Photographing Horses




This is not going to be a basic "how to take a photo" instructable but more of a how to work with a living breathing animal that has a mind of it's own instructable.

Horses are a great subject for photos but they can be hard to work with. They move around and tend to blink at just the wrong moment. Don't give up on them, there are some tricks that you can use to get good horse photos so grab your camera and lets get started.

First you have to decide what you want to do with the photo.
Do you want a nice photo to hang on the wall?
Something that will show the beauty of a horse in motion.
Or maybe you need to part with your horse and need nice photos to show him off on a sale ad.

Step 1: The Bare Bones

Let's start with the bare bones that you need to think about for any photo.

One of the first things you need is the horse. If you want him to look nice and clean make sure you groom him first but a good photo of a horse doesn't always start with a clean horse. Horses love to roll in dirt and mud and that is part of being a horse so showing him dirty isn't a bad thing. But if flies are a problem you do need to use a good fly spray or they will show up in the photo, plus the horse will be harder to keep still if you want a nice posed photo.

Step 2: The Setting

The second thing you need is a proper setting. You don't want a bunch of junk in the background. That will just take away from the horse. Likewise you don't want a person standing around in ripped up dirty clothes. So think about what is around the horse not just the horse. Find an area that is clear of clutter with a simple background for the horse. If you want a really simple background you can use the side of a building or set the horse up in a field so that you have trees a ways off behind the horse. Set up where you can keep cars, kids, other animals, junk, messy looking fences anything else that will take away from the horse out of the shot.

Step 3: Where Is the Light.

Once you have a good place to take the photos you need to think about lighting. Lighting is very important for taking photos. If there is too much light the photo will look harsh and washed out. If there is not enough light it will look dark but also tends to get blurry because the camera may not be able to snap the photo fast enough to stop the motion of the horse. If it's a bright sunny day put the horse in a shaded spot so that it doesn't look too harsh. If it's overcast then you don't have to worry about setting up in the shade. Don't set up so that the camera is facing into the sun unless you want the horse to be dark with a brighter outline.

Step 4: The Help.

Inlist the help of a friend or two, or more if you have some dirt on them and can blackmail them into helping you. This isn't always needed but is nice to have and a must have if you need good standing shots and the horse won't stand on it's own. If the person will be in the photo (riding or holding the horse) have them dress nicely. That doesn't mean a full black tie affair but no ripped up jeans, no flip flops, no wild crazy colored shirts, no beat up baseball hats, no drooping pants, no underwear as outerwear. Simple is best. A nice pair of well fitting jeans and a shirt that fits and isn't a loud color or a color that will clash with the horse's color. Makeup is okay for girls but this isn't a full glam shot, simple and tasteful, same for jewelery. Riding boots are best. Leave the bare feet and flip flops for the beach. Safety is always important when working around horses.
Your extra people will help set up the horse where you want it and keep it in place. They can also be the ones to help get the horse to perk up it's ears and look where you want him too(more on that later).

Step 5: Nice Things to Have

Some nice to have things:

A tripod, or something to steady the camera. There will be times you can't use one but to get a nice sharp photo it's a must. If the lighting is darker, the camera is slower, or any reason that might cause a blur it's best to use a tripod or rest the camera on something. Likewise you can lean up against a fence post, rock, or even another person to help stop the camera shake.

A grain bucket, treats or even a squeaker toy, something that will make the horse want to perk up it's ears and look where you want.

Fancy tack for the horse isn't needed but if you want to use it and have it go ahead.

Step 6: The Glam Shots

So you have your setting picking out, the horse is ready and you asked for the help of a friend. Make sure your memory card or film is in the camera, the batteries are charged and everything is good to go.

