No matter what kind of camera you have or what it’s set to, arguably the most important aspect of equine photography is timing. Perfect exposure and clarity doesn’t mean anything if you catch the horse looking like a donkey when they are really a 10 mover… and that does happen! Timing is everything.
Those of you with DSLR cameras are going to have an easier time with this one. That’s because the lag between when you click the button to take the photo and when the camera shutter actually goes off is virtually nothing. Also, the nicer the DSLR the less this lag will be.
Point and shoot people, there is still hope… but it’s going to be harder. My main advice to you is take a lot of photos to practice and learn how long your shutter takes to fire. When you get that feel, just take your picture slightly early and you’ll be able to get the excellent timing too.
Regardless of what kind of camera you have, there are a few points in the stride that are considered ideal. This also varies by breed and discipline, but since that gets so diverse I’m going to stick on what you like to see for hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage.
You”ll see this advice a lot, but the goal of shooting any sporthorse horse on the flat is to make them look as uphill and attractive as possible. When I shoot the walk, I like to follow the front leg closest to you (often the outside front) and click the button on the uplift of the leg but before the horse starts placing its hoof down for the step. You can also focus on the leg further away from you and get just as pretty as a picture – it’s really photographer preference at the walk.
If you take the shot too early, as the horse is just lifting it’s front leg up, they will look like they have a lot of knee action in their gaits. If you take the shot too late, as the horse is stepping fully on that front hoof, they will look downhill.
With the trot, there is a very specific stride we want. It’s slightly different for dressage and hunters though, with hunters being a bit more forgiving.
The Hunter Trot
Follow the front leg closest to you. Focus on that leg. that leg is your friend. You want to take the shot when the close front leg is alllllllmost fully extended. Look for the toe flick. Know the toe flick? When a cute moving horse will pop his little toe out for each stride… click your camera right as that toe pops. That’s your ideal hunter stride.
Why the leg closest to you? If you shoot this leg when it’s almost fully extended, you’ll catch the rider sitting lightly in the saddle so long as they’re posting. “Up” post pictures aren’t attractive of the rider, and neither are super down ones (when riders are sitting strongly they tend to compress a bit). Hit this spot, and both horse and rider will be picture perfect.
The Dressage Trot
I do not claim to be an expert on dressage, so this is coming from the equine photography industry group I used to be a part of. For dressage, you want the horse’s back hoof to be planted on the ground when you take the shot. This will ensure you get the most step up underneath the horse as well as front extension… that being said, it’s hard to do. I’m not great at it, and I suggest practice more than anything.
The canter is a gait that doesn’t really have a set standard as far as I’m concerned, but I like to shoot it in one of two ways. 1) The front leg closest to you is almost fully extended but not yet moving down and 2) The front leg closest to you is moving forward. You have to be careful with 1, because if you shoot too late it looks like the horse is super down hill. With 2, if you shoot too early the horse will look like it has a lot of knee action in its gait.
Usually I like the “struck out” photo for hunters, and the uphil “I’m a happy cantering horse” for jumpers/eventing/dressage. It also depends on the horse!
Next time, I will go over timing for jumping when taking photos.