Riding Tips

7 Simple Tips For Taking Better Photos of Horses in Action

horse running photography
Written by Emma Murphy

Lights, camera, stunning horses in action!

Are you looking to take better photos of horses in action? It’s not without its challenges. Horses are some of the most beautiful and photogenic creatures on earth. To capture their presence in a photo, it’s important to know how to best take advantage of their natural movements and expressions.

When it comes to horseback riding photos, action shots are always the most exciting. But how can you make sure your action photos are interesting, sharp, and compositionally sound?

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, these tips will help you capture the power and beauty of horses in motion.

1. Preparation is Key for Horse Photography

It is important to be fully prepared before beginning any form of horseback riding. The same rule applies to those embarking on a horse photography session. The time to research show jumping photography settings, for example, isn’t when the first competitor enters the ring!

First and foremost, you need to have the proper equipment. While your smartphone might be fine for everyday shots, it’s not going to cut it when it comes to horse photography.

You don’t need to invest a fortune, but there are a few solid requirements.

As we’ll discuss in the following tips, the ability to change lenses and settings is crucial for any serious equine photographer. If you are not sure where to start, there are plenty of online camera comparisons and reviews to inspire you.

horse running photography

Source: Canva

Second, dress for success. Wear comfortable clothing that won’t restrict your movement if you need to move around to capture the action.

If it’s going to be a long day outdoors, don’t forget to wear a hat or sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun.

As we all know, horses are unpredictable and known for kicking up a lot of dirt. Be prepared to get muddy if you want those perfect shots!

Any good show jumper will take a course walk before jumping a course. If you will be photographing as a spectator at an event, take some time to review the best position to shoot from.

If you are new to horse photography, it can be helpful to start by taking some practice shots without the horse present.

This will give you a chance to get comfortable with your camera settings and learn how to position yourself for the best results. With horses, timing is everything, so make sure you’re prepared to snap that winning photo.

When photographing horses, always use caution and common sense. If you are not a horse rider yourself, make sure to take your lead from others in the crowd who are more experienced with horses.

2. Use a Fast Shutter Speed to Photograph Horses Jumping

Wondering how to photograph horses jumping? Join the club! Jumping shots are a great way to add excitement and interest to your photos.

To get the best photos of horses jumping, you’ll need a fast shutter speed to capture the horse in mid-air.

A faster shutter speed will freeze the action and result in sharper photos. Using the proper shutter speed for horses jumping will help you capture the horse in mid-jump without any blurring.

horse jumping photography

Source: Canva

If you are not familiar with your camera settings yet, this is a great time to start. Set your shutter speed around 1/1000 to begin.

Wait for the horse to approach the jump and press the shutter button at the moment of impact.

Pro Tip: Try to focus on the horse’s head and chest as they clear the jump. This will help you keep the horse in focus while they’re in motion.

The perfect camera settings will depend on many external factors. This will require some experimentation so start by reviewing the images from your first jump.

Practice setting the shutter speed slightly higher or lower for each of the following jumps. You will soon start to get a feel for which is working best for you.

3. Shoot in Burst Mode for the Perfect Equine Photo

Burst mode is an essential tool for anyone trying to capture fast-moving subjects. As you already know, there are few subjects more fast-moving than a horse in full gallop. That’s part of why so many people want to learn how to photography horses racing!

Burst mode is a feature on many digital cameras that allows the user to take a rapid succession of photographs by pressing and holding the shutter button.

This can be useful for capturing fast-moving subjects, such as horse photography. It’s especially useful for beginners to make sure you get at least one good shot.

horse race photography

Source: Canva

When burst mode is engaged, the camera will continue to take photos until the shutter button is released. This can help to ensure that you capture the perfect shot, even if your subject is in motion.

In addition, burst mode can also be helpful for taking multiple photos of the same subject. This can be useful for ensuring that you get a good variety of shots to choose from, or for capturing a scene from different angles. You can then review the photos and choose the one that you like the best.

Pro-Tip: Make sure that you have plenty of space on your memory card, as burst mode can quickly fill it up!

4. Choose the Best Lens for Equine Photography

There’s no such thing as the single best lens for equine photography, but we can offer some guidance. Photographers who want to capture the drama and thrills of horse racing or showjumping need to know what type of lens to use.

While a standard camera lens can capture some great portrait shots of horses, a longer lens is essential for anyone wanting to take the best photos of horses in action.