Lets start with some good "glam" shots. The type that show off the horse's conformation. Ones that you would put on a for sale ad or just to have to show off your horse. To set the horse up for this you want him to be on a level ground that is either dirt, pavment or mowed grass. If you can't see his legs and feet then you can't tell if he has good legs or not. There are different ways to set the horse up. If you have a stock type of horse and want it to look like the horse is in a show then set up him so that his feet form a square. If he is more Arab or a breed that sets up with the back feet out then do that. If you want sale photos set him up so that you can see all 4 legs from the side. You don't want him looking like Bambi on the ice but you do want to see all four legs.

What angle to take the photo from? If you want sale photos take photos straight on from both sides, the front, back and then 3/4 shots. A 3/4 shot is an angle shot from the front or back. You would be standing slightly to the side aiming at the shoulder or hip of the horse. When you are taking side shots stand about the middle of the horse. Use the camera so it is horozantail. If you are taking front, back or 3/4 shots then flip the camera so it is vertical. It's more pleasing and easier to fill the frame that way.  And don't forget the head shots.

Your helper should be the one setting the horse up so you can stand back and see what the photo will look like. You can direct the slave....helper to move the horse as needed. Once the horse is set up the person can back up a step or two to get out of the frame. If you have a second person they can use a plastic bag, grain bucket or toy to make the horse look up. You do not want to scare the horse just make it look the way you need.

Step 7: Filling Up.

FILL THE FRAME. One of the top mistakes I see with horse photos is that the person was afraid to fill the frame with the horse. If you don't have a zoom then move closer. You don't want to cut off a hoof or the ears or nose if you are taking conformation shots but don't have a huge gap of space around the horse either. Sometimes you can crop down but if you start out with the horse only filling 1/4 of the
frame you won't have a good quaility shot after cropping down.

Step 8: Short Horse, Tall Horse.

Step 9: Let's Get Moving!!!

All of that is good for posed photos but part of the beauty of horses is their movement and action. Horses are built to move so it should be easy to get good photos of them moving right? Nope. Horses might be designed to move but they have the mind of an eating machine. They love to eat and if there is food that is normally where their mind is. Don't give up, with a little skill, a helper and an enclosed area you can get photos of them moving.  If you want good close up photos then an arena, round pen or small paddock can be helpful. Place the horse in there and the use your helper to move the horse back and forth.
You will have to move some with the horse and keep an eye out for the helper so they don't get into frame. A whip or training stick might be needed to keep the horse moving if he wants to just roll or stand around. Not to beat the horse of course just as an aid.

Pan, or move the camera with the horse. If your camera has an action setting use it. Try to time the shot so that the horse isn't running right into the edge of the frame, that is an uncomfortable shot to look at. Sometimes you can crop the photo down to give more space in front. Snap a lot of photos because no matter how good you are there are always duds. The horse moved quicker then you thought, the legs were blurry, his eyes were closed, the handler was in the frame, a lot can go wrong so take a lot of photos.

You can use this method in a larger area as well but may need to use more then one helper...or if you use one it would be a really good workout when he is running around chasing the horse across a large field. When taking photos in a larger area you may want to break the "fill the frame rule". The landscape is part of the photo in this case so do some of both if you can.

Step 10: Set Them Up to Move.

There are times when a horse is going to be more willing to move. When you bring a horse to a new place they want to check it out so make sure you have a camera on hand. Bringing in new horses also gets them worked up. If you turn your horses out in a large pasture everyday but call them in for grain they will want to run back to the barn. So set the horse up to want to run and play.

Step 11: With a Rider

If you are taking photos of someone riding the horse you have to watch for the rider as well. Sometimes you want to focus on just the horse and will fill the frame with him. Other times you want to focus more on the rider so fill the frame with her. Or you may want to focus on them both so use them both to fill the frame. Don't be afraid to flip the camera on it's side to snap some vertical as well.

Step 12: All or Parts?

Do you always need the whole horse? Don't just think about the whole horse(or rider). You can get really good photos of just a part of a horse. Maybe just an eye, or the hoof, or the rider's hands or helmet. Horse theme photos aren't always just the horse or the whole horse.

I hope this helped some.  Have fun and happy shooting.



