There’s a saying that the best camera is the one you have with you. While there’s no doubt that DSLR cameras take great photos, these days most people carry a smartphone with them. It’s likely that your phone camera will be the device you go for to capture that perfect moment with your favorite horse. If you want to do your noble steed justice and have him looking as majestic – or as cute – as he really is, you’ll need a few tricks up your sleeve. We’ve got some top tips and tricks of the trade that will help you get your best ever, wall-worthy photos.
The main thing to remember about light is that you need lots of it to take action shots using a smartphone camera. If you’re taking photos of a horse moving around, an outdoor arena is best, and a sunny day is ideal.
If you’d like to take portrait shots, the first and last hours of the day have a beautiful quality of light that will really make your photos stand out. It’s well worth setting that alarm and getting outdoors first thing in the morning. If you’re not a morning person then go for the ‘golden hour’ just before sunset for lighting with a golden-honey tone and a magical quality.
Try to position yourself with your back to the sun so that your subject is in the best light. Just remember to check that you’re not casting a shadow that will spoil your shot.
A smartphone camera is designed to focus on most things within a picture. It can be very difficult to get smartphone photos with the arty blurred backgrounds the pros often use, as the camera just isn’t built for that effect.
However, one trick you can try is to tap the screen in the area showing the subject of your photo. This will tell your camera to ignore the rest of the shot and just focus on that one area, making sure that the viewer’s eye is drawn to your subject first.
The best photographers use something called ‘the rule of thirds’ when composing their pictures.
To do this, the composition is divided up into three sections from top to bottom, and three sections from side to side (nine sections in total). Most cameras have a grid section overlay that can be turned on so that you can actually see the lines as you compose your shot.
To turn on gridlines from an Apple phone – Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid.
And for Android phones – Settings > More > Grid Lines.
Make sure that whatever you’re photographing isn’t dead center, but is off to one side – ideally where the lines intersect. This helps make interesting photos that a viewer wants to look at for longer.
Don’t just think about how your horse looks on camera – think about the background too. A plain background will show your horse off best unless he happens to be the same color. Your gray mare may disappear in the snowy pasture, and your black pony may not stand out against the rubber riding arena.
Also, watch for trees and fence poles ‘growing’ from horse’s heads, and horse’s ‘borrowing’ extra legs from field mates. Sometimes a step or two to a different position is all you need for a great shot.
Watch the Ears (and Feet, and Tail…)
Chances are that when you take your photo you’ll be looking at the horse’s face – but try not to forget about the rest of him or her. There’s nothing more disappointing than having an almost perfect photo, but realizing you’ve chopped off the horse’s feet. Or tail, ears, muzzle…
If you can’t fit everything in, check your surroundings and take a step back.
Turn Your Phone
It may sound obvious, but don’t forget to turn your phone sideways if you want to capture a wider picture. This will work best pictures in which you want to include a background – a chestnut horse against a field of blue flowers, for example.
If you are going to be putting your photos straight onto Instagram, you might want to try shooting square pictures. You can choose a square picture shape with Apple phones running iOS 7 and newer by scrolling along the bottom of the screen to select ‘Square’.
If you have an Android phone, you can shoot from directly inside the Instagram app, but this might give you fewer camera features than using the camera itself.
If you pre-plan a horsey photo shoot take care of all the preparation the day before if you can. Your horse will be less likely to stand still for pictures if he’s already stood still to be bathed, dried, combed, and groomed. He can spend the night covered up, in a clean stall so that he’ll be ready for his close-up in the morning.
Try to take photos away from distractions. That way, horses and humans alike can concentrate on the photographs with less risk. You may also want to apply liberal amounts of fly repellant in summer – no one can stand still with flies around!
Your photos will be far better if you have your horse’s attention. Have some of his favorite treats on hand (if the wrapping makes a crinkly sound, even better) and use them to get him looking in the right direction. Use a helper to deploy the treats while you get on with the photos and artistic direction. Some people even download an app with horse sounds to get attention but make sure these sounds don’t upset him before you choose this method. Portrait pictures, in particular, will be more engaging if the horse’s ears are forward.
Flashes and Beeps
Turn off any noises on your phone that might spook your equine friend. If you can’t turn them off, test them out at a safe distance first and gradually get closer until you’re certain that he isn’t bothered by them.
Remember Where You Are
It’s very easy to become absorbed in taking pictures, but around horses, it should always be safety first. Try to keep an awareness of your surroundings, other horses, and what your subject is paying attention to. This is especially important if you are photographing loose horses in a field. Having a horsey friend to help you out is a huge advantage when taking horse pictures.
Short Leg Syndrome
A professional horse photographer’s tip is to keep your camera lens roughly level with the horse’s chest. If you don’t, there’s a good chance that your beautiful equine friend will come out looking strangely proportioned. If the camera is too high, his legs will appear stumpy – hold the camera too low, and he may look too long-legged.
Similar problems can come from standing directly in front of or behind the horse, making heads or behinds appear too big. No-one wants an unflattering photo of their behind, so try taking photos from the front and at a slight angle. You’ll see your horse’s face and shoulder as well as the rider’s face if it’s a ridden picture.
Burst Mode is a great feature for capturing action shots – and let’s be honest, even taking a horsey portrait can feel like trying to get an action shot. Burst Mode takes a number of photos fractions of a second apart, raising the chances that you’ll capture the perfect moment in at least one of them.
Not all cameras have Burst Mode, but you can download apps that will add the effect. Depending on your phone, you’ll be able to take from 5 to 30 photos per second.
Burst Mode does use a lot of processing power, so be warned – .your phone may well close other running apps to free up memory. All photos taken in this mode will be saved to your phone’s SD card, no matter what your usual photo settings are.
It won’t always be a perfect sunny day, so if you end up having to take photos in low light, HDR (High Dynamic Range) Mode may help you beat the conditions.
HDR Mode takes three shots when you press the shutter once – all at different exposures. This means that each shot allows different amounts of light into the camera. The software then chooses the most detailed areas of each picture and merges them together to create one, much better, shot.
Now that we’ve told you some of the ‘rules’ of photography, why not try breaking them?
Put your subject dead center. Take photos into the light, and ignore the rule of thirds completely. In the worst case scenario, you’ll delete a lot of photos, but you could end up with a fantastic, arty shot that’s unique to you and your horse. What have you got to lose?
Try taking photos from odd angles and different points of view. Peep through the grass, or walk alongside your horse. Experiment and have fun, and you’ll take more photos. And the more photos you take, the better you’ll get.
Editing can be a really fun and rewarding part of taking photos, but many people never try it. Most phones have an editing app already installed or you can download one, like Snapseed, or Afterlight. Editing can sometimes rescue a photo with too much or too little light, or you can crop out unwanted objects. If you have a choice, a slightly darker photo can be lightened with editing, but a photo that is too bright cannot resurrect those pixels. Play around with coloring, black & white, and adding effects to your photos till you have the perfect picture – one that expresses who you and your horse really are.