Friday, May 31, 2013

The Challenge: Capturing the Essence of A Horse

Horses are, by their very nature, fluid in both thought and action. As a photographer, the greatest challenge is trying to capture what makes that horse that horse, in a moment that may last only a fraction of a second. This blog presents a collection of some of the amazing horses I've had the opportunity to shoot over the years. My work has won awards and been featured in magazines such as EQUUS, Trail Blazer, Western Horse Review and more.

If you have any equine photography needs, whether that be sale pics, portraiture, Photoshop enhancement, clinic documentation, commercial or print work, let's talk!


Portraiture to treasure for a lifetime.

Portrait for owner, Arabian gelding

Sale photo, Friesian/KWPN gelding

Sale photo, Friesian/KWPN gelding

Cover shot for Trail Blazer Magazine

Portrait for owner, Quarter Horse gelding

Product shot for Cashel Fly Masks

Capturing the Intensity

The Uniqueness

The Soul

The Focus

The Movement

The Freedom

The Sweetness

The Eyecatching

The Grace

The Trustworthy

The Action!

The Quiet

The Mood

The Determination

The Power

The Potential

The Atmosphere

The Character

The Season

The Mystical

The Special Bonds

The Elegance

The Art

The Humor

Sale photos and Photoshop enhancement available

Clinic Photos (Shawn Flarida reining clinic shown)

Posters of Your Horse

Why hire a professional equine photographer?

In these tough financial times, many people feel that they can save a few dollars by taking their own sale photos for horses they want to market. If you have the skills to create a great sale pic that will catch a buyer's attention and showcase your horse to its best advantage, I say go for it. However, it is important to keep in mind that a less-than-optimal sale photo can cost you plenty by turning off potential buyers.

As an example, a friend of mine recently bought a horse that she had seen months before in an ad but had passed over initially. When she showed me the sale pic, I understood why, as the horse in that image looked dull-coated, out of shape, short-necked, and very downhill. She only ended up going to see the horse because a friend sent her the same ad along with a video that wasn' t available initially. In the video, the horse looked more promising, and when she eventually went to see the horse in person, she bought him immediately.

So, how much did all those extra months of feeding, boarding and training cost the seller of that horse? Significantly more than she would have spent hiring a pro to take her sale photos. I ended up going out to see the horse once my friend brought it home and snapped a few pictures for her as a gift. Even she couldn't believe the difference, marveling that "It doesn't even look like the same horse." Asked if she would have gone to look at the horse in my photos all those months ago, she said, "Are you kidding? In a heartbeat!"

Sale photo of the horse my friend bought, taken by seller.

Photo I took of the same horse.
With a head this nice, why not show it off?
It was actually hard to get a bad shot of this horse...but you need to know how to set it all up.

In looking at these photos, it might be tempting to say that the owner's picture must be showing the horse in his winter coat, while mine did not -- but this is not the case. It might be also be reasonable to assume that the owner didn't groom the horse for the picture she took, while my friend did -- also not true. Both the previous owner of this horse and my friend are "clean freaks" when it comes to their horses, and before my friend bought him, this lovely gelding was kept in a stall, in a sleezy and blankets, and always well-groomed. My friend is doing the same, so it is simply a matter of removing his coverings and doing a quick brushing and the horse positively gleams. He apparently doesn't really grow a winter coat at all.

Why then, does the horse look so dull in the owner's photo, when we know he was in good coat and thoroughly groomed? One word: Lighting. Look at the angle of the sun in the sale pic -- coming directly at the horse's tail end, and low in the sky. This is perhaps the worst way to position the horse, as it casts the entire body into shadow. It is also the reason why the horse appears to have no muscle; light at the correct angle will throw muscle into relief and make it "pop", while the wrong angle makes all look flat and undefined.

And what about that short neck and the apparent downhill build in the owner's photo -- both of which turned out to be absolutely not accurate? In this case, it's all about the angle of the horse in relation to the photographer, though sometimes, the slope of the ground can also play into such distortions. Perhaps the owner was thinking of the Western market, which likes to see a "big hip" on a horse. While there is some truth to that, you have a fine line to walk between highlighting a good hip and making a horse look terribly unbalanced, as this one does.

On the plus side, the owner's photo did show the horse with his ears up, and he looks to be standing square -- both points on which many sale photos fail. Now, if I had been shooting my friend's horse for sale photos, I would have removed the horse's splint boots and squared up his stance. The split stance in my photos is very attractive for portrait-style shots, and the white boots look pretty on his black legs, but these choices do not allow a potential buyer to evaluate the horse's legs as well. If we were specifically aiming the horse at the Western market, I probably would take the shots from an angle that showed more of the hip -- while being careful not to foreshorten the rest of the animal. Knowing that these and many other small differences can make or break a shot, a good professional will ensure that everything is just right.

Another thing that a good pro can do for you that you may not be able to do yourself is provide enhancements or alterations with a program like Photoshop. Photoshop can and should be used to erase temporary, minor flaws such as a nick or a scrape that is expected to heal without a scar, or a slightly rubbed tail that will certainly grow back in. It can also be used to eliminate clutter or other distractions from the background of the shot, though it is better to avoid those altogether by keeping the background in mind when taking the shot. Photoshop should NOT be used to cover up permanent flaws or blemishes that the potential buyer will see in person. You want to show a horse at its best, but that doesn't mean faking it! When used properly, Photoshop can allow you to make a great sale image out of a shot that may not be perfect "as is".

For example, in the shot below, the background was not very attractive and distracted from the horse. The Photoshopped image below that is the same shot turned into a sale image that garnered a lot of attention and led to that horse being sold for the full asking price.

Original photo
The same photo, turned into a sharp, eye-catching sale image.

The bottom line is that it can be extremely difficult to get a good pictures of horses, especially if you do not understand what you are looking for -- and how to get it. In the end, this can cost you money by delaying your sale or killing it altogether. It may therefore be worth investing the small amount of money needed to get pictures that are going to attract the buyers you want, help you move the horse more quickly, and get a good price for him.