How to find the right photographer for you and your horse
Taking a photo shoot with your horse is an important matter. Just imagine you finally decide to do it, book a photographer, put all the effort in, and of course, invest, and in the end, the pictures are not as you imagined. Bummer. But this can be prevented!
I wrote this blog post to prevent precisely this. It will enable you to find the photographer to fulfill your wishes and even more. And if that's not me - that is okay!
Spoiler alert: If you keep reading this guide until the very end, there is a goodie waiting!
It will answer all your questions...
- What is it you have to keep looking for? Learn about the key aspects to base your decision on.
- What do you have to ask the prospect, to get all the information you need for your decision? The guide provides you with key questions and actionable steps.
- How do you get to the bottom of what's important to you? You will understand, how you can really take the best decision.
You will learn about...
Style - Every photographer has their style. Learn about the possible differences and how to decide on your style.
Education - The background of a photographer's experience and education can have a massive impact on the outcome of your session. Learn what to look for.
The Experience - A photo shoot with your horse should be an amazing experience. Learn more about how to find the photographer that can deliver this.
The Vibe - The best photographer won't be able to help you if you can't stand each other. What should you watch out for?
Horse Photography - Horse photography is a special field in the wide variety of photography offers. What makes it so unique?
Value - What is included in the price? Read about possible differences in the pricing and build-up of a photo session.
Even though photography is a creative field and no session is like the other, every photographer has a specific style that they follow more or less. 99% of the time, your images will look like your photographer’s previous work, so look through their portfolio and social media carefully.
What do I mean by different styles? Very often, the picture style is mistaken for color grading. It is not totally wrong; the colors play an essential role. But there is more to it. You will see that when we go on in this guide.
- Go through sites such as Pinterest and search for "equine photography," "horse photography," and so on, and pin the pictures that catch your eye.
- Look at your results and try to sum up what you see.
- See which of your local photographers align with your preferences.
Candid, posed, documentary style, or a mix?
Go back to that Pinterest board or your saved posts on Instagram. What kind of images speaks to you? Are they the ones where the model looks like they're out of a magazine? Is the rider interacting with the horse or looking at the camera? Are the photos intimate? Close-ups? Action shots? You see, there are more aspects to the style than just color. The most important aspects are the feelings that a picture creates and its purpose.
I have (for now) settled for a mix of artistic fine art, emotional close-ups, and dreamy landscapes. Not always natural, sometimes closer to the original than others, but always to make your horse look like a piece of art.
This means I would not be the right fit if you want a documentary of your training with riding pictures or videos.
NATURAL LIGHT VERSUS STUDIO LIGHTING
One of the biggest differences in the outcome of your images is whether your photographer uses studio lighting. Even within photographers who use studio lighting, there can be a huge range in how close it looks to natural light. One is not better than the other. They are simply different. I use natural light in all of my images.
A picture taken on the field, without any posing help. Simply by observing and waiting for the right moment.
Black background with natural light
A classic black background picture. We helped with the posing. I have used natural light here, only supported by a reflector.
"Light & airy", "dark & moody", and more!
Photography styles are usually placed on a broad spectrum, with ‘light and airy’ at one end and ‘dark and moody’ at the other. There can be vast variations of vibrancy, contrast, and more.
I lean more toward the moody direction but use both editing styles depending on the picture's message. Sometimes a moody style does not fit the story, so I adapt. Check out my portfolio to see my wide range.
- Search Google, Pinterest, or Instagram for "studio lighting equine photography" to see if you like the look
- Ask your photographer, "Do you use studio lighting?", "How will that work for me and my horse?"
- Look closely at your potential photographer’s work. Ask them how they would describe their style. Show them the images you’ve shortlisted and ask if that is something that they do.
Totally natural, or lots of retouches?
The level of retouching involved in an image can be very individual and make images look completely different. Is your photographer individually retouching each image, and what does that involve? Ear swaps, eye swaps, blemish removal, object removal, you name it... all possibilities. Are they included in your experience, or are they extra?
To reach my fine art style, I am retouching rather a lot. Other pictures are worth keeping in a natural look I am deciding from picture to picture what needs to be done. All retouching that is necessary for the perfect picture is included in the price. To reflect that some pictures need more retouching than others, I differentiate between "fine art pictures" and "basic optimized pictures". In all my packages, both are included to make sure my clients get the most out of every session.
Let me show you, in an example, what retouching of a fine art picture can contain.
Starting with the original RAW picture. I had to take a quite dark picture because I was shooting against the sun. The horse was held on a photography halter. It was moving a little bit, so the arm of the helper is visible.
The next step is to optimize the lighting, so one can see something and set a color tone. Here the difference is not very big since I could achieve this warm summer tone I was aiming for already out of the cam.
This is where I start differentiating between "basic optimized" and "fine art". I removed the hand and swapped the ears forward. In other cases, this step can also involve removing objects or reconstructing whole picture areas.
THE FINAL TOUCH
Now the picture gets its final touch and this "hang me on your wall"-vibe. I am contouring the shadows and lights of the picture by hand to give it the extra shine. Here you can see how this looks in the program.
This is just an example workflow. Every picture is different, and while this is more of a natural edit, I alter some pictures quite much for artistic reasons. Depending on what your wishes are, we can create the photographs you want. You want to see more of my work? Check out my portfolio!
To sum up the style part: There is no right or wrong. There are just different tastes and needs. While sometimes a documentary style is needed, for example, for sales pictures or training insights, other times a more artistic approach is wanted. And in the end, it only boils down to what you want to have look at 30 years from now.
