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7 tips for stunning equine photography

If you want to hit the ground running with horse photography, make use of my hands-on experience and learning.

Well, I’ve been looking for the right opportunity to shoot equines, horse portraits and pair with humans for portraits, equestrian sports etc. Thanks to Gurgaon Horse Club for support and providing me freehand to plan and shoot their amazing horses, trainers, and kids. I also called a couple of my amazing friends Jeet and Nanki do the shoot.

Here are notes from the rigor, research, analysis, experience, execution, understanding, shooting, and editing the equine photography. I’m sharing about horse behavior, posing, camera, lights, and editing.

Kids posing with horse

Tip no. zero: Sweat not, if you’re not familiar with horses. Horses are good learners, so are humans. Give yourself a chance to expose to the wonderful photography genre. You’ll learn on the go!

Alright, context being set, here we go with the insights. I’ll use equine or horse in this post synonymously.

In frame: Jitendra Advani

1. Appreciate equine behavior

Horses are highly friendly animals. They’re also quick to learn new behaviors, through experience or training. You can expect horses at a club generally behaving well.

While gathering information about horses, three facts that surprised and helped me the most:

i. Horses have vison of nearly 360 degrees

ii. Horses have lightening fast reflexes

iii. Horses learn quickly and remember things for long time

The key equine body language is his ears. To keep things simple, if the ears are pointing forward they’re attentive and happy to engage. Those are the moments you need to capture in your frames. I rejected many images after the shoot simply because the ears were not pointing forward.

Lastly, different horse breeds have different behavior. Get a better understanding whether the horse is stable, agile, or dependent on treats. For example, I worked with the Marwari horse Dublin at the club — she’s very stable while standing but gets active when you ride on it.

In frame: Nanki Singh

2. Get friendly with horses

Before starting the shoot get friendly with the horses. Treat them with carrots. Take a walk with them. They’ll know you’re a nice chap. During the shoot also, keep treating them with grass, carrots, or apple to keep them excited and pose well for photos. As I said, they’re highly social and would love to stay close to you if they know you’re friendly too.

Also, pay attention to safety. Horses may kick or bite. Ask the handler for any such red flags. Be extra vigilant when you’re shooting with horses and kids. While I didn’t experience any accident during my photoshoots, but kept paying heed to horse’s movements and handler’s instructions.

In frame: Sahil

3. Make composition and stay put

A good horse portrait or a human portrait with the horse needs a lot of patience, understanding of right body position, direction of light falling on the subjects, and how the horse engages with the people in the photo.

A horse handler or a trainer can help you get the perfect body posture for the horse, but in most of the situations, make your composition and wait for the right movement. Once you get the perfect pose, shoot in the burst mode to get the subtle variances in the movement.

4. Pick appropriate outfit for the person

A rider’s outfit is no brainer and it goes perfectly fine with the horses : jockey pants, boot, and a suitable jersey. Other alternative is hats with floral dress for women. For glamour shoots, an exotic dress with a fancy necklace goes well.

My models, Jeet and Nanki are styling experts. So didn’t end up working hard on this. For kids, Tara knew what looks best because she’s owning 30 plus horses for so many years now.

Isn’t this amazing to see kids loving animals.

5. Posing humans and horses

I saw plenty of YouTube videos and Pinterest pictures on how humans pose with the horses. While you can keep those poses in mind, but every horse is different and they’d allow you to pose with them based on their own comfort level. So adapt to the horse behavior, location constraints, and direction of light.

A walk with the horse is most common pose. Try other poses like looking into the horse’s eyes, kissing on the forehead or nose, hold the head gently, sit on the back etc. I prefer bareback sitting for photos, unless it’s sports or show jumping photography.

Horses have a longer neck and muscular body. grab the tension shots to accentuate their physique. With the elongated or upwards neck position they look elegant and powerful.

You can also try posing horse while the person is sitting on a chair, bench, or in the crouching position. Whether standing or sitting, I prefer poses where the person is engaging with the horse rather than use them as a prop or the background elements.

Golden hours work best with the directional light and warm hues.

6. Shoot with longer lenses

Longer lenses would keep you away from the horse and you won’t grab the attention. Let them play or engage with the person without distracting them in your presence.

The camera setting I use is manual exposure, autofocus-continuous, single point focus, and aperture between f3.2 and f5.6. I keep the aperture wide enough to separate equines/ humans from the background but narrow enough to keep horse’s body in focus. If it’s person alone, I would use f2.8 or f1.8 for softer background.

If you’re shooting in the stable, shadow, and sunlight changing frequently, try aperture priority mode and let the camera decide shutter speed for appropriate exposure.

I mounted 70-200 mm f2.8 lens on Nikon D750 camera. On rare occasions, I uses 50mm f1.8 lens and used Nikon Z5 with 28mm f2.8 when I had to cover wider angle.

The eye contact!

7. Keep warm tones in editing

I do subtle editing, to make the image look the way I saw with the naked eye. So, mostly I’d do exposure setting and a little bit of skin and hair corrections. In a few cases, I would make the light look cinematic to add flavor in the photos.

My personal choice with horse photography is warm tone in the white balance. I prefer the shoots during golden hours – morning or evening – to achieve the warm look and the directional light.

80-90% of my job is done within Lightroom for the exposure setting, white balance, color gradients; in rare scenarios, to add manipulate some objects in the frame, I’d go to Photoshop.

Looking for a treat?

Bonus tip on editing equine photography:

Convert the pictures to soft contrast black and white if you don’t like the colors. Monochrome photos are my best color harmony in case I don’t find the harmony in the multi-colored photographs. In black and white photos, you can play with selective colors to increase or decrease its luminosity for targetted highlights and shadows.

To sum up:

Get familiar with horses and ask your models also to treat horses well, that’s fundamental to stunning equine photography. Trust your adaptive capabilities to learn on the go.

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