Getting Good Photos...

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Well-Known Member
Jul 7, 2005
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New Zealand
I am always fascinated with some of the lovely photos that are taken of some of the minis.

My question is, how do you get that beautiful expression, with the flaring nostrils, the hard pricked ears and big bright eyes?

Obviously there are a few tricks to it, apart from having a decent camera and photographer

So what tricks do you use?

I got some action photos today of one of my stallions. A mare in season and a stallion on the other side of the fence seems to do the trick.
A big shiny silver reflector.....a good & smelly dead animal skin (available from your local taxidermist shop)....and a good assistant.
I carry a bag of "toys" with me to photo shoots. I'm frequently battling the "not enough people to help" scenario when I'm at farms, so sometimes handling a number of horses isn't feasible, though as mentioned, another horse is always great bait, especially for a stallion.

The first thing I turn to is my mirror. I use a small, easily to handle, bought at the thrift store mirror about 2' x 2'. Most horses will perk up at the sight of themselves -- though I'm sure they don't have a sense of "self", to them it's just another horse. Some horses can be quite frightened of the mirror though, so I always warn the handler of this fact.

The next most popular toy in my bag of tricks is "Pete the Horse". Pete is a stuffed horse who whinnies when you push his tummy. He also says "Hi, I'm Pete the Horse, let's have some fun". Strange though -- none of the horses photographed has yet asked him for a date. I do, however, have quite a few clients' dogs who find him and several of my other toys quite irresistable. We've had to rescue him from under more than one trailer.

I also raid the after Halloween sales at Wal-Mart and buy all the left over witches' brooms for 50 cents a piece. These are short plastic sticks with glittery tinsel at the end. The sticks bend easily, thus the need to keep a large supply on hand! Great attention getters. I also have a rainbow feather duster that works sometimes too.

I have found that most horses respond to strange smells. I did have some REALLY stinky perfume, but that stuff even smelled too bad for me and I'd always end up with some on me
. It got the deep six after a while! Good attention getters include minty toothpaste rubbed on your fingers and musk-like perfumes. A real good au natural scent can be found on your mares or geldings if you know what I mean. Your handler has to have a strong stomach for that one, but it DOES work. I'm also going to try giving animal urine (found in hunting stores) a go too, and of course would LOVE to find some skunk scent without the skunk. Have used small dogs for bait -- well, not literally
, but horses will sometimes perk up to a puppy or small dog held up to them.

Other than that, I have some pet squeaky toys, keys (those REALLY work for zoo animals, by the way), a plastic bag on the end of a stick or whip, crinkly things and last but not least a handful of feed, especially leafy alfalfa is usually good for several shots.

The trick is to have a variety of items. Many horses will "turn off" on toys pretty quickly. It helps to have a horse that is naturally alert and bright anyway -- some horses just will never give you a "look". Some horses tend to die on you early on in the photo shoot, too, especially if it's hot outside. Once they do that, you're done -- no amount of stimulation will get them "up" again. Other horses will stay perky for longer periods of time -- totally depends on the individual. Learn to shoot fast anyway. Shoot everytime the horse's ears are up and he has a bright look on his face and don't worry so much about where his feet are. It's nice to get those beautifully squared up, head up, show stance photos, but if you look in the magazines, some of the most striking photos are those with a little more creative body language.

This is a photo of a friend's broodmare. She is an attractive mare, but standup, show type pictures of her were not in order. She's shaped like a broodmare! This photo was snapped when one of her pasture buddies whinnied and she turned her head to answer. It ended up being one of the loveliest, most feminine pictures of her taken that day.


Robin C
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Brilliant!! Thanks for all the great tips - I've got a really interesting shopping list now

I'm usually doing photo shoots completely by myself with no help what-so-ever, so here are a couple of my tricks.

Last year at our state fair at one of those stupid little toy stands they had these inflatable horses, the size of a miniature foal.

That really gets my mares attention.

But my all time favorite.........a remote control car!!! I can use the remote with one hand and shoot pictures one handed with the other
yes.gif pics aren't as great as Robin's or the great LIZ, maybe someday Robin or LIZ will stop by my house
I think everyone should take the time to photograph their own horses. Even with the simplest point-and-shoot cameras you are bound to get something you like. A more sophisticated camera system does help with perspective and angles, but it is not an absolute requirement. Mostly what is needed is patience, time and practice. Good light and a willing subject don't hurt the cause either!

