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Horse Photography

Updated on December 1, 2016

A light horse such as a Thoroughbred, Hunter or Hack must be photographed with the camera at a right angle to the subject to show its lines and lightness to full advantage. The photograph may be taken from either side, although the near (left) side is the more conventional, but the horse must be posed with the foreleg nearest the camera slightly in front of the far foreleg, and the nearer hind leg a few inches behind the far hind leg.

The tail must be shown in the normal position for the breed; in the case of an Arab it is carried almost like a plume. The head should be turned very slightly towards the camera with both ears pricked forwards and clearly visible. The neck should be flexed to show the crest (top of the neck) to advantage and there should be no suggestion that the horse pokes its nose forwards. The mane should be on the off (right) side of the neck and if shown should be plaited and not blowing about in the wind.

A heavy horse, such as a Shire or Clydesdale, may be photographed from a slight angle to show the powerful hind quarters to advantage. In this case the legs should be level, to convey the impression of strength and solidity.

The neck must be well bent to show its powerful line and high crest. There again the head should be turned slightly towards the camera so that intelligence in the eye and breadth of forehead may be shown.

A Hackney (trotting horse) should be photographed with the hind legs well back, so that the horse "covers a lot of ground" and conveys the impression of latent power.

When photographing groups of moorland or New Forest ponies, which cannot be posed, it pays to wait until two or three of the animals nearest the camera are in typical positions.

When a mare and foal are being photographed together the foal should stand very close to its dam on the side nearer the camera, with its face no farther forward than the mare's shoulder.


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The apparatus most favoured by animal photographers is of two kinds, either a reflex camera or a press type with a lens of slightly longer focal length than standard. A press camera should have a large direct vision viewfinder in which the subject can be watched easily for any sudden movement, such as the flick of an ear or a swish of the tail, either of which could spoil the result. A quiet shutter is important, because any sudden noise, however slight, is liable to cause a horse to turn its head or move an ear. The shutter must be capable of fast speeds in order to catch movement in jumping and other action shots.

Fast panchromatic material is used to give good colour rendering and to permit the use of fast shutter speeds. Filters are useful when photographing a bay horse with black points or when taking groups of ponies ranging in colour from chestnut to dark brown. A medium yellow filter is used when taking a grey horse, either jumping or whenever it is seen against the sky.


The most suitable lighting for all types is given by rather hazy sunshine at about 45° to the subject, as such lighting will show the coat to advantage and the shape of the animal, without dark patches of shadow.

Horses Standing Still

Great care is necessary in choosing a suitable location to photograph a horse because it is most important that the animal should be standing on level ground and the background be as plain as possible. Precautions are taken to see that fences, stable doors or the branches of trees do not link up with the outline of the horse in any way. If the horse is to be shown unmounted, it should have either a headcollar or a bridle, with the reins resting on the withers. It should be held with a leading rein by a groom standing in front of the horse and well away from it. Where a horse and rider are shown, no one else is necessary to hold the horse, as the rider will control it and position it correctly. The camera is held so that it is at about the height of the horse's shoulder and must on no account be tilted up or the subject will be in very bad perspective.

It is usual for the animal to be in its summer coat and well groomed to bring out the sheen, which is a sign of good condition; the hooves should be oiled.

Horses in action: The best time to photograph a jumping horse is at the take-off, or half-way across the hurdle. For the latter the jump must be clean; the take-off is nearly always reasonably safe. Bottom: A horse landing does not look elegant unles
Horses in action: The best time to photograph a jumping horse is at the take-off, or half-way across the hurdle. For the latter the jump must be clean; the take-off is nearly always reasonably safe. Bottom: A horse landing does not look elegant unles

Horses in Motion

Jumping pictures, whether in the show ring or on the racecourse, are either taken with the camera placed very low down at an angle of 45° to the landing side of the jump, or from the side of the jump with the camera a little higher for a solid jump, such as a wall. The exposure must be made in the split second when the horse is over the middle of the jump.

Hackneys, when trotting, are photographed at right angles to the camera to show all four legs clearly and with the leading foreleg at the top of its action, as this "high stepping" appearance is the animal's most important characteristic.

Groups of riders, e.g: at a hunt, are taken from a three-quarter front view in order to show the faces of both the riders and their mounts.

Negatives should be very fully exposed to show all possible detail, and development time curtailed to produce a well graduated negative, full of detail. Over-development leads to a loss of quality in the rendering of the coat.

As this is a technical subject there must be no retouching or faking, the object being to portray the subject accurately but to the best advantage.


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    • Destrier profile image

      Destrier 7 years ago from Rural Australia

      I love your profile photo :)

    • Vendla profile image

      Vendla 7 years ago from Colorado

      Great hub and good perspective, I love photographing horses as well.

    • Varenya profile image

      Varenya 7 years ago

      I love horses, thanks for the tips, very useful!

    • Missi Darnell profile image

      Missi Darnell 7 years ago from Southern California

      Wonderful hub. I love photographing horses, thank you for the tips.