Horse Photography

by Debbie Garside


Highwood Horses:  When capturing horses at the gallop a shutter speed of 1/350th to 1/400th is necessary
to freeze action.

As a horse trainer for the past 30 years, I had always tried to capture the most traditional poses that one would use to advertise a horse for breeding or competition,   Now that nature photography is my main passion, I am enjoying the challenge of seeking out new ways to portray the horse in a more artistic context. Here are a few of my tips and recommendations.

Safety: One of the most important things to remember when photographing horses is that they are unpredictable.  Even though we view them as domestic animals and often as pets, it is important to remember a few important safety rules when dealing with horses.  a) never enter a horse's enclosure unless you have permission from the owner or person in charge of the animal b) if you are not an experienced horse person, make sure that someone that is knowledgable about horses is close by to help control the animal  b) even a quiet, well trained horse can respond unpredictably c) never deliberately frighten or chase a horse as this can easily result in an injury to the horse d) a horse's ears indicate its mood, if a horse has its ears pressed backwards - danger: do not approach! 

Portrait shots.  Shooting the horse from an oblique angle (see Kitwood) usually produces the most flattering portrait. I prefer to have the horse without a bridle or halter so that the horse looks more natural.  Most people prefer to see the horse with both ears forward, as this tends to indicate that the horse is happy and alert and would be the human equivalent of having your subject make a smile. Photo on right - Warmblood hunter "Kitwood" in his stall.  This photo was taken in very low evening light with a high ISO.  Notice the inside of the stall is almost black which provides contrast to his red bay coat. Also the angle of the photo creates diagonal lines within the architecture which is also pleasing to the eye.

One of the challenges of photographing horses is in getting the horse to act naturally and interact in a normal way with other horses while in the presence of humans.  In general, if you have the time and patience a horse will always come and check you out, and allow you to engage it, and if you are even further patient it will eventually return to acting naturally within its surroundings or with its pasture mates.   When dealing with young foals, crouching down to their level and speaking quietly will often be enough to get them to approach.  Be aware of protective mothers.

 Something to be aware of in shooting horses is that due to their body shape you can end up with some very unflattering distortion if you are not careful with your positioning.  Because of their long neck and nose be very careful not to shoot from too low or too close otherwise you end up with the 'big nose, small eye' or 'big head, small body' look.  This photo of my two year old pinto "Overtone" uses the distortion in an way that creates humour or interest. Getting Overtone to engage the camera is never a problem, other than he likes to get too close and fog up my lens!  Photo below on left - Me and My Shadow;  The image was taken in early evening light which allowed me to have fun using his shadow to make the composition unique.  To avoid this type of distortion I recommend always trying to shoot from the horse's eye level.    Another view that works well is to stand directly behind the horse (be careful - not too close!), so that the image gives the viewer the sense that he is observing that which the horse sees.  This is Overtone's pasture mate Quiet Time.  He was enjoying his retirement gazing out towards the eastern slopes in the last glow of evening light. Photo below middle - Quiet time (rearview)

As with any good composition, look for dramatic or moody lighting.  this images were taken as a thunderstorm was approaching and the horses were heading for shelter.  This shot is an example of a good image without the horse's typical 'head up and ears forward'.   Photo above right - Calm Before Storm

It is always a challenge shooting horses that have white markings, especially when the horse has a short summer coat which will often reflect the sun.   Soft lighting is best, but if you must work with strong light be careful not to 'blow out' the white parts of the horse.  As with any high contrast subject you may want to underexpose your subject a little, and later bring out the shadows and/or use burn tool to soften the glare coming from the white markings. Photo 7): Overtone head on.  As soon as Overtone sees me coming he trots or gallops across the pasture to see what treats are in store.  Having a horse gallop towards you can be quite intimidating and should only be done with experts present.

Horse scenes lend themselves beautifully to panoramic shots. While driving back from a hike in Kananaskis I viewed this group of young fillies.  They were excited about a group of riders high above them on the ridgeline and proceeded to gallop back and forth, sometimes pausing to look my direction.  

Tell a story:  when at a rodeo or horse show, try to come up with images that tell a story and provide an unusual view.  Sometimes the most candid shots are available in the practice or cool down areas of public events. Experiment with different depths of field.  This photo was taken in the warm-up ring at a competition just prior to the award presentations.  photo 8) After the Class

If you have any questions regarding horse photography I would be happy to answer them at the email below.

8 horses by Debra Garside ©

Debra Garside portrait


Debra Garside is one of Canada's most accredited riding coaches and a former grand prix show jumping rider. Now an up and coming photographer, she lives in Turner Valley, Alberta near the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies, with her two dogs and 3 horses.  In the last year Debra's photographic journeys have taken her from Antarctica
and Patagonia to north of the Arctic Circle.

Contact Debra at
or to view her work please go to