Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pictures of horses

Professional photographers will tell you, horses are the most difficult (and rewarding) subjects for good photography. Horses in general absorb light and have lots of natural places which will create dark shadows and underexposed areas. In addition, they don't usually stand still or cooperate as planned and you find yourself with quite the challenge on your hands!
To survive as a Kentucky Photographer you either have to shoot weddings or horses - I definitely prefer horses over brides and have learned some tips over the years for capturing better shots. First, the background of the animal is extremely important. Try to photograph your horse without messy things in the background such as fencing (unless it is attractive), barns, and other people. Even things and shadows on the ground take away from what should be the focus of the shot - your horse!

Find a green field in the early day or late afternoon allowing the clear blue sky to bring out the edges of the horse. Shooting in the middle of the afternoon will create sharp, underexposed shadows and the heat will cause a horse to be less cooperative anyway. If the horse is wearing a saddle, make sure the leather is clean and that any brass pieces are not reflecting a bright light back at the lens.
Positioning the horse:
Angle the horse to better take advantage of its shoulder muscles and anatomical lines. This is usually with one leg a little forward, forming an "M" pattern with his legs. The neck and head should be held up natural and not dipping looking for grass. No matter what angle or position you choose to use for the photo - the number one most critical rule in equestrian photography is to ENSURE THE EARS ARE FORWARD!
This can be easier said than done, especially on a hot day when the animal is nervous or irritable. However, a photograph is practically worthless if you do not get the ears forward!
To make things easier, introduce yourself to the horse before you start slinging a camera around. Rub it enough to allow the horse to become comfortable.
If needed, have your assistant cause a brief noise to get the horse's attention (and ears) toward you and the camera. If you are alone, you can snap your fingers enough to make a horse center its ears toward you.
Photos from the side are usually better and are required to register a horse If you are taking pictures of the animal head-on, as in shooting humans, the most important feature is the eyes. If you don't capture the eyes, you will not capture the life present and your photograph will be average.
If the subject is moving, always try to get the lead leg extended forward and a little curved rather than perfectly straight. Again, getting the legs spread into an "M" pattern is optimal. You may have to attempt a lot of shots rapidly and pick the best position.
Some other easy suggestions:
- Check the corners of the horse's mouth for green foam which will definitely show up on a print.
- Shoot with your aperture at the widest setting (the lowest F number) to blur the backdrop and allow the most light.
- Get as close to the horse as you are comfortable, the further your focal point the flatter images appear.
Definitely check with the rider first, but set your flash (yes, even outdoors) to a low power to give some fill light for the natural shadows caused by the horse's shape.
Taking pictures of horses is fun and very rewarding, ask any Kentucky photographer, but it  gets easier with practice - so start shooting!
Gregory Rodgers is a Kentucky photographer and photographs horses during competitions at the KY Horse Park.

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