A black and white photo of a horse with a bridle.

All the Top Horse Photography Tips, Ideas & Poses

Delve into the majestic world of Horse Photography, capturing the elegance, power, and timeless bond between humans and these graceful creatures.

Do you want to learn horse photography but you don’t know where to start? Then, you’ve come to the right place.

Whether you want to put your passion for horses and the one for photography together, or you’re a photographer branching out to a new niche – in this article you’ll find tips and ideas to get started.

I’ll start by discussing some photography settings for you to take control of your photos. Then, I’ll talk about lighting and other equipment for the best results.

I’ll also give you some poses and ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Last but not least, I’ll include some safety tips because you always need to be careful when you’re working with animals.

Are you ready? Saddle up and let’s get started!

7 Tips for Horse Photography

The world of horse photography is vast and diverse. It has many subgenres where the subjects are the only common element.

There’s conformation horse photography where the pictures need to conform to specific standards. These images are normally used for selling the horse. You need to consider the breed and showcase the body in an objective way.

Another branch of horse photography is dedicated to sports. You may want to photograph dressage or jumping competitions.

You may also specialize in portraits and lifestyle photography. Here, you may want to show the breed and the body of the horse, but also its relationship with the rider and the location.

As you can see, there are many possibilities within horse photography. The styles, locations, and equipment may be different in each one.

This makes it difficult to give advice that’s suited for all situations. However, these tips should give you a good starting point to photograph horses.

Dial in the best settings to photograph horses

Two white horses running in the water.

Camera settings: 1/1000 f/5.6. Credit: Pixabay

The best camera settings depend on the lighting conditions and the type of photography you want to make.

If you want to take good portrait shots, the aperture should be your priority. A wide aperture will blur the background so that the horse stands out.

You don’t need to have a super wide aperture since horses are quite large subjects, but something between f/3.5 and f/5.6 should be a good starting point.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t consider the shutter speed. Since horses move continuously – even when standing still, you’ll want to control how you want to capture movement in your photos.

Instead, for action shots you should be more aware of the shutter speed. The right speed depends on the speed of the horse.

For example, to freeze a horse on a race you’ll need a 1/4000 sec. while for a horse galloping or jumping you should manage with something as low as 1/1000.

The aperture is important in these shots too. You want to make sure that the depth of field is deep enough for the entire horse to be in focus. You’ll also want to blur the background – especially if it’s too busy or distracting.

I suggest that when you’re doing action shots, you set your camera to burst mode. This way, you’ll be able to capture the best moment.

It’s also important to use continuous focus mode. This allows the camera to track the movement and keep the animal in focus.

Choose the best lighting for horse photography

A horse is standing in the grass in a black and white photo.

Credit: Robomorfo Multimedia

In most cases, it’s best to use natural light when you’re photographing horses.

If you prefer to have total control over the lighting, then use continuous lights instead of flashes.

This way, you won’t risk spooking the horse with a sudden burst of light.

What is the best time of day to photograph horses?

The early morning and late afternoon will give you the best light for a photo session. However, the light changes faster in the morning. So, whenever possible, schedule the photoshoot around sunset.

Of course, you need to avoid disrupting the horse’s meal schedule. That can be tricky because many handlers feed their horses twice a day – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

So, it’s better if you talk with your client and understand the horse’s routine so that you can find the best time.

If there’s no way to avoid mealtime, it’s possible to feed them only a portion.

This way, they won’t be hungry or restless during the session. However, you should discuss this with the handler and make sure it’s.

Choose the right focal length for horse photography

A white horse standing in a field with trees.

Focal length: 120mm. Credit: Helena Lopes

A normal (50mm) lens has an excellent focal length for horse photography. This is the lens that causes less distortions and it’s very affordable if you’re just starting.

You may also need a telephoto lens to capture the animal in motion. You can use a zoom for more flexibility, for example, a 70-200mm lens.

If you need a wide-angle lens to include more of the background, try not to go under a 35mm focal length. This will minimize the distortion. Also, don’t stand too close to the horse and don’t frame it close to the edges.

Prep the horse

A girl hugging a horse.

Credit: Filip Kuran

If you want the horse to look its best, you need to do some prep before the photo session. This is something the owner needs to take care of, so you might want to share a to-do list with your client.

You’ll need to give the horse a bath – this may be the day before or the day of the session depending on the schedule and the weather. If it’s done the day before, you might need to do some touch-ups before the photoshoot – especially with white horses.

Next on the list are the mane and tail. It goes without saying that it should be brushed and untangled. However, you might also want to braid it. If so, make sure you allot enough time to do this before the photos.

You also need to have all your grooming tools with you, so you can do touch-ups during the session.

As for the hooves, you don’t need to schedule the farrier or anything like that. However, you might want to use hoof oil before the photos so they look polished.

Don’t forget the fly spray! Apply a first coat when you start the photo session and touch it up if needed.

Choose the right location

A horse is grazing in the marsh near a bird.

Credit: Pixabay

You can photograph horses on location or in their stable. If you’re staying in-house, you need to make sure you have enough space. You should also look for the best location in the place so that you have a nice background for your shots.

If you’re going on location, make sure you scout it beforehand. You should understand how much light you’ll get and its direction.

Preferably, you’ll want the sun arriving from the side or from behind you. Unless you want to do silhouette photography – then the sun should be behind the horse.

