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         Photo Tips for Do-It-Yourselfers 
                 Who want to Photograph the Horses        

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by Andrea Laycock Mattson

By guess and by golly I've picked up a few tricks for horse photography over the years by studying photos in the breed magazines and experimenting with a camera. It's a deep subject that would take a full-fledged book to present thoroughly, but I will try to offer a few tips that will help you avoid the worst mistakes.

Because horses are so large, it is necessary to get back at least 15 or 20 feet to prevent distortion, and a camera with a telephoto lens is a great help. Otherwise, keep your distance, and enlarge the prints if necessary. If you get too close, and say it's a head-on shot, the horses nose and face will be huge, and the rest of the body will appear quite small.

Take your pictures about 10 am or 2 pm to get the best shadow effect. Early or late makes long shadows, and mid-day shades the sides and belly of the horse, both of which look bad. To emphasize the contours, highlights and muscles of the horse, look at where his shadow is on the ground in relation to the horse's body. In a side view, the shadow should be cast toward the off side and somewhat FORWARD of his body. This will enhance by highlighting contours of the hip, forearms, neck, throatlatch and jaws. If you compare magazine photos, you will see what I mean. It makes a BIG difference! In other words, the sun will be behind you, and the horse's rump will be more toward the sun than his front end (in a side view shot.)

If you are taking front or rear shots, do it from an angle of about 45 degrees, and position yourself so that all 4 legs are evenly spaced as you view them, rather than a set of hind legs, a big space, and then a set of front legs. This looks much more balanced. Stand the horse about 45 degrees toward the sun so shadows will enhance the contours of the chest muscles (if a front angle) or the rump and gaskins (as in a rear view.) Again, you will need to keep your distance, especially when taking the front or rear shots, or the part of the horse closer to the camera will appear too large and the opposite end much too small. The withers and rump should be level and not much of the middle of the back visible, if at all. Sometimes on an aged horse whose back is down a little, this can be an attractive pose.

On all shots, either have your camera level to or slightly lower than the horse (you may have to kneel down.) Do NOT take pictures where the horse is on lower ground than you are. It makes his legs look short, and his back will not look good! It's just an unattractive view, no matter what, if you shoot downward toward a horse.

By studying magazine photos, you will begin to notice the standard poses. These show a horse to it's best advantage. Basically, on a side view, all four legs should show, with the far side front leg a little forward of the other front, and the far hind leg slightly further back that the closer hind. This looks more balanced and shows the contours of the off legs better. The legs on your side should be perpendicular to the ground, and the off legs offset as described above.
Also make sure that your horse's withers and top of hip are on the same level. If he is standing uphill or downhill, that does not look good. In fact, if your horse is high behind, pose him on a slight incline with the hind feet lower, so the top-line is level and his legs are square with the world.

Rather than a straight side view of a head, if it is turned toward the camera just enough to see the contour of the opposite eye and nostril, this is more attractive, as it shows the width of forehead and more facial contours.

It is helpful to have a third person to get the horse's attention after you get him "set up" and ready to shoot so his ears will be up, maybe the nostrils flared a little instead of limp and relaxed. An odd sound or the sight of something surprising helps. Maybe bringing another horse into view, opening an umbrella, releasing a spring-loaded steel measuring tape. Whatever works. The element of surprise does it. You don't really want to scare him, or he'll move out of position.

It goes without saying that you want the horse clean, clipped and put a LITTLE baby oil or Vaseline on his muzzle and around the eyes. Don't make him greasy looking, but it helps make the skin look dark and velvety. Have a good fitting halter and a lead shank or very neat lead rope without bulky snaps or loose ends dangling. Use fly spray if necessary to keep him from stomping or swishing his tail. Choose an uncluttered background, and one that has good contrast to your horse's color. A black horse against dark trees will be hard to see, or a palomino against snow, etc. Using a flash on your camera will bring out highlight in the coat, which is especially important on dark-colored or black horses. It will also put a little highlight in the eye, which enhances his facial expression. Avoid having distracting objects, such as fence posts or telephone poles coming out of his back, etc. The handler should stay back or to the side in such a way that his or her hands or body are not in front of or showing behind parts of the horse's body if you do not wish to have that person be part of the picture.

Good luck!! And if you don't succeed at first....try, try again. Sometimes it takes several rolls and several sessions to get just one or two great ones.

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrea Laycock Mattson.  All Rights Reserved.
Inquire about reprint permission.


Related Reading:
www.HorsesOnly.com/photographers
is a national list of professional photographers, we have a complimentary list organized by state that may help you. We also have a few international listings included. 

www.thinkHorses.com our Equine Link Directory. See  "Photographers"

Photo Editing Magic - the importance of removing background distractions and optimizing horse photos for the web. It comes with the territory in the Stallion Finder online stallion directory.

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Information on this page is part of a database compiled and maintained by StallionFinder.com and from information provided by stallion owners. Users of this information should verify the accuracy of the  data and assume all liability for its use. StallionFinder.com  assumes no liability for the content or use of the data. This page, and all contents copyright © 1997-2008 by StallionFinder.com, All rights reserved. No material, styles, layout,  photos or graphics may be copied or used without written permission from the copyright  holder. Wamego, Kansas, USA .... phone: 785-456-8600. This page was last updated on Friday, March 08, 2013 at 12:22 AM

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