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Equine photography with your iPhone is challenging, but it can also be a lot of fun
Horses are one of the most beautiful animals in the world. Their movement and graceful presence make them absolutely rewarding to photograph... especially your own horse. Equine photography can include capturing lifestyle photos, portraits, behind the scenes at rodeos and shows or even high end equine art photography.
No matter what horse photography discipline you explore with your iPhone, the below techniques, tips and ideas equally apply to capture stunning photos of the movements, moments, and special memories.
Interactions: Look for photographic opportunities of horses interacting with each other, such as mutual grooming or playing.
Horses interacting with their handlers can be quite emotional and powerful photos when you capture their special bond. A great technique is to have the rider groom the horse and step in or crop in close to capture that moment and connection.
Background: Photos of the same horse at the same location in different seasons or types of weather can make an engaging series of photographs. Interesting backgrounds can include a mountain range, seascape, farm house or city skyline.
Other contextual backgrounds can be a barn, behind the scenes at a rodeo, a horse show or back home in a stable.
When choosing your background, avoid distractors and a similar colour to your horse. A contrast between the horse and background creates separation and interest.
Positioning and gesture: Look for opportunities to capture the horse in their natural habitat, such as a ranch or grazing in a field. The horses' posture, head and leg positioning can make the difference between a snap shot and a potential fine art photograph.
A quick tip to have the horse's ears up and looking confident and alert is to make rustling sounds, clicks or sounds from your other smartphone.
Close-up: Use the iPhone macro option to get in close to capture interesting details, such as the mane, textures on the saddle, stirrup or stirrup keepers. Close-ups of horses' hooves, can showcase their strength and beauty.
Note: Be careful when you move in closer to not awkwardly crop the ears, hooves or tail in the edge of the frame. There is nothing more disappointing than having an almost perfect photo and later realising that you should have taken a step back. Alternatively, you can crop in even closer when you edit the photo.
Action shots: Horses in motion, such as cantering, galloping or jumping can be really engaging photographs.
As the horse gallops past you, keep your iPhone pointing at him/her while rotating your hips and tap on the shutter icon several times. This is a technique referred to as panning. In late afternoon when there is less light, your iPhone shutter speed will slow down making this technique even more effective. To get the most movement and potential background blur, position yourself so the horse moves laterally past you. If the horse is running toward you, the movement across the camera screen will be minimal and relatively static.
Portraits: If your horse has unique markings, such as a star or blaze on their face, make this a prominent feature in the portrait.
If you position to take a close-up portraits of the horse's face, be mindful that the wide-angle lens can create proportion issues. Why not experiment with different distances and lens selections on your iPhone? Standing back a little and using the 2x or 3x telephoto lens will also change bring the background closer to the horse, providing more contextusl elements in the composition.
To capture stunning photos of horses using your iPhone, you don't need much equipment. The most important piece of equipment you need is your charged iPhone. The multiple lens options built-in to your iPhone provide flexibility to shoot wide-angle (take more in) telephoto (zoom in) and the ultra-wide to get in super close for macro photos.
Built-in macro function: On the iPhone, the macro mode will automatically activate when you hold the iPhone close to the subject. You will know this has occurred when the flower icon appears on the screen. If it does not appear, you may need to go to Settings > Camera > Macro Control. This will allow the iPhone to automatically switch to the ultra-wide lens to capture macro.
Macro lens attachment: The iPhone now has a fantastic macro feature that activates the ultra-wide angle lens when you get super close. A better option that provides optical magnification and less subject proportion issues is a quality macro lens positioned over the top of the main (wide-angle) lens.
The Struman Optics Cinematic macro lens allows you to position the iPhone millimeters from a subject such as the mane, horse shoe or stirrup and have a shallow depth of field (are in focus) of only millimeters and up to 7cm (3 inches).
This lens creates a beautiful, creamy blurred background with the potential to capture stunning bokeh (bright circles) in the background.
