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How to Capture the Perfect Equine Portrait of Your Trusted Companion

image of a muscular horse
Photo Credit: Maria Marriott

"You and your horse. His strength and beauty. Your knowledge and patience and determination and understanding and love. That’s what fuses the two of you onto this marvelous partnership that makes you wonder… ‘What can heaven offer any better than what I have here on earth?"

- Monica Dickens

If you are a horse owner, you likely have experienced the profound bond equestrians share with their beloved domestic companions.

You also know that horses have a unique charm and grace that makes them a timeless subject for photography art. For many of my fellow equestrians, the most meaningful and relevant piece of art to display is a stunning equine portrait of their own horse.

I'd like to talk about the art of capturing the perfect equine portrait, including black-and-white equine portraits, which are some of my favorites. These invaluable tips will guide you in having the essence of your equine companion captured in a memorable piece of art that will last for generations.

Beyond Photography, an Artistic Journey

As with human portraits, a well-executed horse portrait goes beyond a simple photograph; the ultimate goal of a portrait is to tell a story, memorialize a personality, and evoke emotions.

This is why a photographer's artistic vision matters - as does their understanding of, and appreciation for the beauty and spirit of horses. When selecting a photographer it is essential to look for someone with expertise in capturing the uniqueness of each horse. Ask to see a portfolio; then ask yourself if you, as a viewer, can see the personality and feel the emotion in each image.

Understanding the Soul of the Horse

To capture an exceptional equine portrait, it's essential to understand the nature of the animal. This means engaging a professional photographer that is also an equestrian and understands equine behavior.

portrait image of a white horse
Photo Credit: Maria Marriott

I stress this point, not only because of the obvious safety concerns in working with large animals, but also because it is necessary to anticipate a horse’s expressions, reactions, and body language. A deep connection and understanding of horses allows me to bring out the personality of a horse in each image.

Lighting is Key

Great lighting can make or break any photograph, and equine portraits are no exception. The type of lighting used will depend on the environment where the portraits will be taken, as well as the mood the photographer is trying to achieve.

My preference is to fully control the light, which means setting up my mobile studio (lights and black or white background) on location. To ensure the highest quality portraits, I’ve found that it is best to eliminate as many uncontrollable elements as possible (weather, uneven light, etc.), since working with animals already has its own set of uncontrollable variables. The best lighting conditions for equine portraits are achieved through controlled studio lighting - even if that “studio” is in an enclosed barn or indoor arena.

However, for portraits in natural light, it is best to take advantage of the light during the golden hours - early morning or late afternoon. This soft, warm light adds a magical feel to a portrait, accentuating a horse’s color and features and creating an enchanting atmosphere. However, this method leaves more to chance and there is less control of light.

portrait image of a horse with braided mane
Photo Credit: Maria Marriott

Acknowledging the Beauty of Black and White Equine Portraits

Although my commissioned work encompasses both color and black and white portraits, I have to confess… for me, black and white equine portraits hold a certain feel that transcends time and trends. The monochromatic palette focused solely on the horse's form, allows me to bring out the majestic equine form, evoking a sense of drama, and raw beauty.

The play of light and shadows over rippling muscle and mane accentuates the innate strength and elegance of a horse, resulting in breathtaking portraits. The balance of light and shadows needed for more dramatic portraits is best achieved with studio lighting (in my case, a mobile studio at my client’s location). Many years of experience navigating the nuances of black-and-white photography have resulted in this being one of my favorite mediums.

Choosing the Right Location

The location you select for the equine portrait should complement what you are trying to achieve with the portraits and the photographer’s artistic vision.

Portrait of a bride with a horse in the woods
Photo Credit: Maria Marriott

Whether it's a lush meadow, a serene woodland, or an open field, the right environment can enhance the mood and feel of the portrait. For example, one client wanted a “fairytale” feel to the photos, so we set up the shoot in a meadow on the edge of a grove of California redwoods in order to capture the softness of the meadow grass against the interplay of light among the redwoods. For more dramatic equine portraits with just a white or black background, the location can be anywhere - so long as there is a large covered arena or enclosed space.

Commissioning Your Equine Portrait: A Collaborative Process

When commissioning an equine portrait, communication is key. Find a photographer who not only possesses strong technical skills but also understands your vision and shares your passion for horses. It can be difficult to

determine the level of technical skills of a photographer looking at small images on a computer screen or mobile device - the proof is in whether an image can be produced in large scale, where sloppy technique and editing become readily apparent.

Carefully question anyone representing themselves as a professional horse portrait photographer. Critically look at their portfolio, their past work, and their awards to determine whether their quality standards will meet your expectations.

You will also want to assess their communication and ability to work closely with you to create the desired result. Ask for references and look for reviews from past clients. You will want to find a professional equine photographer that can achieve the desired style, in your chosen setting, who will best be able to capture unique personality of your horse to create a personalized masterpiece. The legacy of your horse deserves the highest standards!

Explore Equestrian Fine Art

Equestrian fine art focuses on the beauty of the bond between humans and horses. There is a big difference between a portrait that is artistic in nature and a photo of a horse.

Exploring this niche of equestrian fine art portraits with your photographer beforehand, looking at their portfolio and past work, can stimulate a great conversation about what you are looking for and the photographer’s artistic vision. Having these conversations ahead of time will help ensure that you and the photographer are aligned in creating your equine companion's portrait.

Production Quality

A well-executed photo shoot by a technically proficient photographer that understands horses is critically important to capture a digital image that does justice to your horse. The production of the physical equine portrait is as important, since you want to proudly display it and have it last for generations.

There are many mediums for representing the image of your horse in two dimensions. Two of my favorites are metal and framed fine art paper. If you have spent the money and effort to have a high quality digital image, put as much into the production of the physical piece.

For metal pieces, we produce dye sublimation on aluminum, which means that the inks are infused into a sheet of pre-treated aluminum via heat transfer. This is a better process than affixing a print to aluminum because the dyes infused beneath the surface of the metal provide permanence and protection.

For framed fine art paper pieces, we use archival (museum) quality papers and inks to produce these works in house. Archival papers and inks are designed to resist fading and can last for several hundred years. Adding a quality frame by a skilled framer, using acid-free materials, will enhance the piece and provide extra protection.

We offer both of these options to our portrait clients and will handle all production for you.

Memorialize the Legacy of Your Horse Through Timeless and

Inspiring Equine Portraits

Each horse is unique, and the best portraits capture their distinct personalities and beauty. Share your vision and preferences with me, and I will tailor a session to align with your expectations.

For more details about my commissioned artwork, feel free to reach out to me online.


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