California Riding Magazine •September, 2013

Better Pix
A little bit of forethought goes a long way in photographing horses.

The idea that "everybody is a photographer" in our digital era is a common concept. True, digital photography allows us to take and enjoy a lot of pictures without the cost of developing them. It also allows us to waste a lot of time taking mediocre, often outright bad, photographs. Whether you are taking pix of your horse for Facebook or an old-fashioned scrapbook or for more serious, marketing-oriented purposes, it's not hard to up your game as an amateur shutterbug.

Herewith, some basic tips from professional photographer Cheryl Erpelding and amateur Kim F. Miller.

Light: Avoid midday photo shoots. The light is harsh and nobody, even your horse, will look their best in it. Early morning and late afternoon offer softer, more flattering lighting.

Composition: Check the frame for stray objects in the foreground or background that distract attention from your horse. Is there a wheelbarrow or manure pile in the background? A jump standard that will appear as though it's sticking up out of your horse's head? If so, set up the shot somewhere else and look at everything in the frame before you press the shutter.


This shot captures the action at the conventional top-of-the-fence moment. Including the crowd and mountains in the background provides a nice feel for the setting at HITS Thermal. However, it would have been nice if Kim set up the same elements in a shot that did not include the gray lighting pole in the foreground. It ruins another wise pretty good picture!

Action: When shooting action, Cheryl likes to shoot 400 ISO (film speed) and she usually sets the shutter to 1/500 second. The faster your shutter speed, the better your chance of sharp focus and catching things like arena dirt flying up in the wake of a reiner's slide. Alternatively, you can slow down your shutter speed and pan along with the action and get the blur motion that can make your photo have a cool look that conveys motion.


Anticipate the Action: Studying your subject in advance of shooting will help you get a great shot. Here, Cheryl positioned herself just right to get the whole drill team into the frame, including close-ups on several faces that convey the fun and excitement of their performance.

Follow the Horse: Cheryl usually tries to keep the focus on the horse's shoulder and count the rhythm of strides to the jump to shoot at the right moment. That's instead of just holding the shutter button down and rattling off numerous shots. In my experience, that method leads to getting images that occur a split second before and a split second after the desired moment. And, you wind up with a lot fewer crummy pictures that need to be trashed.


A fast shutter speed captures dramatic details like this sporthorse's tail flying behind him.

Experiment With Angles: You can shoot landing shots instead of just the perfect square knees at the top of the jump. Zooming in close can produce cool and unconventional results. Zoom in tight to get those powerful action images. You don't always have to get every
inch of the rider and horse's body to tell a dramatic story.


Zooming in on Lane Clark provides a glimpse of the intensity
required to navigate a Grand Prix course at HITS Thermal.

Practice: With digital cameras, it's easy to check to see if you are too soon or too late and doing so regularly will help hone your timing. You can't take too many photos, but do get into the habit of deleting photos on the fly to avoid an unmanageable quantity of shots.

Cheat!: Study the professional's photographs and try to recreate what they do.