How to Take a Great Horse Conformation Photo
By April D. Ray
Whether it’s for a passport photo, sales photo, or just for your own records, getting a great conformation shot has never been an easy task. But there are tricks to help get the job done as painlessly and efficiently as possible. A little bit of planning goes a long way and will result in a much better quality photo.
If taking photos for a passport, make sure to look up the requirements beforehand. For example, Equestrian Canada requires a side-view, 4x6-inch, colour photograph of the horse, untacked except for a halter or bridle. These requirements are pretty basic and fairly standard across the board.
Be sure to take the photo against a good background. The horse should really be the focus, so ensure there is no background clutter that would draw attention away from the horse. Also consider the colour of the horse; the background should contrast but not clash, and should not be so similar as to blend in with the horse’s colour, as would a sorrel against a red barn (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: A cluttered background draws attention away from the horse. Photo: April D. Ray
Groom the horse! I cannot stress this point enough. It sounds simple and obvious, but a little bit of elbow grease goes a long way. Make sure the mane looks tidy, and comb out the tail. You can even polish the hooves to give them that extra shine. Dress to impress with a good quality, well-fitted halter or bridle.
Good lighting is really important, and outdoor light is preferable. Having three people on hand is ideal – the photographer, someone to handle the horse, and someone to get the horse’s attention. The third person can be really helpful to achieve the desired ears-forward look. I have often resorted to using plastics bags, treats, or other creative tools to accomplish this.
Believe it or not, there is also an app for this now. All Ears Selfie is an app for your smartphone that can help get the horse’s attention with several sound effects to choose from, including horses whinnying, apples crunching, and grain being poured. While this app is designed to be used while taking the photo with your phone at the same time, I found the sound effects really useful for taking conformation shots and getting my horse’s attention with ears forward while our photographer was snapping away.
The All Ears Selfie smartphone app gets ears forward with horse-friendly sound effects. Photo: All Ears Selfie
You will want to have the horse perpendicular to the camera and get his entire body in the frame without being too far away. Try to walk the horse into position to set him up better, rather than backing him up. The horse shouldn’t be too camped-out behind or resting a leg. Once the horse is set up you can take a step back, as long as he doesn’t try to follow you. The handler should not be in the photo, but can be cropped out later if needed. With the convenience of digital photography you can take as many shots as you need to get the perfect one (see Figure 2). And of course you’ll laugh or cringe at all of the outtakes (see Figure 3).
Figure 2: A well-groomed horse with ears forward, in good lighting, standing in front of an attractive, uncluttered background. Photo: April D. Ray
Figure 3 (below): The outtakes!
Taking conformation shots can also be a great opportunity to work on training the horse to stand. This is something all horses should learn, and will prove useful for years to come.