(1) Select the Perfect Spot
Take your camera to different locations and view each through the camera lens to pick the one(s) that are the most pleasing to the eye. Select an uncluttered space with no houses, poles or lines, vehicles or other distractions in the shot.
Try for a “horsey” background. Pasture, rolling hills, the front of a barn door.
When photographing dark colored horses, select a lighter, or contrasting, background otherwise the horse will blend in.
For conformation shots, select level ground. If the stallion is standing on grass, be sure it’s mowed so the hooves and legs are visible.
Be sure to take note of the position of the sun and light conditions when selecting the right location for your photo.
The best time of day to take photographs and videos is early morning or later in the afternoon about 2 to 3 hours before sunset. Avoid harsh midday light as it casts unwanted shadows.
Partly cloudy, or lightly overcast days are good for taking photos but avoid dark grey skies.
Keep the sun at your back.
The following photo was taken in the early morning, about an hour after sunrise.
This photo is of the same stallion on the same day but taken near noon. Note the harsh shadows and lack of clarity.
Another photo taken near noon in front of the lilac bush. Yup, he turned pink.
(2) Put On Your Sunday Best
Groom him as if you’re going to compete in the World Championships. Have your stallion bathed, his mane and tail combed out, bridle path and head clipped, and braided if appropriate for your discipline. Apply baby oil to his muzzle, paint his hooves, whatever is appropriate for your breed.
Be sure to use fly spray to minimize fidgeting and tail swishing.
For conformation shots, use a clean show halter or bridle.
Take conformation shots first as you don’t want to see sweat marks from the saddle.
Rider and Handler Attire
The rider and handler should project a professional appearance, inspiring confidence that you know the business of horse breeding.
If possible, wear show attire that compliments the color of the stallion and/or is suitable to your discipline.
Working clothes that are clean, tidy and professional in appearance are also acceptable.
Scruffy jeans with holes, base ball caps, running shoes, are not on the menu.
(3) What You Should Have in Your Portfolio
Generally, photos fall into one of three categories – Conformation, Action & Head Shots.
- Conformation – even if your stallion is not a conformation star, mare owners want to see how he looks and if he compliments their mare. If he does show at halter, then this type of photo is of prime importance.
- Action Photos & Videos – the selection of a stallion is very often based on his ability to sire offspring that have the potential to excel as athletes in a specific discipline. Photos and videos that display your stallion performing the discipline he was bred to do are an essential part of your portfolio.
Action shots of the stallion running free in an enclosure are also great photo opportunities. Be sure the enclosure is small enough so the stallion’s image fills the frame when using a telephoto lens.
- Head Shot – include a good head shot of your stallion. The face and expression tell a lot about his temperament and personality. His expression should be alert, with ears forward to show his character.
This photo of the Arabian stallion, JRs Legacy of Naborr, is a good example.
View a video, more photos and information on this stallion.
(4) Positioning of the Photographer
When taking conformation shots from the side, stand positioned from the back edge of the shoulder to the middle of his barrel.
Hold the camera at mid-barrel height keeping the camera lens level to the center of the horse. Holding the camera higher will make the horse’s legs will look stubby. The square in the following photo shows where to face the camera.
For 3/4 view shots from the front or back, stand slightly to the side and aim at the shoulder or hip of the horse.
To get good conformation shots and to avoid distortion, stand back and away from the horse and then zoom in with your lens until the proportions are right.
Avoid taking photos standing straight in front of the horse. It will make his head look way out of proportion to the rest of his body.
If you are further away, crouch lower to keep the proportions correct. If you’re within 20 feet, stand taller.
Fill the frame with your stallion.
Be sure to preview your photos to make sure you haven’t cut off a hoof, or captured him moving at just the wrong time, or the handler has inadvertently got part way into the shot. Take a lot of photos to be sure you get just the right shot.
(5) Positioning the Horse
Many breeds, such as Warmbloods, show in the Open stance at halter. The near (or inside) foreleg should be perpendicular to the ground. A plumb line should be able to be drawn from the point of the buttock down the back of the canon to the ground on the near hind. The off (or outside) front and hind legs should stand slightly inward toward the center of the barrel as shown in the photo.
Open Stance showing plumb lines.
Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas and Miniature Horses stand square with the front and hind legs positioned side by side.
Arabians show with the front legs square and the near hind stretched out behind to emphasize the levelness of the croup. The neck is held high and outstretched as demonstrated by HC Elitist.
(6) Helpers & Handlers
In addition to the photographer you will need:
- An experienced handler/trainer to stand the stallion for conformation shots.
- A helper who gets the stallion’s attention and ears forward.
- The stallion’s rider/trainer for under saddle photos.
- An additional helper to stay with the photographer to keep him/her out of harm’s way if he/she is unfamiliar with horses.
(7) Getting the Stallion’s Attention
The main job of one of your helpers is to get the stallion’s attention. It’s imperative that his ears be up and he look alert.
To get his attention you can rustle plastic bags, gently rattle rocks in a tin can, wave a towel, use a squeaky toy, or shake some grain in a bucket.
Be cautious! Horses have very different levels of tolerance to these stimuli so it’s important to know, in advance, your horse’s tolerance level to prevent your helper from frightening the horse and causing possible injury to the horse and/or handlers by the overuse of any of these objects.
For some horses just the mere appearance of one of these objects will be more than enough to get his attention, while others are just fine if the helper leaps madly about while flailing a plastic bag.
(8) Equipment & Settings
Let’s start right off by saying camera phones are not on the list.
A camera with a telephoto lens starting at 135 mm is good.
If you’re using a “point and shoot” camera, have an optical zoom that goes to at least 200 mm.
If you have a telephoto zoom lens, use the long end of the range, 200 to 300 mm.
For performance and conformation photos, use the burst, or continuous shooting mode.