Final tips from our professional photographer
“An overcast day meant flat light and, teamed with the snowy background, this made an idyllic setting for a horse-and-rider portrait shoot. Had the sun been shinning it would have made it much harder to expose for the dark horse and the white snow,” says Craig. “If it is sunny, move into the shade and use a bit of fill-flash to bring back some of the shadow detail.”
Wide vs close-up
“How close you crop the composition will alter the effect of the image,” Craig says. “Using a zoom lens with a variable focal length means you can take different images quickly,” Craig says. “By including more of the scene you give the rider and horse some context to their environment and surroundings, but then coming in closer you create a more intimate feel between the two.”
“It’s best to use AI Servo autofocus mode as this is best for tracking moving subjects. Even with a static set up there’s still a lot of twitchy movements in the horse and it’s vitally important to keep both the model and horse in focus,” Craig says.
Look into the eye
“The dark convex shape of a horse’s eye means you can capture a reflection of the landscape – with you included – by getting in really close,” Craig says. “But avoid including the whites of the eyes as this makes the horse look scared. As you need to get in pretty close to the horse you want to make sure the horse is comfortable with you doing this. Don’t make any fast or unpredictable movements that may startle it – be calm and move slowly.”
Best foot backwards
“A shot of a rider walking the horse away from the photographer looks great in the right setting,” Craig says. “It’s important to keep the focus on the horse and the rider. For that reason, keep the focus on the ears of the horse as the rider will also be in line with this. You want to wait until the back leg of the horse is extended to see the movement of walking; without this the image will not have so much impact.”
Dressage to impress!
“Dressage is an art form in the equine community,” Craig says. “I look to capture the moment of elevation, when the horse pushes through its hind legs to propel itself forward. Ideally you want to see two inverted ‘V’s as the horse crosses its legs and glides gracefully across the arena.”
Jump to it
“The timing for capturing great action shots is critical,” Craig says. “Start firing the shutter as the horse leaves the ground and follow the action from start to finish, as that way you can select the best image that shows the arc and form of the jump. A wider composition leaves space for your subject to move into. It all happens very quickly, so you need to be ready!”
Live with the noise pollution
“It’s a constant battle and compromise between using a faster shutter speed or higher ISO setting when on an action shoot,” Craig says.
“I feel it’s more important to keep the action sharp and compromise on the image quality by increasing the ISO. This is especially true at jumping events and indoor shoots. If the horse is blurred you’ve lost the shot, however a bit of noise is more bearable.”
In this example the ISO is set to 6400 and still printable at sizes up to around A5.
“Although many horses are well disciplined and can be positioned easily, you’ll need something to attract their attention when you want them to look directly at the camera,” Craig advises. “I shake a box of paper clips around. It’s amazing how effective this is. I also find doing some star jumps draws their attention, although this can get a little tiring after a while!”