Prepare poses and photo ideas beforehand

The poses and shots depend on whether you want conformation shots, a lifestyle session with the owner, or portraits of the horse alone.

Conformation photos usually have requirements established by the magazine or other institutions. You should check that with your client before taking the photos.

For the rest, here are some ideas to get your creativity going.

A black horse is standing in the grass.

Credit: Missi Kopf

Turn – Have the horse bend the neck a little and capture it as it’s turning to one side. This is an elegant pose that shows the muscles of the neck thanks to the tension of the turn.

Square up – Having the horse stand evenly on its four legs. This is a good picture for all types of photography – including conformation shots.

A white horse is laying down in the grass.

Credit: Helena Lopes

Lying down – not all horses are able to or like it – but if it’s possible, take a shot of the horse lying on an open field or on the paddock. A nice background helps communicate a sense of freedom and well-being.

A horse is running in a dusty field with mountains in the background.

Credit: The Cactusena

M-shape – If you want to capture action shots, capture the horse trotting when the front leg is extended. Whether you choose the leg that’s close to you or the one on the outer side often depends on your location. In the UK is better to capture the leg that’s close to you when it’s extended – for example.

A brown horse jumping over an obstacle.

Credit: Grace Early

Jumping – Another action shot you don’t want to miss is when the horse is jumping. You’d want to be on the side of the obstacle or in a diagonal to show the entire body. You can make some great panning shots if you want to include motion blur. Otherwise, set the shutter speed for sports, i.e. make it faster and freeze the horse in midair. The best moment to take jumping pictures is when the back legs are extended but off the ground, and the front legs are tucked in.

A woman riding a horse in a grassy field.

Credit: Andrea Piacquadio

Stand next to it with one hand touching the horse -This is the best starting position for a lifestyle photoshoot. This will calm the horse and give the owner or rider control in case the horse wants to move its head.

A brown horse with a bridle on a black background.

Credit: Marylou Fortier

Profiles – Horses have an elegant profile that’s worth capturing – they simply look majestic. A black background produces a classic look.

A man walking a horse in a field.

Credit: Cottonbro

Walking with the owner – This shot is a must-have for lifestyle photo sessions.

A woman is petting a horse in a field.

Credit: Mikhail Nilov

Head to head with the owner – This pose is perfect to capture the ‘soul’ of the relationship of a horse with its owner.

Cuddle or stroke the horse – If the animal is feeling unsettled, this could take the tension off the photo shoot, and it’s a lovely moment to capture.

A woman and her dog standing in a field with horses and cows.

Credit: Helena Lopes

Include other animals – usually horse owners have a dog who is also part of the family. If the context is not so intimate, include other animals from the barn or the ranch.

A woman is standing next to a horse in a stable.

Credit: Sergey Makashin

Take one photo of the rider prepping the horse – They can be putting the bridle or checking the saddle is tight.

Make some close-ups

A close up of a brown horse's head.

Credit: Lumn

Along with good portrait shots, you should include some close-ups in the final portfolio of the photo session. These details will help you to highlight the unique beauty of the animal.

If the horse gets easily startled by the noise of the shutter or it’s uncomfortable with you getting too close, simply use a telephoto lens.

How Do You Take Good Horse Riding Pictures?

A woman riding a horse in the desert at sunset.

Credit: Ivy Son

There’s a special branch of horse photography that’s not taken from the ground – horse riding photography. In this case, the photographer is shooting from the saddle while horseback riding.

As you can imagine, this type of horse photography needs some special skills and considerations. Here are some tips to help you out.

The first thing you need is the right equipment. You can’t use a heavy camera when you’re taking photos while galloping. You also need a camera that’s easy to work with one hand. That way you’ll always have your other hand in the bridle to stay safe and in control. Make sure the camera is dust-proof and shock-proof.

Then, choose the right settings. You’ll need a very fast shutter speed since you and your subject are moving. Also, set the autofocus to continuous focus and tracking mode.

Shooting in burst mode can be helpful too – just don’t overuse it or you’ll have thousands of images to cull. Don’t forget to shoot in RAW.

Choose the best starting position for your subject and find yours at an adequate distance depending on your focal length. Then, agree on a stopping point that leaves you enough time to capture the images you want.

Safety Tips for Horse Photographers

A man petting a white horse in the desert.

Credit: Pavel Danilyuk

Even if you’re an experienced horse photographer, you should always listen and respect the owner or handler of the horse.

Just like human beings, animals have different personalities. You may be used to working with horses, but only their handler knows them well enough to recognize the most subtle signals of discomfort or distress.

It is good practice to approach the horse and spend a little time getting to know each other before starting the photo session.

During the entire session, you should always be aware of the horse’s behaviour and body language. It’s always helpful to have an assistant.

If you or the handler notice any sign that you’re upsetting the horse, you should stop and take a break. Then maybe restart the shoot with a different pose or activity.

Photographing horses is not only for horse experts. So, if you’re a pet photographer and this is your first time with a horse, you might be asking at what angle should you approaching a horse?

If possible, it’s always best to approach a horse from the front and slightly to the side. This way they can see you arrive and won’t get spooked. Be careful when you approach it for the first time.

It’s also important to understand and respect the horse’s boundaries. Be attentive to its reaction when you press the shutter. If the noise is upsetting it, step further away and switch to a telephoto lens.

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Shotkit Writer & Camera Gear Reviewer

Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.

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