by Andrea Laycock
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
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
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
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
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.
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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
www.thinkHorses.com our Equine Link Directory. See
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.