The education and experience of a photographer have a massive impact on the outcome of your session. While degrees or certificates are actually relatively uncommon among photographers, they still get their knowledge somewhere. Most photographers invest in private education offered by the world’s best photographers in their specific niche (equine, pet, family, wedding photography, etc).
It’s very difficult if you aren’t a photographer to know if the course that your prospective photographer took is actually any good! But you can see the results in their work clearly. Also, a photographer constantly working on improving the quality shows the great dedication you should expect.
I've had the privilege of learning from some of the best equine photographers in the field via resources, online lessons, and mentoring programs. The work and teaching of Carina Maiwald, Wiebke Haas, Alexandra Evang, Diana Wahl, and many more have impacted my work significantly. I am constantly investing in my education as an equine photographer. Read more about my journey of becoming a horse photographer here.
- Ask what degrees, qualifications or other education and experience your prospective photographer has.
- Examine their work closely and decide for yourself if it's consistent or even improving and to your taste
FULL-SERVICE EXPERIENCE, OR SHOOT AND SHARE?
Not all equine photography experiences are made equal. Whether you want the convenience of (so to speak) a drive-through, a hand-waited dine-in, or something in between,
there’s a huge amount of choice!
SHOOT AND SHARE:
This is ideal if you want to choose from pre-selected options, add your photoshoot to a cart, click "check out" and meet your
Photographer on the day. Maybe your ideal process after the session is to select some images as is, click download, and off
you go. There is a range of photographers offering just that!
FULL SERVICE EXPERIENCE:
This is for you if you want a more intimate, guided experience. Your photographer will collaborate with you before the session to choose the right package for your needs and ensure you get your dream images. During a preparation call or meeting all your questions will be answered
You will be offered guidance after the session to help you select your art. Maybe you don’t even know what some of these printed products are and wouldn’t mind a bit of a walk-through of what your photographer has to offer you!
Ask your photographer
- What is your process like? What happens before, during and after the session?
There’s no other way to write this than you seriously need to just get good vibes off the photographer you’re working with.
You’re standing with your horse in front of a total stranger, feeling totally uncomfortable – and then they tell you to smile at the camera and make it look genuine?
That’s not fun.
Photography experiences make us feel vulnerable, and it’s hard to be that way in
front of someone you don’t know! If you feel uncomfortable, that tension will show through in your images. Even your horse will mirror it. Those images won’t speak to the true YOU – how you feel at home with your horse. It’s important to make sure you’re not working with a stranger.
Yes, getting on the phone can be tricky, especially today when everyone is just texting. But it’s better to find out if you’re a match made in heaven NOW. You don’t want to find that out on the day of the session after you’ve spent hours preparing yourself and your horse (not to mention your financial investment!)
For me, I speak to all of my clients before our session so that they're totally comfortable. The last thing I want is them to feel awkward or self-conscious.
- Get on the phone! Or if you’re phone-phobic, get on zoom, or catch up for a coffee before your session. Once you've heard your photographer's voice or seen their face, you will feel much more secure.
There's nothing quite like the equestrian lifestyle. You know... spending hours in the stable, when you just quickly wanted to say hi, finding half a bale of hay in your clothes, not remembering what clean fingernails look like... I could go on.
But you know that you’d choose this lifestyle and its sacrifices a thousand times over. Every time you look at your horse, you know it’s worth it.
If your photographer knows what that feels like, it goes a hell of a long way toward being able to capture it. Loving something makes you find ways of capturing it most beautifully. Only when a photographer knows and loves horses can they really capture them. Emotions are not the only aspect. A certain understanding of biomechanics, behavior, and different breeds, of course, also helps with getting the right angle of your horse.
But on a more serious note, working with a photographer who is also an equestrian helps keeps you safe. Photo sessions often involve taking a horse out of their comfort zone. As much as we love them, we know they’re big dumb (affectionately said) animals that can injure us seriously. While I haven’t had it happen in one of my sessions, I’ve heard of broken noses, limbs, runaway horses... you name it. Photographers who also happen to be fellow equestrians will be able to take better steps to mitigate these risks and make sure your session goes down smoothly. Knowing when to stop or give the horse a break can relax the whole experience for you and your horse. After all - it should be fun!
Ask your photographer
- What kind of horse experience do you have and how will you keep me safe during our session?
I put this last because all of the other factors above lead to this one. This is where it comes down to what YOU value. You might prefer a hundred lightly edited images from one photographer, rather than one fully retouched and enhanced image from another photographer.
Or you might be after that one STUNNING image to go on your wall, and don’t need a hundred pictures. All of the things above come into play here. Tey all go into deciding what
you value you the most, and will help you to make your decision.
For example, one hour with a photographer you genuinely connect with may be equivalent
to two hours with someone you don’t vibe with. Only you can decide if those two options are equal in your eyes.
- "What is the most important factor to me when deciding on my photographer?" You might even want to rank these to help you.
To sum it up
When you work with people, there are no objective specification lists. There might be intangible things you make your decision on. Even if two photographers have the same package of five images, the style, quality, retouching and sizes will vary greatly. Hopefully, this guide has armed you with the right questions to help you make the perfect choice.
If this guide made you think I might be your photographer, let's get in touch (and feel free to ask me these questions)!
Hej, I'm AnnaThe horse-girl behind the camera
Welcome to my world of equine fine art photography! This is me - Anna, a German living in Denmark, loving horses, dogs and Lakridskugler. Always ready to try creative ideas, explore beautiful locations, or finding the beauty in your daily life. Read more about my work.