Summer is getting ready to take the reins and that means horse show season is right around the corner. If your child, you, or another loved one has trained hard all winter to get them show ring ready, it’s safe to say you’re going to want to have some photos to document the experience.
If you happen to have some experience handling and riding horses, you’ll be at an advantage because you’ll already have some horse sense and you’ll know what to be looking for. But, if you’ve never been around horses before and want to photograph a friend or family member at a competition, consider investing a little time into learning some industry best practices to ensure you’re prepared for the occasion.
Do’s And Don’ts
Horses are big animals that spook easily. Since safety is always the number one priority, there are a few things you should and shouldn’t do to keep you and everyone else out of harm’s way. Additionally, there may also be horse show rules or protocol you should make yourself aware of if you’re new to the scene. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you out along the way:
- DON’T use a flash around the horses. Not all horses enjoy bright lights flashing in their eyes and may become spooked if it happens. For safety’s sake, turn off your flash.
- DO think about where you’re standing and be aware of your surroundings. Climbing the arena rail and hanging your camera out over the top of it to snap a picture of your rider may seem like a great way to get an action shot, but it can spook or distract the horses. If you’re not familiar with the horses, err on the side of caution.
- DON’T forget to familiarize yourself with the style of event you are photographing. In addition to nailing the exposure and overall composition of the frame, timing is a huge part of equestrian photography. There are very precise moments that equestrians consider ideal to take a photograph. For example, at the trot, when the horses leading front leg is fully extended (not bent at the knee). Or, when jumping, when the horse is at the highest point of the jump and the horses topline forms an arc. There are many intricacies and particulars, so be sure to ask for a few pointers from your rider or their trainer ahead of time.
- DO know the competitions rules on photography. Some competitions will have a professional photographer who has paid big bucks for the opportunity to cover the show. They don’t always take it kindly when a different photographer shows up and starts photographing everyone and handing out the photos or, in some cases, trying to sell them. If there is a professional photographer covering the event you’re attending, you may be limited to only photographing the rider you came with. This will vary between different competitions and is somewhat of a grey area in horse show photography protocol, but it’s always best to not step on the toes of a professional photographer who has paid to be a vendor at the event. Be respectful and earn some extra good photographer karma in the process.
It also may be a good idea to get some practice shots in before the big day. Ask your rider if they’d mind if you came and snapped a few shots of them during some training rides at their barn. You can also use the opportunity to pick up some additional horse etiquette.
In The Ring
When it’s your riders turn to shine in the show ring, you want to make sure you’re in a spot that will be give you an unobstructed view of what’s going on. Get to the ring a little early to do a little scouting to find the best position. If the event requires the rider to follow a certain course, take the time to learn the course to help you determine the best place to photograph from. If possible, watch a few riders complete it before it’s your riders turn to go and experiment with different spots.
For classes that have lots of action and go quickly, such as show jumping or barrel racing, use the burst mode on your camera to make sure you don’t miss any action. You may also want to start tracking the horse and rider (locking the focus on the horse and following their movement with the camera), to help you time your shots more accurately. For example, rather than focusing your camera on the top of a jump and trying to snap a picture of the horse as it jumps over it, get the horse and rider in your viewfinder as soon as it enters the ring and follow it along, taking pictures at multiple points during the duration of it’s round.
In classes where your rider shares the ring with other horses and riders, do your best to get at least a shot or two where it’s just your horse and rider in the frame. But, be sure to grab pictures of the other riders as well. Give your zoom lens a workout and take a variety of close up shots and wide angle shots.
Behind The Scenes
Remember all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into getting to the horse show? All of that is still happening at the horse show by every single competitor there, which means ample opportunities to catch some behind the scenes shots. In fact, some of the best horse show photos are taken outside of the show ring.
Look for candid moments between horse and rider to take photos of. Some good examples would be a rider polishing their boots, cleaning tack, or feeding their horse a carrot at the end of a long show day. Just be on the lookout for “moments” that help tell the story of the horse show experience.
Lastly, do your best to always be on. You never know when the perfect photo opportunity will present itself, and any time you’re photographing animals, you have a limited amount of time to take the photo before you miss it!