There’s a not-so-secret trick that equine photographers keep in their bag of tricks. It’s striking and classic, and makes people go “oooo” and “ahhhh”. What am I talking about? The “black background” shot.
It’s one of the most impressive pictures you can take of your horse, but it’s also one of the easiest. There’s no special lighting or big black backdrops we set up behind the horses… the trick is a barn aisleway or door with the light shining in on it.
Let’s look at Simon’s birthday picture from this year:
This was taken with a cell phone, but do you see how dark it is surrounding his face? That’s the kind of situation that I look for when taking a black background shot.
To get the look, position your horse so his head is light by the sun and the back of him is still in the shadows. Then, you want to get in front of him and look through the view finder of your camera. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look 100% black, but try to move your frame so there’s no light shining through something in the background. In the above example, you can see the open barn doors at the end of the hall. To make this 100% perfect, you’d ideally want to shut any interior doors or windows.
This is one of my shots Saturday, straight off the camera. As you can see, the lighting isn’t perfect inside the barn. It’s just a tad too light, but workable. Also, this was taken midday so the sunlight is pretty harsh – which washes out the horse.
Some photoshopping, and I can both fix the blackness of the background as well as some of the harsh lighting on Simon. Ideally though, you’d take these shots earlier in the morning or just before the sun sets. That way the horse is lit up from the black background, but it’s not so dark.
Careful positioning of the frame and ideal lighting conditions are the ways to get these photos. You can see in this shot (which I like a bit better honestly) I let too much of the near to me barn get in the frame. Since the interior wall is so close, the camera picks up the details too easily to black out post processing.
Of course, you can always do a wonder in photoshop… but that isn’t always the best look. I call this next one “If Simon were a book cover”. It looks like it’s a documentary about an amazing mean hunter/jumper or something?
These “instructions” may seem shockingly simple, but it’s really not that hard. Look for light hitting an open space that isn’t well lit, like a barn aisle or a stall or even a 3 sided shelter in a turnout pasture. Practice makes perfect!