One of the first questions I ask a photo client is, what sort of photos would you like me to create? Are we going for formal conformation photos? The perfect extended trot? A family portrait including three generations of humans plus all the critters? A costumed dream fantasy? When we set up your photo session, we will go over these options and more. Each one has some specifics involved.
Just like in any other horse-related activity, footing is paramount for photography sessions. For under saddle photos, your arena should be in tip top shape, so your horse will put in his best effort. For liberty photos, the space should allow your horse to feel comfortable trotting and cantering in it, it must be fenced properly, and it must be large enough for your photographer and handlers to be in the arena or paddock with the horse safely. It doesn't need to be huge: sometimes even a round pen with solid walls can work if it offers a photo vantage point from outside. Regardless, the footing (again) must be well-groomed. If we are shooting in a pasture, make sure there are no eroded areas or holes, and please pick up manure piles before your photo session. For conformation photos, your horse will look best, and stand up most comfortably, on level ground. Here we can be more flexible about surfaces: besides arena footing, pavement or hardscape is perfectly acceptable for "stand ups". If we will be shooting conformation on grass, you'll need to mow the area prior to the shoot, otherwise your horse's hooves will disappear!
An uncluttered background makes for beautiful photos. I can work with a range of backgrounds, but they all have in common a lack of vertical objects in them such as poles or baby trees (which tend to look like sticks in photos), and horizontal items like telephone lines. Other things that are NOT appropriate in a background: vehicles, grooming racks, muck buckets, hoses, your child's swing set .... You get the idea! Again, safety is the first priority: I will never ask you to pose a horse in a place that could endanger you, him, or me.
Morning light and afternoon light are best for photographing horses. You can assess your backgrounds by going out to your potential photo areas at the times of day that we might schedule your session, and stand with the sun at your back. This is what you will probably see behind your horse in formal conformation shots and portraits. For portraits including humans, I will often face the sun or photograph in open shade for more even lighting. Except for during the dead of winter, the middle of the day does not provide attractive light. The very best light happens in the hour after dawn and the hour before sunset: this is the Golden Hour. But the only way to use that delicious light is if it falls unfettered on your location and if the weather gods cooperate. If that isn't going to happen, excellent lighting occurs until mid morning and after mid-afternoon.
It goes without saying that a clean, tidy horse photographs more beautifully than one with grass stains. For adult horses, make sure that anything you normally trim, such as ears and bridle tracks, are recently done. I like whiskers on horses.... Just saying. A little bit of baby oil around the ears and muzzle is a nice touch, but don't overdo it unless your breed is traditionally presented with lots of "eye makeup".
For portraits and stand ups, I prefer to see the horse presented in a clean, well-fitted snaffle bridle. The type of noseband is totally up to you, but if your only noseband has a holder for a flash attachment, complete the picture with the flash strap, otherwise you'll be wishing the little tab could just disappear when you see the photos. Some folks prefer to present their horses with a chain shank replacing the reins, but please make sure the shank is long enough and that the chain is shiny. These are MY personal preferences: if you wish to have your horse photographed in a double bridle, that is perfectly fine too. If you wish to have your horse photographed in a halter, a well-maintained leather one is the only appropriate head gear! One possible exception: children and ponies who have their own strong opinions, about, for instance, Things That Are Pink.
If you are presenting a horse for sale or stud, choose your best rider or handler for him. I've watched horses run rampant with owners when they've been asked to stand up: sometimes a handler other than Mommy is the best for all concerned. Besides myself and the handler, I require a third person on the ground to get ears up, wipe goop from horse's mouths and touch up fly spray as needed. If you don't have someone available for the day of the shoot, I can often bring an assistant with me, but there will be a surcharge.
For a group of horses, it's best to have one handler per horse, regardless of how many of the handlers will be included in the photo.
For riding photos, I welcome having your trainer or other eyes on the ground to assist you in riding your best. While I can give some direction (i.e. "let his nose out a bit," or "bring the haunches more in the half pass"), I would rather concentrate on directing the shoot. But just one voice, please! Too many people calling instructions is distracting.
For liberty sessions, I will almost always need a team. Three or four "whips" are needed to keep horses moving around the paddock. One will be assigned to keep the horse an appropriate distance from my camera. I use long lenses, which means if they come too close I just can't get the photos I'm after.
For under saddle or in hand photos, the humans should be groomed as well as the horses. You are welcome to dress in show attire or casual schooling attire for riding photos. Helmets are preferable.
For portraits, I welcome costume changes as much as time - and your horse's patience - allows. Choose the clothing that makes you feel beautiful, but please avoid large busy patterns and obvious logos (unless it's your sponsor or barn name!). For group photos, it looks fabulous if everyone is wearing either the same color or a similar style of clothing.... Best to stick to solid colors for group photos, unless the theme is, for instance, "plaids" or "stripes"
You are welcome to chronicle the photo session with video or even the occasional phone photo, but I require there be no other photographers shooting the subjects during our photo session.
For the question, "Can't you just Photoshop that out?" the answer is: usually. But retouching takes time, and do you really want to pay my hourly rate of $100.00 per hour to Photoshop something that could have been fixed for free in five minutes?
However! There are things that I retouch as a matter of course. On humans: flyaway hair, blemishes, the dreaded "helmet chin". Wrinkles will be softened unless you request they be left in all their hard-earned glory. On horses: spittle, temporary blemishes such as cuts or rubs, a turned ear or a closed eye if necessary. I will not change a horse's conformation or way of going, nor do I allow that sort of adjustment to be made by anyone else after the fact.
Backgrounds can be replaced: If after all your searching, a suitable perfect background could not be found, I can always create your very own world for you and your horses.
Please remember that only Terri Miller has permission to use Terri Miller photos as reference for a painting. Commissioned Paintings information can be found here.