You head to the barn with a camera and a fresh roll of film, eagerly anticipating the glorious shots you’ll take of your beautiful horse. But when the film’s developed, all you see is a pinned-eared animal with shadows everywhere.
Photographing animals is notoriously difficult. You certainly need the right lens, film and camera, but this information is easily found. The tough stuff comes when you actually start to hit the shutter:
Take a friend to the barn with you. You’ll benefit from having someone flick a whip, wrinkle a carrot bag or even squeak a dog toy – any noise that can get your horse to prick his ears forward.
Pick the time of day. The low-angled sun that appears at sunrise and a few hours before sunset is gentle and complimentary. Gray horses particularly look best first thing in the morning. Professionals know overcast days can be good, as you avoid the harsh variations and shadows bright sunlight gives. In general, the sun should be behind and/or to the side of you as you shoot. Light is especially important for drama, such as the sun gleaming off of your horse’s coat.
Remember, horses can cast shadows on themselves, too, whether from their manes or legs or just the bend of their neck. Look carefully for shadows on your subject before you hit the shutter button.
Check your background. Check beyond the horse for things that might ruin your photo, like a pole that may look like it’s growing out of his ear when the photo’s developed, or a manure spreader. Find a spot with attractive fencing or pasture behind your horse for a simple backdrop.
Fill the frame of the photo with your horse. As you shoot, try to fill the camera’s – or photo’s – frame with your horse for the best composition. Get as close as you can, even risking a few shots where you may think you cut off an ear or foot.
Avoid most head-on shots, because some basic lenses often distort horses’ heads, making them seem disproportionate for their bodies. Aim for the center of your horse’s barrel, if you’re doing a conformation shot.
Pose him on even ground to avoid making him look overly slope-shouldered (standing uphill) or heavy on the forehand (standing downhill). An old trick for conformation shots is to have the hind leg nearest to you farthest back. The front leg nearest you should be the farthest forward. That makes the horse look square, because the near legs frame the farther-away ones.
Don’t discount natural/candid shots. Although it may not look like the bright-eyed result of squeaking a dog toy, a picture of your horse grazing happily is incredibly attractive.
Photography takes practice – and lots of film. Most professional photographers will tell you that if you get one good shot out of a roll of film, you’ve done well.