Horses are considered one of the most magnificent animals on the planet. Perhaps it’s their strength and elegant moves. Or maybe it’s their mane and gentle spirit that draws people to them. Whatever the case may be, horses are quite often a subject of many great photos. In this post, we’ll talk about what horse photography encompasses, and share tips and tricks for starting with horse photography, taking horse photos, and camera settings for horse photography as well. Let’s get started!

What Does Horse Photography Encompass?

As the name suggests, horse photography is a very broad term that describes taking professional photos of horses. However, you can narrow it down into several categories:

  • Portraits of horses and their owners where the main subject is the human and horse bond. This includes family photos as well as branding photos.
  • Equine portraits where the main subject is the horse itself. This includes clients who want professional photos of horses they’re breeding or racing as well as photos taken for sentimental reasons.
  • Group equine photos which can include horseback riding groups, rodeo teams, show horses, and similar.
  • Equine photography as part of local events such as fairs and festivals
  • Features horse-related products
  • Wild horse photography as part of general wildlife photography
  • Black and white horse photography that captures horses uses only gray tones.
  • And finally sea horse photography that can capture horses galloping along the coastline.

How to Get Started With Horse Photography

As you can see from above, there is no shortage of opportunities to photograph horses. However, since you’re dealing with an animal that is generally skittish in nature, the main thing to keep in mind is to stay safe.

white horse galloping
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Tips For Staying Safe

As wonderful as horses are, they can easily be spooked by sudden movement, the sound of your camera, as well as the flash. On top of that, horses are big and strong animals that can easily hurt you if they get scared. Here are a few tips that will help you stay safe while capturing horse photography:

  • By nature, horses are prey animals. They rely on their instinct to stay alive and when they feel threatened, they will usually try to flee. In some cases, they will back up or even buck to get away from a dangerous situation. As such, you should always leave enough space for the horse to retreat. Avoid coming up from behind them or stand directly in front of them.
  • Directly in line with the above, if the horse feels threatened and it can’t run away, they might kick, bite, or buck in an effort to defend themselves. Pay attention to the horse’s body language and watch for signs that indicate the horse is agitated. This includes laying back their ears, curling their upper lip, showing the whites of their eyes, tossing their heads, and snorting.
  • Keep in mind that horses have a lot of blind spots. Avoid placing the client or yourself in the blind spots as you run the risk of getting injured if the horse gets startled. If you need to get into the blind spot, keep your hand on the horse and talk to it in a calm and soothing voice.
  • Generally, try to work slowly and be patient to minimize the chances of the horse getting upset. Horses can sense when you’re upset or when you’re trying to rush things and will usually respond in the same manner. Therefore, if you want the horse to be happy and relaxed during a photoshoot, learn to be patient and relax yourself.
  • Avoid using flash abruptly and start photographing the horse the minute the lights are up. Instead, let the horse adjust and acclimate itself to the lights, the stands, and other props before snapping photos.
  • Talk to the horse handler about the horse before the shoot and ask him about the horse’s nature and experience with photographers. Listen to what they tell you and follow their advice as the handler knows the horse the best.

If you’re a starting photographer, you might want to check out the best places on the Internet to learn photography.

dark brown horse photograph captured from the side
Photo by Marylou Salon on Unsplash

Tips For Horse Photography

Now that we’ve covered the safety tips, let’s talk about actual tips for photographing horses.

Prepare the Horse

Before taking any photos, it’s extremely important to prepare the horse first. Ask the client what breed of horse you’ll be photographing and then learn as much as you can about them. This will give you an idea of what type of poses and shots to aim for. Another important part of preparation includes washing and grooming the horse beforehand.

brown horse looking at the camera lens
Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

Prepare the Studio Setup

It goes without saying that you can’t exactly bring a horse into your photo studio. As such, you need to have a mobile setup that you can take to the horse and set it up where the photos are being taken. Don’t forget to include a lens cover as stables can be quite dusty.

Make sure that you bring a blanket to use as a background in the stable as a paper background is not practical. You’ll also want to bring larger softboxes to accommodate for the horse’s size.

Aim for Tension Poses

Try to capture the horse in a tense position as this will bring out their muscles. If you can, get the horse to bend their neck a little to make them appear more agile and elegant.

an example of a tension pose
Photo by Gene Devine on Unsplash

Don’t Forget the Details

Take detail shots of the horse such as their eyes or a particular feature on their head.

Choose Your Background Carefully

When choosing a background for photographing the horse, pick a background that will contrast the horse’s color. Otherwise, you run the risk of the horse blending in too much.

Similarly, avoid letting the horse run wild in a large meadow as you will have to run around a lot and miss a number of excellent shots.

closeup photo of a horse and handler
Photo by Lola Delabays on Unsplash

Capture the right phase

Be sure to capture the horse in the various phases of their run. This includes both the trot and the gallop. Naturally, you’ll become better at this the more you spend time photographing horses but it’s a good idea to practice with a few horse videos and hitting the pause button when you would take a photo.

Camera Settings For Horse Photography

When it comes to the camera and ISO settings, you’ll want a camera with a fast shutter speed as horses can move quickly. Your camera should also have a high quality zoom lens so you can capture the horse from afar.

Keep your shutter speed at 1/250 of a second for portrait shots and around 1/800 of second for rodeo or show photos. Keep your aperture around f/4 to f/6 to have a large depth of field that will capture most of the horse’s body in the frame.

In general, aim for a prime lens that has a focal length greater than 70mm or choose a zoom lens with a focal length between 70-200mm.

Shoot in manual and choose the RAW format to allow for more flexibility during the post-processing phase.

Final Thoughts

Photographing horses is not an easy task but it’s definitely rewarding, and in some cases, it can be quite lucrative. With the tips in this article, you’ll be well on your way to taking stellar horse photography shots so take advantage of them today.