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Taking Horse Pictures

When taking pictures of horses, what our eye sees and what the camera sees and translates for us, is not always the same thing. Here are some tips for taking a horse picture that will help you get the best results.

Taking Horse Pictures: LIGHTING

The first thing to take into consideration when taking a picture of a horse, is to have the lighting correct. This might be different depending on what kind of picture you are wanting to take…portrait, action, atmospheric, etc. Normally an fairly brightly overcast day will cover most situations. But if the horse will be standing still or moving very slowly, a low light situation for your picture will work. If there is any kind of action though, the shutter will have to stay open too long to allow enough light in for the picture, and this will cause blurring. So save the action shots for brighter light or when you can be close enough to use a flash.

If you are taking pictures in bright sunlight, be sure first of all to have the sun to your back and hitting the subject (horse). You want to be sure that at least one of the horse’s eyes is in the sunlight, with a night “catch light” that will highlight within the eye. If the eyes are both in shadow, it gives them a vacant look without much personality. Be aware that pictures taken in bright light will tend to be very contrasty, i.e., the shadow areas tend to go to solid black and some of the brightest highlights may wash out to a solid almost white. But on the other hand, pictures of horses in bright sunlight can also produce some beautiful sheen on the coat, and some nice shadows that will make the horse appear more 3D.

Taking Horse Pictures: SETTING UP THE POSE

When setting a horse up for a posed picture, usually the most flattering shots are from the side, or a 3 quarter view from the front. Different breeds have different ways they are traditionally presented for a picture. Arabian horses, for instance, are set up with both front legs even and the hind legs apart, with the near hind leg (the one closest to the viewer) being behind the far hind leg. The reason for this is that the Arab, having one less vertebra than other breeds and thus a shorter back, is supposed to have a flat croup. Standing them in this way accentuates the flatness of the croup (the top of the rump that leads into the tail). The Arabian horse’s tail should be held high for the picture, and the neck should be up and gracefully arched, displaying a proud and noble presence.

Arabian Horse Picture

Quarter Horses on the other hand, were bred for strength. When taking pictures of this breed, the best shots are usually 3 quarter from the front or a rear shot. If taking a picture of a Quarter Horse from the side, take about 2 steps in the direction of the rear of the horse so your angle is at least slightly from the rear. That will accentuate the wonderful muscling of the Quarter Horse’s hind quarters and define the muscles in his legs, etc. With any horse, avoid taking pictures from the front as this gives the horse the appearance of having a too large head and underdeveloped body.

Quarter Horse Picture

Be sure to learn about the breed of horse you are taking pictures of, to best set the horse up for the shot. It helps a lot to have at least one other person helping you, rattling a can of grain or shaking a plastic bag in the distance at the moment you will be taking the picture, will get the horses ears up and an alert expression. Also be aware of objects that might detract from the picture, such as a telephone pole behind the horse that may appear to be “growing” out of his neck for instance. The less clutter there is in the background, the better the picture will be.

Taking Horse Pictures: FRAMING THE SUBJECT

With the marvels of modern camera’s and programs such as photoshop, framing the horse in your picture is not as critical as it once was, as it can be cropped and manipulated later in the computer. But it doesn’t hurt to try getting your picture right the first time.

Unless there are elements in the background that you would like included in your picture composition, fill the frame up with the horse. But take that as a general rule. If you are wanting a nicely composed overall picture rather than just a portrait type of picture, then by all means set the horse up with other background elements in mind. Try not to cut your picture in half. Thirds are more pleasing to the eye. As seen in the picture below, the ground meets the sky about a third of the way up the picture. It would not be nearly as interesting if the ground met the sky halfway up the picture.
Also the ground is not straight across the picture, but goes down at an angle a bit. There are other things in this picture that aren’t desirable, such as the fence rail at the bottom and the horse’s head being hidden in the grass. But the lighting is good, as the sheen it causes on the horses coat shows the contours of his body. If this dark horse had been in shadow, his body here would be pretty much just a black silhouette.

Horse Picture

Taking Horse Pictures: ACTION PICTURES

Taking action pictures of horses can be a little tricky, but with some practice, you can get some very interesting shots.

You will have the best luck if the horse is moving with the sun on the side you will be taking the picture of. This will also put the sun to your back which is what you want. The brighter the light for the picture, the faster the camera will record the image and less chance of getting blurred legs.

If the horse is running in, say a corral or arena, stand facing the area of the enclosure where the lighting is optimal, focus on the fence or ground in the approximate area and wait for the horse to come into the frame, rather than you following the horse around with the camera. In this kind of situation, you may want to pull back a little and not have the horse fill up the entire frame, as this gives you a little more leeway to capture the entire horse in your picture and less likely to get a picture of a headless neck or just a tail. It also helps here to have an assistant to encourage the horse to go in the direction you would like him to. Of course, never force a horse
to run or frighten them into something they don’t want to do!

Here is an example of the kind of blur you get in low light. This picture was taken in an enclosed arena and I was using a zoom lens so was fairly far from the horse, making my flash not too effective. I have many pictures from this shoot of gorgeous Arabian stallions in wonderful action poses, with legs nothing but a blur. Since I take pictures to paint from, these kinds of pictures are useless to me. If this horse had been a darker color, it would not have stood out as well as this gray even does.

Arabian Horse Picture

In constrast, the picture below was taken on the same day, only in the paddock outside with lightly overcast sky. The blue wrapped near fore leg has a slight blur but the rest of all 4 legs are well in focus, and something I can use to paint from. This gray Arabian is going at about the same speed as the Arabian in the picture above.

Arabian Horse Picture

With a little knowledge, some luck and a lot of practice, taking the right horse picture will become second nature. Have fun!

Thank you to the folks at www.horseartcollection.com for this very useful information.