If you love horses and love photography, equestrian photography could be the perfect hobby for you. It gives you a great opportunity to spend lots of time around these beautiful animals and get some really great shots.
First, determine what kinds of equestrian photographs you’d like to take. You could take photos of horses grazing or eating, horses running through the pasture, formal portraits of horses with riders, informal shots showing the relationships between horse and rider, action shots at horse shows and competitions, rodeo photos, or all of the above-and that’s just the beginning of all the photo opportunities that exist with horses.
Good equestrian photography requires good equipment, an eye for composition, knowledge of both, horses and photography, patience, practice, and of course, the opportunity to be around horses.
Expert equestrian photographers recommend using a DSLR (not a point and shoot) camera with a 70-200 mm telephoto lens along with natural lighting-no flash. Flash lighting can spook many horses and result in unnecessary injuries for either a rider or the photographer. Avoid use of the wide angle lens, as it causes distortion. (If shooting a horse from the front, for example, the horse’s head may appear unnaturally large with the rear and hind legs looking too small.)
Always maintain a healthy respect for the horse you are photographing and keep your distance, especially if you do not have experience with horses or know this particular animal well. Horses are flight animals and may jump, bolt, or run if startled.
Shooting photographs of horses grazing outdoors in a pasture is the best place to start. Using a camera with even a small amount of zoom, you can shoot exceptional photographs on a cloudy, overcast day-which makes for great diffused light-(remember, don’t use the flash) safely from outside the pasture fence.
If the horse voluntarily comes closer to you and the fence line, stand still, don’t make any sudden moves, and allow the horse to sniff you and your camera to get acquainted with you. Developing a friendly relationship with the horse from the safe side of the fence may also enable you to get some great close-up shots.
As a rule, though, if you want to capture close-up images of horses, their heads and manes, or other equestrian features and details, your best bet is to use a telephoto lens to zoom in close without actually getting to close to the animal.
If you plan to photograph horses and riders while trotting, galloping, or running their horses-or rodeo events such as roping events, barrel racing, wild bronco riding-or horse racing, you will need a camera with a fast shutter speed to capture sharp action shots. 1/1000 of a sec or faster at an ISO 400 using the shutter speed priority mode is a great place to start.
When composing equestrian photos, especially for a front or head shot, focus on the horse’s eyes, just as you would with a human subject. If you are shooting a photo of a horse in a pasture, leave space around the horse. A good technique is to adopt the rule of thirds and place the horse so it looks as it if is walking or running into the photograph, not out of the scene.
With a little luck and a lot of practice, equestrian photography can be a lot of fun and result in some awesome photographs for horse lovers.