How to take pictures of your horse that sell

by Michelle on January 1, 2018

This is the second post in the series on How To Sell Your Hore For Top Dollar, and quite possibly the most important piece of the process.   The first post was on writing the ad.

It’s really true that a picture is worth a 1000 words. A good picture might even earn you an extra thousand dollars! It’s been my experience in watching 1000’s of horses sell on RodeoClassifieds that the ones with great pictures sell, and they sell the quickest. In my personal experience, a good picture will make a buyer act quick and decide they’re buying before they see the horse in the flesh. A good picture catches the eye and it makes a person say “I want that” before they even read the ad, nevermind call about it.

For any horse listed whether it be a barrel horse, prospect or rope horse, I feel you should have at least one profile/side shot. I know myself, I don’t care how pretty of a barrel shot he takes, I want to see if his back is a mile long and if he’s over at the knees or not in a side shot. I will ask for this picture (or a video in hand) before I’d likely call you, or drive to see the horse. I’m not the only one like this.

Good pictures can be taken with mobile phones or high-end cameras. The pictures I will give as examples here have been taken on both and I’ll note which device with the picture. Any pictures on my good camera have been taken with auto settings. Nothing fancy here, it’s all in how the horse is set up and where you stand. One important thing is a quick “click” so that when you take it, you get what you’re seeing, not one ear back or a foot lifted.

The first part of taking good pictures is preparing the horse. Clipping his chin hairs and fetlock hairs goes a long way. If you’ve trimmed the bridle path previously, you’ll want to trim that down too. Clippers aren’t required, you’re not going to be close up, even scissors work well to get those “goat hairs” under the chin and feathers on the fetlocks. Put on a tidy halter and lead rope, if you can pick a color that suits the horse. I prefer rope halters day to day, but a new nylon halter really does look tidy. Stay away from the bronc halter style halters for pictures, they don’t do anything for your horses head.

If your horse is haired up for winter, throwing a blanket on the day ahead will help lay the hair down and bring the shine out. I would recommend brushing the mane out and banding any areas that want to stick straight up. Brush his tail and body with a soft brush to take the dander off and bring out the shine. Taking the picture when his feet aren’t too long is a good idea as well. It will show potential buyers your horse is well cared for.

One of the horse photographers greatest assets and biggest secrets is SUNSHINE. If the sun isn’t shining, try another day. It will make or break your session.     No sun = no good pictures.

Picking a place to take your picture is also super important. The best background you can get is a natural landscape where you can see the horizon. Next would be a plain background. Avoid other horses, buildings and other distractions wherever possible. You can see the difference the background makes in these pictures. It’s worth walking a half mile or hauling to field if you have to. It’s super important.

 

No sunshine, but you can see the difference no background has vs a background.

No sunshine, but you can see the difference no background has vs a background.

Same horse, same NO sunshine, but you can see the difference a background makes on this two year old. Pictures taken minutes apart.

Same horse, same NO sunshine, but you can see the difference a background makes on this two year old.  The pictures were taken minutes apart.

When you do have a landscape background to take your picture, you want to take it when you can get positioned with

Sun to your back, aiming for the barrel. Shadow behind the horse.

Sun to your back, aiming for the barrel. Shadow behind the horse.

the sun to your back when it’s hitting the horse and casting a shadow directly behind. If you’re taking the picture in the morning, you’d face West, the sun is coming from the East and your horse is pointing directly North or South. As the sun comes around, you’ll adjust your horse’s angle and the angle of the photographer so you’ll always cast the shadow right behind the horse. If you’re out in the evening, which can make for some lovely lighting, the photographer will face East with their back to the sun. The horse will point North or South.

Using the landscape to really make your horse pop and have a presence is an asset. You want to squat down low enough when you take the picture that the horses back is above the plane of the horizon. See the difference getting a little lower makes in these pictures.

Horizon BELOW the horses back. Really gives presence.

Horizon BELOW the horses back. Really gives presence.

Horizon is NOT below the horses back here.

Horizon is NOT below the horses topline here and you can see the difference in the presense and pop comparing to the brown horse above.

Setting up the horse is another super important piece of the puzzle. Many people get the foot work mixed up. You want the “far side to the inside”. The two legs on the far side of the horse  (to the photographer) should be placed inside the outer legs. If the horse is facing left to you, the left front should be directly down from the shoulder and the right front set just behind, so there is space between the two fronts.
The hind left should be straight down from the hip and hock, and the outside (right) should be set under also with space between. Your horse should be neither camped under or camped out, being too stretched out.

legposition

Although we have a person in the picture that can't be cropped, the head isn't tilted and he is furred up.....I like how the legs are positioned in this picture. Far side to the inside and the legs closest to us straight down from the joint.

