How to Photograph a Horse Show

To get professional looking photos of riders and horses in a horse show there are a few basic techniques. Any camera can be used, but a DSL camera with a fast lens will make it easier. A telephoto lens of 200mm - 400mm is ideal, but not necessary.

Here are a few tips that can help you get better results regardless of the photography equipment you use.

1. Arrive early and walk around the arena/ show ring to see which direction the sunlight will be from. Keep in mind that this will vary throughout the day. You want to have the sun shining on the rider's and horse's face.

2. If shooting a jumping event, set up in front of or beside a jump where the light is on the face. If you want a full body shot, stand to the side with the sun behind you at a distance which will allow the horse and rider to fit in you viewfinder when the horse is above the jump.

over jump

3. Usually there is a warm-up period or warm-up ring where you can practice photographing. Watch the horse as it approaches a fence (jump) and count the strides, or steps, it takes before jumping. Count one, two, three, one, two, jump. There is a slight delay between pressing the shutter button and taking the shot, so it takes practice to time when to press the button to capture the horse in mid-air. If the jumps are too small for the horse to have all four legs tucked under, take the photo as it is rising to the jump.

4. A flattering photograph of a horse walking, trotting, or cantering, will show the horse's front legs extended or reaching forward. Take as many shots as needed to get a shot with the horse's leg(s) extended. Like shooting jumping horses, this requires timing and you may need to shoot several shots to get it right. If the photograph is taken from the side, have the horse's leg closest to the camera extended or beginning to step forward.

horse reaching

5. Decide what angle you want to photograph from before the rider enters the ring. You will usually not have time to move and if you try your movement may disturb the horse.


6. Standing in front and to the side of a jump will allow you to photograph the horse and the rider's face. The rider will be looking toward the next jump, so it is important for you to be on the correct side. Ideally, you can capture the moment when the horse is in mid-air and the rider's eyes are turned toward the next jump and your camera. Consult the course diagram normally posted near the ring to determine the path the horse and rider will be taking.

looking to next jump

7. Shots taken from a low angle can create the illusion of a higher jump and add drama. Sit, kneel or lie down near the edge of the ring and shoot up as the horse leaps over the jump.

from low angle

8. Group pictures are popular and easy to take when the competitors line up after their particular class is assembled to receive their ribbons. These photos can be taken straight on or at a slight angle to get all the horses and riders in the photo.

9. Interesting and candid photographs can be obtained by taking pictures outside the competition ring. Riders waiting for their class, tacking up their horse, straightening their jackets, or eating a hot dog make great atmosphere shots and memories.

outside the ring candid

10. Wear neutral colored clothing as some horses may shy from bright colors.

11. Do not use a flash, unless you ask permission, then use it sparingly. Unless you have an elaborate lighting system for indoor arenas, it is best to use whatever light is available and avoid the camera's flash. Horses' eyes turn a milky blue with flash. The flash can frighten a horse and cause it to bolt which, in turn, could result in a fall and injury to the rider.

12. Position yourself in a non-conspicuous spot where you won't distract the horse or rider. Always keep a safe distance from the horse and rider as horses are unpredictable.

13. Keep a rubber bulb for blowing air to clean your lenses. There will be a lot of dust and often clumps of dirt kicked your way. Do not use a cleaning cloth as rubbing the dust and dirt can scratch your lenses.