10 Tips on How to do Horse Show Photography for Parents

Make the most of your time ringside and impress your kids with your photography skills - they’ll thank-you! 

Photographing your child at a horse show is one of the best ways to help them document and celebrate all the hard work and schooling they and their horses have put in. After all the lessons, and training and prep work - this is their moment to shine! And you wouldn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to take photographs that will become memories that you and your children cherish for years to come.

Whether you’re using your smartphone or a digital camera here are my top 10 tips to help you capture the best of your kids shows! 

Above all else, practice good spectator manners.

Don’t lean over the railings, avoid the use of flash photography, be aware of your surroundings and stay out of the way of the entrance of the ring and other participants. Be watchful for horses coming and going and ensure you politely move out of the way when necessary. The last thing you want to do is be the cause of a horse spooking or hinder and impede people’s ability to get to where they need to go! (Afterall, horse shows are crazy busy at the best of times so whatever you do, stay out of the way.) Horse shows are an exciting environment - between the hustle and bustle of grooming, prepping, pre-class jitters, coming and going there’s extra energy in the air and that creates just the right mix of opportunities for horses to spook... and you don’t want to be the cause of that! 

If you aren’t already up to speed, learn a little bit about the discipline your child rides and the courses they’ll be riding!

If it’s a hunter or jumper course, learn which way your child will be coming over the jumps so that you can position yourself in the best spot to capture the shot! If it’s a dressage test, know the direction of movement and ensure you capture the shot at the “height of the movement”. If you’re not sure what that is, then my next tip is definitely for you!

Position yourself to be able to capture the action

Use this simple trick to never miss a step!

How many times do you misfire or get the wrong shot or end up with a blurry image? Too many times, am I right? Well I have the solution for you! Particularly if you’re shooting with a smartphone, this tip can be life-changing: instead of taking a photo… shoot a video. Hear me out - you’re going to take a video (avoid zooming in and out). Then you’ll go back and pause the video and scroll forward and backwards until you find the exact moment you want a picture of. And then, you’ll freeze on the exact moment that looks best and take a screenshot and - voila! You have magically captured the perfect moment without missing a beat! (Your kids will think you’re a genius!!)

Don’t be afraid of the close-up.

Fill the frame with your subject and get in close - particularly if you have a good zoom lens! If you’re using a smartphone, use caution when zooming because this can result in grainy images - the best result is when you can physically get closer. Filling the frame with your subject is visually interesting and is a great way to capture a winning smile. Get the tight shot of your child’s face as they fly over the jump! 

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Even closer!

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That’s more like it!

Get behind the scenes shots.

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Action shots are great but don’t miss out on those tender moments between your child and their horse while getting ready and in between courses. For me, these are always the most endearing and interesting images because they show the true bond between the team.

Crouch down to get the best angle for horses and children.

Get on their level! One of the biggest problems I see is when people take pictures from above (shooting down from your eye level) is that this can lead to the dreaded proportion distortion! And proportion distortion, particularly for large subjects like horses, can be a big problem. It can cause them to look like a giraffe or like their head is giant in proportion to the rest of their body. Try to take images from the horse's midline which is usually around your waist level. This approach works great for kids as well so the overall result will be flattering. 

Move around and get different angles

Don’t take pictures from the exact same spot on the rail for the entire day. That’s just, well, boring! Particularly if you are using a smartphone, theimages without a great zoom, the images will all come out looking the same and that’s no fun. Move around and experiment if possible (while ensuring you aren’t distracting to the horse and rider)! Get really low and then get really high and see how that changes your perspective. Sometimes the experimental images turn out the best. 

Get creative!

Capture reflections, silhouettes and details - like their horses braided mane or tail or that beautiful saddle pad that was a holiday gift from grandma! This will help your images tell the story which is really what photography is all about!

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Avoid taking pictures (if possible) at high-noon.

Now generally, this can’t be avoided because the majority of shows take place during the day but what you will have control over is candid portraits that you snap throughout the day. The reason you want to avoid high-noon is because this light casts the most unflattering shadows. So, if you’re posing your child for portraits, head over to the shade and snap a picture underneath a tree or in the shade of a structure - it’ll be way more flattering and you won’t end up with dark shadows under the eyes. If it’s overcast out, you’re in luck - an overcast sky acts like a giant softbox dispersing the light which is very flattering for people and horses!

Focus on the eyes.

Whenever you have a picture with horses and people in the shot, you’ll always want to be focusing on the person and specifically the person's eyes. If there are just horses in the shot, you’ll want to focus on the horses eyes and, if there are multiple horses, you’ll want to focus on the eyes of the horse that are closest to the camera. 

BONUS TIP - Capture the group shot!

Your kid wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the community of people (including you, their coach, barn friends, grooms etc.) that help to make it all happen - it takes a village! Make sure to get the group together for a picture at the end of the day so they can celebrate their success as a team!

Were these tips helpful? Let me know in the comments - I’d love to hear how they work out for you!

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