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    15 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Great tips! And pics! I LOVE the pics in step nine!!! (And I love all of the others as well!)


    3 years ago

    I love all of the tips. I also LOVE all of the pictures you took


    4 years ago



    7 years ago on Introduction

    Not to be rude, but I'd rethink taking or using any moving photograph with a bra-less female rider wearing tennis shoes.

    One tip my wife always uses for conformation shots is to wet the horse down and scrape off the water. (She leaves the mane and tail dry.) It makes the horses' muscles really pop out.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Not rude at all but remember that what we see is not always the truth. She did have a strapless on. I do agree with the tennis shoes but it was a great shot of the horse that showed what I wanted to show for that section. I normally push for riding style boots/shoes and helmets on all riders on the farm. That was one of the rare cases I let it slide since she doesn't get here often, is a good rider and it was a good horse. BUT with that said as a photographer we don't always get to decide what an owner does with a horse for photos. I'm not fond of little kids without helmets on horses but at many shows that is just what happens. Do I not take the photos that they want because of that? At one show I didn't notice until I was proofing the photos but one of the kids had snowboots on and they didn't have a heel! Do I then refuse to sell them prints of those photos?

    I like the wetting them down too or there is a high gloss spray they made for show cattle that will put a mirror like shine on them. It stays longer then the water does but does attract the dust.

    I geared this more towards the avg horse person taking photos so I didn't try to go all out. I may redo this Instructable because I have thought of a lot of things I wanted to add including more on the safety part of it. Thanks for bringing that tip up.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I understand you can't control the world. Too funny about the kid in snowboots!

    The wetting down has nothing to do with shine. The water causes the muscles to become better-defined. Try it sometime. Just keep the mane and tail dry or the pic looks just like a wet horse!

    Go figure! ;-O)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I was totally shocked when I saw those boots in the photos. I'm normally really good as spotting things but was so busy that day.

    That shine stuff does the same thing. Slicks the hair down so you see the muscles but also adds a high gloss shine. It's made for show cattle where you want to see the muscles stand out. It puts a nice shine on the manes and tails too. Same company makes other cattle show makeup. Colored sprays and this hair spray stuff that is way better then any human stuff but is a pain to wash out.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    A nice tutorial, although if you redo it I do have a suggestion - if you're taking pictures of horses, be prepared to take a LOT of pictures. I read an interview with Robert Vavra one time where he stated he used about 12 rolls of film on one of his early shoots and wound up with about four pictures he really liked (of course, this was in the days when people still used actual film...). For every picture of horses I've taken that I really liked, I've probably taken twenty that were so-so.

    Also, be familiar with your camera - know how to use the iso and F-stop and shutter speed. You'll generally be photographing in either sunlight or indoor (arena) conditions, and you need to be able to adjust your camera accordingly. If you have a camera that will do a lot of shots in a row, even better for action shots (or still shots, for that matter - allows you to capture the one brief second the ears are both pointing forward!). I have a Nikon Coolpix P90 (not a camera I would recommend, but it's what my parents bought me for a college graduation present) that I took to the 2010 Arkansas Derby, and it has a feature where it'll shoot as long as you keep turning the dial. I have literally got series of pictures where you see every stride the horses take as they come down the stretch - and because my settings were right, some of them look quite nice.

    Sorry if any of this was included - I did skim more than I ought to have, but I don't even know why I'm awake at this point...

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    There are a number of good instrutables about how to take good photos so that really wasn't my point with this one. I wanted more of a how to with the horses then a how to with the camera. So many sale photos of horses don't even show the horse enough to tell what it is. Or the whole horse is there but a 16hh draft looks like a 13hh pony....okay that was a stretch but I have seen tall horses look really short in the sale photos.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    If you want to be broke all of the time you can buy a few. I'm horse poor now with 3 of my own. Most horse people love to have good photos of their horses and are more then willing to let you snap away.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Beautiful work, and some really helpful tips. Thank you for sharing this!