first published in the August 2021 Equiery

Ever sift through someone’s social media page and wonder… how did they get that shot? Photography, in general, is an art form that more and more people are diving into, especially with advancements in smart phone lenses allowing everyone to be able to snap a photo with just a touch. Composing a good photo can be challenging but composing a good horse photo is even more challenging because the subject never stops moving, must be photographed outdoors, doesn’t take direction well, and a host of other technical issues that require skill, timing and sometimes a bit of luck in order to get the shot.

We asked two of our Equiery freelance photographers to share their tips on how to shoot a good horse action shot as well as how to stage an equine photo shoot.

Tammie J. Monaco received her first camera when she was in third grade and won her first photography contest in sixth grade, shooting with a Polaroid. Over the years, she has moved on to Nikons but has never stopped taking photos, especially of equine sporting events such as the Maryland steeplechase season. Monaco is also a rider who loves to trail ride and hunter pace with her ponies.

Chelsea Spear took up photography a few years ago when she started shooting photos for Caprika Realty, which she owns with her husband. She then started taking her camera to horse shows to take photos of her friends and realized how much emotion can be captured with our beautiful equine partners. Since then, Spear has worked for Amy Dragoo, Erin Gilmore and a few other event photographers. Spear is also an Area II event rider and dressage enthusiast, and was our onsite photographer for the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event in April.

Ten Tips for Staging Equine Photo Shoots
1. Time of day is super important. Your best light is in the morning and evening. Mid-day, when the sun is overhead, the shadows tend to be harsh. – Tammie J. Monaco
2. Have your horse looking amazing. You are generally paying good money for a session when hiring a professional photographer so put your best foot forward. Going the extra mile to braid, bathe, etc., really makes for some awesome photos. – Chelsea Spear
3. Look up “horse sounds” on YouTube and videos will come up that can help keep the horse’s attention. Hang on tight though as some horses get anxious when they hear it! – Tammie J. Monaco
4. Breathe. Take moments to relax your face and then smile for the camera. – Chelsea Spear
5. Consider your background. You can stand a horse up perfectly but if it’s in front of the manure pile, you better be pretty proficient at PhotoShop to clean that mess up! – Tammie J. Monaco
6. You don’t need a huge extravagant place or setting to create amazing pictures. Look around your farm for some good backdrops. – Chelsea Spear
7. Candid shots tend to be the client’s favorite; so don’t spend too much time over posing. – Chelsea Spear
8. Plan ahead by having the client send you a few samples of exactly what they are looking for. – Tammie J. Monaco
9. You need a minimum of three people to make the magic happen: a photographer, a handler and a rodeo clown. – Tammie J. Monaco
10. One extra tip from The Equiery’s Art Director Katherine O. Rizzo: Have the rider bring several attire options to change in and out of for a variety of shots. Sometimes what the client thinks will look good next to her horse doesn’t always translate well in photographs, so having options will help ensure the final product is fantastic.

Ten Tips for Shooting Live Action Equestrian Competitions
1. Personally I like a fast shutter speed like ~1600 for a crisp shot. – Tammie J. Monaco
2. Auto ISO since outdoor lighting can change in an instant. You know you want a crisp shot, so let the camera adjust the ISO for you. – Tammie J. Monaco
3. Always be ready to shoot! Things don’t always go as planned during competitions so be prepared to pivot and get that awesome shot. – Chelsea Spear
4. Be prepared! Always have rain gear packed (or at least a garbage bag tucked into your equipment bag) for unexpected downpours. – Tammie J. Monaco
5. Make quick decisions about where to shoot from. Sometimes you have the best spot picked out but the way the horses are jumping the fence just does not work. Figure it out quickly and move as needed. – Chelsea Spear
6. Use a single focus point. There are times my camera is smarter than me but when deciding on which horse I want to focus to be on, it is not. – Tammie J. Monaco
7. Get every hoof in focus. Focus your camera on the head of the horse, which helps. – Chelsea Spear
8. Follow your subject as you shoot. – Tammie J. Monaco
9. Having a feel for the camera shutter is almost like having a feel for a canter rhythm in a grid… knowing when to click and when to wait is so important. – Chelsea Spear
10. When posting to your site, edit out the “bad” photos. No one wants to see the 623 images you shot yesterday. Delete the blurry, awkward, poorly cropped, bad stride, underexposed, overexposed and bad captures before posting. – Tammie J. Monaco