For horse racing or jumping photos, a telephoto lens is ideal.

Telephoto lenses allow you to zoom in on the action, getting close-up shots of the horses as they thunder down the track or sail over a jump. This can help you to capture the horse’s powerful movement and the rider’s intense concentration.

horse rodeo photography

Source: Canva

If you’re shooting from a distance, then a longer focal length lens will give you more reach. Even from a closer distance, a long lens can capture all the intricate details of the horse in mid-air. But be aware that long lenses can be difficult to keep steady, so a tripod may be necessary.

Another option is to use a wide-angle lens. This will give you a broader view of the race, including the horse, rider, and track.

Wide lenses are popular for horse racing photography, as it allows you to capture the horse and rider as they round a turn. Additionally, wide-angle lenses can help to reduce distortion when photographing horse jumps.

This is because they have a shorter focal length, which minimizes the amount of curvature in the image.

5. Shoot in RAW Format for Detailed Horse Photos

If you want to really capture the detail and grace of these magnificent animals, you need to shoot in RAW format. This allows you to capture all the information your camera sensor collects, without any compression or loss of quality.

horse raw photography

Source: Canva

RAW files are larger than JPEGs, so they take up more space on your memory card.

However, they’re also much higher quality, so they’re worth the extra space. As a result, you’ll be able to edit your photos more freely and produce high-quality prints that truly show off your subject.

If you’re serious about horse photography, shooting in RAW is a must.

6. Use the Rules of Composition to Add Interest

Whether they’re of racehorses thundering down the track or a show jumper landing, horse action photos are rarely boring. But how can you make your horse photos stand out from the crowd? The answer lies in composition.

By using the principles of good composition, you can create horse photos that are both dramatic and eye-catching.

When you start off, you can practice composing your photo so that the horse is in the center of the frame. Once you feel comfortable, it’s time to experiment.

horse rule of thirds

Source: Canva

Here are some common composition tricks to try out:

  1. Use the rule of thirds. This rule is all about dividing your frame into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Place your subject off-center, so that it falls on one of the imaginary lines. This will create a more dynamic and interesting photo.
  2. Frame your image wisely. One way to get great action shots is to use framing. By placing something in the foreground, you can create a sense of depth and movement in your photo. For example, if you’re photographing a horse jumping over a fence, try positioning yourself so that the fence is in the foreground of the shot.
  3. Use leading lines. Leading lines are elements in your photo that help lead the viewer’s eye toward your subject. In an action photo, leading lines could be the horse’s body, legs, or even the direction of its movement. The horse’s body can create a natural line that leads right to the point of interest. Including leading lines will help add interest and excitement to your photo.

Also, make sure to focus on the horse’s eyes; they will be the sharpest part of the image and will help to give your photo a sense of motion.

7. Pay Attention to the Background

Getting a good photo of a horse in action can be challenging. Not only do you have to worry about getting the horse in the frame, but you also need to pay attention to the background.

The background of a photo can give clues about what is happening in the photo, and it can also be distracting.

The best backgrounds for horse photos are those that complement the horse without overpowering it.

Arriving at the scene you want to shoot early and taking some test shots will really pay off here. However, as with most outdoor photography, you are not always in control of choosing the background for your subject.

horse speed photos

Source: Canva

If you worry the background is taking too much attention, there are a few tricks to help. One way to get better photos is to blur the background. This will make your horse stand out and give the impression of speed and movement.

There are a few ways to blur the background. One is to use a long focal length lens. This will compress the image and make the background appear further away.

Another way is to use a fast shutter speed. This will freeze the horse in motion and blur the background. You can use aperture priority mode on your camera. This will allow you to select a large aperture, which will decrease the depth of field and make the background appear blurry.

By paying attention to the background, you can ensure that your photos are clear and focused on the horse.

With a little practice, you will be able to take amazing photos of horses in action that capture both the horse and the scenery around them in perfect balance.

Parting Thoughts

So whether you’re at a show or out on a trail ride, keep these tips in mind to help you capture the perfect jumping shot!

The more practice you get, the better your shots will be. As with any other type of photography, experimentation is key. Try different angles, distances, and lighting setups until you find what works best for you. And don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it!

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About the author


Emma Murphy is a visual artist from Ireland currently based in Eastern Europe. She has been traveling for several years and focusing on her passion for painting, photography, and writing. An avid horse riding enthusiast as a child, Emma began riding again regularly after a 10-year gap.