lens when shooting horses is the 70-200mm f/2.8, which is one of the most commonly used lenses in this branch of photography.


The background

The background is, of course, extremely important for a good image. Make sure there aren't any disturbing objects in the background, such as dunghills, fences, wheelbarrows or other objects that don't belong in your background.

Think about the purpose with which you're going out to shoot. Are these photos to be used in selling the horse? Then it's not very efficient to shoot the horse in high grass, because its legs won't be visible anymore. If the photos serve as a memory for the horse's owner, then high grass can really add to the atmosphere of an image.

Make sure you always place the horse at a considerable distance from the background. This creates bokeh and the background won't take up any attention.


The shooting

In general
Horses can change their whole outlook by simply moving their ears. If the horse has its ears backwards, then it's angry or frightened. If its ears are hanging then the horse is bored, tired or calm and not alert.

Ideally you want an alert, happy and energetic horse! This horse will have its ears forward. Preferably with an upright neck, which means the horse is standing upright and energetic.

Getting this effect is easy with some horses, and with others you can put on an entire show before anything happens. Usually a plastic bag, a phone with some sounds and some food serves well enough.

Make sure you're ready
Horses aren't known for their patience, and it might well be that 10 minutes after they arrive they're already done with standing still. If animals are done then it's usually best to stop, because it will show in your images.

Make sure you know beforehand what it is you want to do and where you want to take your photos. This also enables you to clearly direct the horse's guide. Set up your camera beforehand too, so you can get to work right away!

Make sure you shoot from about chest height, or slightly lower. With a small horse this means bending the knees! With real small horses I sometimes even lay down on the ground to get good results.

This also ensures the sharpness to nicely and gradually decrease on the foreground, creating extra warmth. The farther from the horse you're positioned, the lower the position you can take.

Standing photos
With standing photos, the entire horse is captured in the image, with an emphasis on the physique of the horse. This means it's extra important to have no distortions in the image and to fully capture the horse. These photos are often taken from the side and mostly function as sales images.


Ideally, the horse is square. This means that both its forelegs and its hind legs are standing side to side neatly. Positioning one of the hind legs a little more backwards is very decent too.

You can teach your horse to stand square. If the horse isn't familiar with standing square, you can simply make it take little steps, make it stand still and maybe make it take a little step backwards, until the horse is in the wanted position.

Always make sure your horse is in an upright position, or a little uphill. A horse that has its withers lower than its butt is not something people like to see. Tend to it that the horse's forelegs are not in some little hole, or that he's not standing downhill.

Portrait images
In portrait images, the horse is often captured from its head to around breast height. You really need to pay attention to where you crop your photo. You will want to do this around halfway through the chest, or a little over half of its upper legs.

As to positions, you can do all sorts of things. Simply shooting from the front usually doesn't provide the best results. From the side front is the safest choice and compliments just about every horse.


Action photos
To get nice action photos it's best to let the horse walk freely. You can do this in a closed arena, but it's more beautiful in nature. Use a meadow, or create a paddock in a forest using little poles and wire where the horse can run freely. The horse's owner can guide it around, so you can shoot.


It's important to shoot at the right moment, especially for sales and riding images.

When the horse is walking, it's difficult to find a hard moment. The most beautiful moment is when the horse is just putting its foreleg forward, but hasn't yet hit the ground.

Trotting is easier. Here, it's best to shoot when the right foreleg and the left hind leg (diagonally) are put forward. This creates two 'V's' in the legs.

In gallop, you need to pay real attention. You'll get the best results when shooting during the horse's upward motion. The horse pushes off against the ground using its hind legs, while its forelegs come off the ground.

Shooting horses is a challenge, but in my opinion a very fun one. Keep in mind that you're working with an animal though, and respect it if the horse is no longer into it. Quit in time; this way it stays fun and everyone can look back on the shoot positively!

Marit Hilarius

About the author

Marit is a photographer who is specialized in advanced Photoshop editing. She has finished an education at the Photo Academy (FotoAcademie) in Amsterdam. Her style is characterized by a fairytalelike atmosphere that she creates in her photos.


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