I recently had the opportunity to capture the cast from “Vengeance” , a western film written and directed by Victor Picena, during their horseback riding lessons in Norco, CA .
The experience was both exciting and admittedly therapeutic, and I was able to learn a lot about a horse’s character – a very important lesson if you ever want to photograph these beautiful creatures in action.
Here are some of the tips I put together from our instructor:
Horses are great to photograph, but if there’s one thing I learned is to always have an experienced horse handler with you. Although some horses are naturally calm or just very well-trained, you should always be alert and cautious. Don’t walk behind a horse (he might kick if he thinks you’re a threat), don’t make sudden or loud noises, and (in the words of our instructor’s daughter) “never EVER run around the horse, it will spook them out!”.
Stay calm, focused, and alert at all times. Always pay attention to the horse’s body language – it will help you understand what the horse is trying to communicate.
Ears – Horses will hold their ears in different ways to pick up different signals from their environment and indicate how they feel about what’s going on around them:
- Slightly forward indicates that a horse is relaxed. If your horse’s ears are pricked forward, he may be feeling interested in, or maybe even threatened by his environment. If his ears indicate that he is feeling threatened, his nostrils will flare and his eyes will widen.
- Ears that are flattened back are a clear sign that your horse is upset. If you are near your horse when you see this, move a safe distance away to protect yourself from injury.
- If one ear is back, then your horse is likely listening to something behind him.
- If your horse’s ears are to the side, that means that he is concentrating yet relaxed.
Eyes – Eyes will tell it all. You will be able to determine the horse’s mood just like you would in a human being. Keep in mind, horses have a panoramic view of their environment.
Tail – If the horse is agitated, you will see the tail swish quickly and aggressively; If the horse is happy you will see the tail raised.
Never use flash, and/or reflectors. When near horses, never use flash photography or reflectors. It can either be distracting or scary for the horse, which can be dangerous for you, the horse, or for the rider.
Avoid using a tripod and monopod – not because of the horse, but because the terrain of your surroundings. You will be walking on dirt, mud or grass.
Dress for the Occasion
Wear comfortable clothes, and a good pair of sturdy boots. Keep in mind there will be mud and dirt – so girls, no cute boots that you will regret damaging. Oh, and please avoid open toes!
Photographing horses can be so much fun when you stay cautious, and conscious – don’t forget to have fun and be creative!
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