I’ve been doing portraiture for some years now, shortly after falling in love with photography in college as part of my design degree. But even though I’ve done it for many years, I continue to learn a lot with each session. Here are some of the tips and tricks, for both horse and human, that I use in my shoots.
Start with a clean slate
It probably goes without saying, but a clean horse is going to present itself better than a dirty one. Take an extra moment to brush that mane and tail, and remember to wipe down the eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul, and drawing attention in images as they do, it helps if there’s no eye funk present.
Know your limits
Though I’ve never photographed small children, I kind of imagine that photographing horses (or dogs, or insert animal here) is somewhat like that. There is a window of time when they will play the game, standing, walking, being loved on, before they just don’t want to play anymore. In order to extend that time, I try to take little breaks when I sense that the animal’s patience is running out. Take those moments to focus on the person, or the environment, or go for a cute grazing shot, but try to be understanding of your subjects- equine and otherwise!
Make a Plan
Before every shoot I come up with poses and ideas based on the subject I’m going to shoot. I then jot those ideas down on a piece of paper, stick-figure style, including any requests the client may have. That paper then comes in handy if ever I need inspiration onsite, and helps as a reminder for photos I specifically wanted to take. Similarly, I arrive to each location about 15-20 minutes early and figure out exactly what path we will take through the property. This can really make a big difference- for instance, if it’s overcast and you are shooting as the sun goes down (the “Golden Hours”), you should probably plan to visit the shadiest spot at the venue first, when you have the most light. Of course it’s always important to remain flexible, but having a well thought out plan helps make the most of everyone’s time!
When one of your main subjects (the horse) has no concept of what you are after (i.e, the look of eagles/ears up/eyes open/no slobber/etc), it’s not their fault if they are not the perfect model. Staying calm and waiting for the right moment, and not rushing or forcing it to happen, is key. Save your ear-pricking antics (waving a plastic bag on a whip, rustling peppermint wrappers…) for when both models are in position and ready. If you keep up these tricks throughout the session, not only will they lose their novelty (and therefore decrease the likelihood of getting those ears forward), but you’ll also put a strain on everyone involved. Better to wait, and capture that perfect, and more natural, pose!
This probably goes without saying, but it’s no less important! No matter which side of the camera you’re on, remember that this is all about capturing good times. Find your sense of adventure and keep things lighthearted- not only will the animals sense your mood, but it will help everyone enjoy the experience even more! Besides, photography is fun!
Have a wonderful weekend everyone!