Every photographer has a different style -- professionals and amateurs alike. I've seen some lovely photos taken by the owner/photographer and I've seen some really crummy ones taken by professionals (including myself
-- I try not to show those off too much!). It goes without saying that Liz is a master at her craft and deserves all the praise her photos receive, but with a little time and creativity, all of you could be making memorable photos of your horses!

Robin C
A good pepermint wrapper does mine in, just crinkle ones and all ears, eyes and noses are alert and accounted for
We'll get ours all set up and the ears will go "airplane". Drives me NUTS. We did get some decent photos of our Junior Stallion Thorn today. Took a hat, a squeaky toy and one of those bicycle horns to get him to put his ears forward.




They're not professional, but they'll due.
I would love to learn more about photographing horses. I'm looking for a new career also, but I don't know who to ask for information. Should I start with basic photo classes? How does a person start this training?

Thank you, I'll do that.

What would be a good basic camera to start with? I could put it on my Christmas list this year.

Abby said:
What would be a good basic camera to start with?

Try a FujiFilm FinePix-A-205. It's a really simple digital camera, good for beginners.

It's 2.0 megapixels, with a 3x optical zoom, 2.5x digital zoom, and a 1.5" D-TFD LCD monitor. My dad got one at Radio Shack for $100. (I think Wal-Mart might have it for the same price.)

Here's links to some of the pictures that I've taken with it! (Note: These have been reduced by 45% for easier downloading.)

DeeDee 1

DeeDee 2

DeeDee 3

DeeDee 4

My "Handy" Work!

It can also take short videos. (No sound.) Check out this cool one I took of my riding instructor's Arab gelding, Galactic! (Image quality has been compressed for easier downloading.)

Galactic Rolling
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It's not so much a matter of cameras as it is lens focal length. The camera is just a light-proof box to hold and advance the film. Most cameras have very similar features, but the lens is a whole different ballgame.

Most professional photographers shoot with SLR cameras (single lens reflex) with interchangeable lenses. Most are now shooting with digital which is very cost effective. I am still shooting with film cameras but have digital images made in an hour, so it works for me. My clients get the benefits of 4 x 6 proofs as well. At some point I'll break down and put out the big bucks for the digital SLR I have my eye on.

As I said, however, the lens is the key, whether you are shooting film or digital. The main difference is the vernacular. If shooting with a film camera, the ideal lens is 300 mm, though a 210 mm (a very popular size) will suffice in a pinch. A nice versatile lens is a 70-210mm or better yet a 75-300mm. A high quality 35-300 mm will get you just about any shot and you won't even have to change lenses. Be aware though that there is a BIG difference in quality in lenses. A cheap lens is just that -- a cheap lens which will not provide as sharp of images as a more expensive lens. I guess here is where a good basic Photo 101 course pays off, to understand camera-speak. Here goes: Lenses can be purchased with all types of numbers associated with them which seem like Greek unless you've familiarized yourself with their purpose. The two most meaningful numbers are focal length (a 75-210 is considered a "zoom" lens with a long focal length, while a 35 mm lens or 50 mm lens is a "prime" lens -- it only has one focal length and it is considered a "normal" lens; A 21-28 mm lens is a wide angle zoom). The secondmost important number is the minimum aperture, expressed as an "F" number. You might see this on a lens advertised for sale: 75-300 mm f5.6. That lens has an average capability of gathering light for your photo (remembering that shutter speeds are determined by the amount of light you have available, either natural or flash). Another lens might say: 75-300 mm f3.5. This lens will also have a BIG sticker shock waiting for you! It's light gathering ability is much greater meaning you can use faster shutter speeds. For most photographers this is a GOOD thing. Increased shutter speeds means sharper pictures in fast action. OK, so everybody's bored now with numbers. Suffice it to say, if purchasing a lens for a 35 mm SLR, you DO NOT want anything that does not at LEAST have an F-stop of 5.6. Some of the cheaper lenses will start at f8 and go up.

These cheaper lenses will NOT gather enough light for equine photography (or most anything else for that matter). In other words, a prime 300 mm lens (that is, it is only 300 mm and not a zoom) with the smallest F-stop of F4 may cost $800, while a prime 300 mm lens with the smallest F-stop of F2.8 will cost in the thousands (and will also be extremely heavy requiring a tripod). You'll find the average 75-300 mm lens to have a beginning F-stop in the 4.5 to 5.6 range. These will do and you will be able to hand-hold it, too. Big advantage.

