Horse photographers work to capture an equine’s essence — and that’s no small feat! Learn more about how they do it.
Working with clients that take time to warm up to strangers, may frighten easily and weigh between 900 and 2,000 pounds comes with the territory when you’re a horse photographer. Whether they’re taking fine art portraits, candid snaps, or are shooting weddings that take place on horse farms, equine photographers have a big job — literally!
TIPS FROM THE PROS
In this article, equine photographers Jeni Brunner and Shelley Paulson share tips on working with horses, how to connect with them, and what keeps these photographers so in love with their profession. Jeni, owner of Jeni Jo Photography, is based in Wenatchee, Washington. She travels the United States with the goal of capturing the relationship between horse and rider in a variety of settings: beaches, cityscapes, sand dunes, flowery meadows, rivers, mountains and more.
She notes that a skilled equine photographer must possess general knowledge about horses in order to stay safe, as well about as the client and anyone else in the vicinity. “There’s a lot of liability when working with horses (and animals in general) so strong contracts and good communication are key if you want to work in the industry,” Jeni says.
Shelley owns a self-titled photography business in Buffalo, Minnesota, offering equine commercial and editorial photography and videography. She says that having a calm demeanor is important when working with horses. “When I show up to a photoshoot, I usually walk in the barn without my camera. I want to gently meet the horse and make a calm connection with him so he doesn’t see me as a threat,” she says. “During the photo session, I try to keep my energy quiet, yet confident, unless we’re chasing the horses around to get athletic photos at liberty.”
TYPES OF HORSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Curious about the different types of horse photography? Here are a few of the most common!
- EQUINE FINE ART PORTRAITS
- FASHION EDITORIALS
- CANDID SHOTS
- HORSE SHOWS/ SHOW ADVERTISING
- FOAL PHOTOS
- FAMILY PHOTOS
- SENIOR/RETIREE PORTRAITS
- ENGAGEMENT AND WEDDING PHOTOS
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONNECTION
The stronger the relationship a rider has with a horse, the higher quality the photograph will be. “First and foremost, there needs to be a bond between the horse and rider for me to be able to capture it,” Jeni says. “My entire business revolves around that bond. If a girl is afraid or doesn’t know her horse well, the photos likely won’t turn out as planned.
There also should be mutual respect between the two for the rider to be able to ask certain things from the horse. This takes lots of time, consistency and bonding in the saddle as well as on the ground. There are always outliers though…I’ve photographed very new teams, where the girl has only owned the horse for a few days and the bond is already incredibly strong. That’s rare but very special.”
It takes time to become a skilled horse photographer, and a love of horses is a definite requirement. Jeni began riding at age five, showed in 4H, AQHA breed shows, and WAHSET (the high school equestrian team for her state). For her 20th birthday, she received a camera. “I played around with landscape photography for a while, since I was really into hiking during that time. But I soon found myself in the fashion photography world, traveling to Seattle almost every weekend and shooting with models for magazines and various clothing companies. It wasn’t until I was asked by a friend to take photos of her and her horse that I realized how much I missed being around horses.”
HOW IT DIFFERS FROM PHOTOGRAPHING HUMANS
Both Jeni and Shelley say that shooting images of horses differs greatly from merely snapping pictures of humans. “The biggest difference is that the photographer really needs to understand horse handling,” says Shelley. “From a safety standpoint, you need to be able to read when a horse is starting to build up nervous energy and know how to diffuse it, and also know what you should or shouldn’t do when posing a person with a horse so the person stays safe. From a photography standpoint, you need to know how to make a horse look his best. The subtleties of that come from a lot of time and experience with horses.”
CALMNESS IS KEY
“Horse photography requires a lot of patience,” adds Jeni. “At every session, I’m always at the mercy of the horse. It doesn’t matter if there’s a pose I really want to do or a certain location the client wants to go to; if the horse doesn’t want to make it happen, we have to be flexible with our plans and always go with the flow of the horse.”
Horse photography is a fine art. With proper technique, handling and composure, the results will be worth the effort.