Related: Learn more about this lens here
Portrait mode: I love portrait mode.. and not only for people. You can use portrait mode on any subject to create a shallow depth of field with a computational background blur. At capture and in post processing (editing), you can adjust the amount of background blur, resembling what a dedicated camera captures.
Note: Portrait mode does require you to position within a certain distance range. If you are finding it impractical with your horse, you can trial a camera replacement app named Focos - link here. This app does not have the same limitations.
Black and White: Try shooting in black and white to create a classic and timeless feel to your horse photography. photos. Tap on the arrow on the iPhone display while in camera mode to display icons of extra iPhone camera options. You may need to swipe on the icons to reveal the Live Filters icon that looks like three interlocking circles. Next, swipe through the live filters to select one of the monotone filters. My preference is Silvertone.
Photographic Style: While you have the extra menu icons open following the above technique, you will notice photographic styles. This icon looks like three overlapping squares. This mode does not appear while you have ProRAW activated. Next, swipe left and right across the middle of the screen to change between presets. You can also fine-tune tone and warmth by swipe on the corresponding sliders. My preference for horse photography is the rich warm preset.
ProRAW vs Live: Each photo file format has advantages for horse photography. ProRAW combines the best of both worlds of raw data capture for editing while also making full use of iPhone image processing.
Live photo mode allows you to select the exact desired frame for that perfectly timed action photo. In my opinion, this works better than burst mode. To access the frames, tap Edit then tap on the Live icon next to the editing tools. You can then swipe across the frames on the filmstrip to the desired frame and make that frame the key photo.
Note: You can switch between ProRAW and Live modes by tapping on the icons on the iPhone screen whilst the camera is open.
Panoramic Mode: Panoramic mode allows you to capture a wide shot of the horse and its surroundings. This is particularly useful when photographing horses in a field or when you want to capture the entire scene and active space ahead of them.
The panorama mode can capture a sweeping shot of a herd of horses or a horse running across a field.
Flash: My preference instead of using a flash that may startle your horse, is to use a photography reflector or piece of white board to bounce light back onto the horse. This manual control of light can create some interesting highlights and depth.
Lighting: Lighting is one of the most important elements in photography. When photographing horses, it is important to use natural light to create interesting shadows and highlights on the horse's coat. Try shooting in the early morning or late afternoon when the light is soft and warm.
Note: You can easily increase/decrease the photo brightness (exposure) of your iPhone photo. Tap on the iPhone screen where you want to focus. While the sun icon is displayed, swipe on the screen to change the brightness. This is a great techniques to darken the whole photo and stop the highlights (bright areas) from becoming completely white.
Black background: These photos require bright light on the horse for the iPhone camera to match that brightness and then the background becomes dark. Flashes can be quite startling, therefore a better option is a constant light source. My go-to option is surprisingly a hardware light. Any lighting product with the word photography attached to it is 10x the price!
Composition: Composition is a critical element in photography. When photographing horses in motion, it is important to have plenty of space (active space) ahead of them in the framing. Another common composition technique to place the horse off-center is the rule of thirds. This involves dividing the frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically, and placing the subject of the photo on one of the intersections of these lines.
Note: To turn on the gridlines overlay, go to Settings > Camera > Grid.
Related: The Rule of Thirds and Gridlines explained - link
Long Exposure: Not normally associated with horse photography, however, this technique is a lot of fun. I have been playing around with a camera replacement app named Freeheld by Reeflex. You can hand hold your iPhone and capture a long exposure from 1 second up to 30 seconds. If your horse is relatively still near a body of water, you can create silky smooth water in a capture of only several seconds. This has the potential to create a stunning juxtaposition against your horse.
This suggestion of using a long exposure app for horse photography is evidence that you can try anything with the subject matter of your horse. My biggest tip is to experiment and try new angles, techniques and... of course ensure that you and the horse are both safe.
Related: Read my article on ReeHeld app - link here
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