For those shooting digital, the 300 mm equivalent is 8x optical zoom. Not many of the compact digitals go up to 8x. You most frequently see them in the 3x to 5x range which is fine for general vacation shots. For horses you will want at least 8x. These are usually the bigger models that look more like an SLR with bigger lenses. Don't confuse digital zoom with optical zoom. It's the optical zoom that counts. Your image degrades once the digital zoom is brought into play. You get a BIGGER image, but it is not as sharp.

If all you have to play with is a smaller compact camera, don't despair. You'll just be a little more restricted when it comes to angles and perspective. Stick with body shots where the horse is completely sideways to you. If you try 3/4 front or 3/4 rear or even head shots, your perspective will be off and the horse may look like he has a big head or nose compared to the rest of the body. It's not you that is making the error -- it's the physics of the lens. Body shots, however, like the kind you take for transfer papers, will work just fine. Also most action shots with the horse not too awfully close to the camera may turn out nicely, too.

As far as careers in equine photography go -- well, let's just say it's a hard row to hoe. I was a professional natural history photographer for over 10 years and earned some money through book and magazine sales -- but never enough to support myself. It is said that there are only 100 nature photographers in the whole country whose sole income is photo-related and most of that comes from book sales, seminars and workshops -- not their actual photography. The same can be said for equine photographers. There is an elite few who will make their sole living from it -- and I'm NOT one of them. I have plenty of clients, but it's not enough to live off of as I try to be very reasonable with my pricing. I do it as a sideline, mostly because I enjoy it and it keeps my creative juices flowing and it does provide a little extra income for horse toys!

I taught nature photography for years and have dabbled with equine photography for my entire adult life (don't have enough fingers and toes to count that high). I'd be happy to answer any questions I can.

Robin C
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Thanks for the photo lesson Robin!

You're being way to modest on your abilities - you really know what you're doing. I've seen your work. That is a good idea to take a Photography 101 class - the last photography class I took was in junior high - a long time ago!

Question - those wonderful shots that are angled - head or butt - what do you need in a camera that makes a difference. I'm queen of the 'big head' shot, and have always wondered about those in the MHW that are so nice.

Question 2 - I just cut/pasted/filed your photo advice, so while I absorb it, do you have any recommendations on digital camera(s) in the $800-1000 range to photo horses mostly stills for ads/internet other than the 8x optical speed?
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Michelle - The most important element in gaining correct perspective for angled shots is lens length. Make sure your camera is able to zoom to at least the 200 mm focal length (preferably 300 mm). Anythnig less may throw off the perspective. Longer lenses do two things: 1) they allow you to get further away from your subject which gives you more flexibility in framing and 2) they flatten perspective. This is a physical property of the lens. Wide angle lenses found on most compact cameras (28-35 mm) do just the opposite and expand perspective - thus the "big head" syndrome. This lens "pushes" away closer objects so lengthens the head. In digital cameras, the equivalent optical zoom will be an absolute minimum of 6x, preferably 8x to match the 300 mm equivalent.

Any compact digital camera in the $800-1000 range will be able to do what you need as they will all be high resolution and have significant amount of optical zoom. Some even go into the 12x range now which gives you the 400 mm equivalent. That's some great flexibility. I like the HP's, Canon and Nikon primarily. IF you can spend just a little more, you can step up to the Canon or Nikon entry level digital SLR. Wal-Mart is now carrying the Canon model for right at $900. Comes with the "normal" lens though, so you would still have to spend a couple of hundred dollars more to get the 75-300 equivalent and would probably have to go through a camera store to get it. You can buy a decent Canon lens (75-300 F5.6) of that type for under $400. Tamron and other third party manufacturers (there are good ones and so-so ones in that genre) also produce lenses for Canon and those are usually a tad cheaper. Bottom line is that for under $1500 you could have the power, flexibility and quality of a near-professional outfit. You'll pay almost that much for the top quality compact digital. The advantage to the compact is that it will have less of a learning curve to get up and running, and is lighter in your hand. Choices, choices! In the $800-1000 range you could get what you need either way - SLR or compact.

Robin C

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