It’s not a secret that I believe horses to be the most magnificent animal on our planet, and I know thousands of fellow equestrians would agree with me. It's therefore not a surprise that I would combine two of the loves of my life - horses and photography - into equine photography.
I'm often asked what is required to photograph horses, so I have provided a few simple tips for you to get started on taking the best equine photography images of your horse possible.
A decent DSLR and a telephoto lens of at least 135mm will be ample. The pincushion distortion a telephoto lens creates works very well on horse motifs and will make the horse look more compact and elegant. For professional equine photography I use and recommend:
Canon 135mm f/2.0: This lens is perfect for portraits of a horse and its owner. It produces a really nice bokeh, is fast and pin sharp. Canon 70-200mm f/2.8: This is my go to lens for just about everything else. It's super fast, especially for horses in movement as this lens has more flexibility than the prime 135mm lens. Canon 5D Mark II, III, IV or 1DX: As a professional the camera body is as important as the lens. For an equine photo session you’ll need a fast camera, a good noise performance (especially when shooting action motifs in bad weather) and, of course, a fine sensor for high quality images.
Use the best times of the day
Lighting is the key in all photography. Early morning light, half an hour after sunrise, and the light an hour or so before sunset (referred to as Golden Hour) can help you to shoot some truly exquisite photographs.
Depending on the weather, when the sun is at its highest in the sky it can be tricky as you’ll find the light casts quite a bit of shadow.
Overcast days are often the best for shooting sharp, clean shots.
Where to shoot is often out of your control, and indoor arenas can be challenging due to the lack of natural light, however many of the latest professional DSLRs have fantastic low light options.
I avoid using flash, for obvious reasons. If I am to provide lighting it is via a studio light box, which I may choose to use in some of my horse portraiture sessions.
Look for good lighting. Choose light, golden areas like a sand arena to reflect light back up on the horse and rider
Choose your backgrounds
I prefer to put some distance between the background and the horse. This is called depth-of-field. Avoid placing the horse right up against hedges or trees. If a tree is in the background, with a good depth-of-field, ensure there are no branches sticking out above the horse's head as you look through the lens. This can save a lot of post editing time afterwards! Look for areas that reflect light. For example, arena surfaces can play havoc with shots as dark rubber surfaces suck the life out of photos. Find light, golden surfaces that will reflect light up onto the horse and/or rider.
Get those ears forward
Ask someone to stand out of sight and make a noise while everyone else is quiet.
If the horse can’t see where the noise is coming from, he’ll use his ears to find it.
Be sure to send your sound maker in the direction you want the ears to point and take care not to startle the horse or upset him.
Photographing the perfect jump
I lock onto the horse's eye as I'm following her before she approaches the jump. This enables the sharpness and clarity of the shot. Knowing the precise moment to press the shutter button as the hooves rise over the jump comes with practice but your camera’s frame rate can help. The quicker its rate, the more frames it can shoot in a short period of time from which you'll have a range of varying jump shots to choose from.
Preparing your models
If you're photographing for others, the amount of preparation is completely up to you (or the horse's owner). If you are photographing different horse breeds, it's a good idea to research the breed type and their characteristics. I'd suggest to the owner they present the horse as they would do in preparation for a show or competition. For example, clean, clipped, hooves painted, make up and ensure any gear the horse will be wearing is clean and oiled also. For your human, suggest several outfit changes, emphasising they dress appropriately for the weather and season. I always recommend they have their hair and make-up professionally done, however it is important they feel the most comfortable in themselves.
Seize the moment
While the above guidelines are great, always be on the lookout for opportunities to express your creativity. If you see a beautiful shot, take it! It doesn't matter if the lighting, background or clothing isn't right. Often what can make a winning photo is the emotion displayed within it. And remember to have fun!
If you see a beautiful shot, take it! Go with your gut instincts. Some of my most treasured images have been when I felt the moment to be right, despite the conditions.