Although we have a person in the picture that can’t be cropped with this yearling, the head isn’t tilted and he is furred up…..I like how the legs are positioned in this picture. Far side to the inside and the legs closest to us straight down from the joint.   I use this one over one where he didn’t look as good and I had no person.   Set up is my priority.

 

This is where it gets really tricky and often frustrating if your horse doesn’t want to stand or keeps moving himself to an undesirable position. I heard once it takes 3 people to take good horse pictures. A husband, a wife and a good divorce lawyer. It sounds easy enough on paper, but when you’re trying to stay perfectly perpendicular to the sun with a horse swishing flys and crying for his pen mates, things can get awfully tense in a hurry.    Also, sometimes what looks good to the handler doesn’t look best to the photographer so establish this difference ahead and make your handler trusts the photographer’s eye.

Leg good, a little down hill and the head is turned too much. Not a great background, but could be worse.

Legs good, a little downhill and the head is turned too much. Not a great background, but could be worse.  Pretty good for no halter.  This was a phone picture.

We haven’t even made it to the ears yet! On top of the above, we want the ears forward. The “perfect” shot will have the head tilted just slightly to the photographer so that you can just see the bulge of the outside eye. I prefer an alert look with the head above the wither for performance horses. This is where the third person would come in handy as they could shake a bucket of grain or hold a mirror to catch the eye of your horse while you snap the picture.

Standing directly in the middle of the horse’s barrel and taking the picture straight on yields the best angle. Sometimes I see people getting ahead or behind that point to try and make up for differences in the horse, but ideally, you would position their feet to the most flattering spot so you can achieve balance when you take the picture.

Taking the front, back or 3/4 pictures are more difficult and a quick way to make your horse look really bad. I don’t recommend amateurs post this type of picture in their for sale ad. I recommend two really good profile (from the side) pictures. You could crop out a nice headshot and include that if you’d like.

On Rodeoclassifieds I’ve always limited ads to 4 pictures and this is the first time I’ve written why. I’ve found that when there is space for more, people keep adding more pictures and they dig themselves into a hole. They include the really bad pictures and lose a sale when they should have burnt the pictures. You should only include the pictures that make your horse look as good as he is or better. Yes, pictures can make a horse look better than they are! If you want to show more than what just two pictures show then take a video of your horse walking in hand and upload it to Youtube and add it to your ad. If you only have one really good picture and one half-assed picture, only include the really good picture.

Before cropping. Notice we've got that hat of to wave for the ears!

Before cropping. Notice we’ve got that hat of to wave for the ears!

Horizon BELOW the horses back. Really gives presence.

Same picture cropped.  With some edits we could even get rid of the lead rope we wanted.   The head is in a great position, the left legs a little stretched out.    The best we did this session though.

When you do have a handler don’t worry about getting them in the picture.   As long as they are not touching the horse, you can crop them out after using your phone or a free cropping tool you can find on the internet.  I’ve been using one called Irfanview for 15 years.      You’re better to take the pictures from a far so you can get the horizon and no shadow of yourself and crop them tighter after than be too close.

Take the time it takes to get some good pictures. It pays big time and even worth the price of a professional if you don’t think you can handle it or can’t get help. At a minimum, have a sunny day and get those legs placed right.

Here’s a quick 5 point checklist:
1. Handler
2. Groomed horse, Tidy halter
3. Sunshine
4. Suitable background
5. Attention getter (grain bucket, mirror etc.)
5a. Camera with a memory card in it!
5b. Beer and snacks for your help so they still like you after the session.

For the set up
1. Sun to your back
2. Horse perpendicular the sun
3. Far side legs to the inside of the body
4. Head tilted towards you just slightly, ears forward
5. Shooting from the barrel,   horse’s back over the horizon.

In the next post in this series, I will talk about videos and what I recommend including and how long the videos should be.

Here’s another example for good measure:

Poor (streched out) leg set up and lower head set does not flatter this horse.

Poor (streched out) leg set up and lower head set does not flatter this horse.   This picture does not do this horse justice.

Not perfect, but much more desirable leg set up and an ideal head position and angle.

Not perfect, but much more desirable leg set up and an ideal head position and angle.

 

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