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preparing for your photo session

how do you want to look?

What sort of photos would you like me to create? Are we going for formal conformation photos? The perfect extended trot? A family portrait including three generations of humans plus all the critters? A costumed dream fantasy? When we set up your photo session, we will go over these options and more.


Just like in any other horse-related activity, footing is paramount for photography sessions.

Under saddle photos: Your arena should be in tip top shape, so your horse will put in his best effort.

Liberty photos: The space should allow your horse to feel comfortable trotting and cantering in it. It must be fenced properly, and it must be large enough for your photographer and handlers to be in the arena or paddock with the horse safely. It doesn't need to be huge: sometimes even a round pen can work if it offers a photo vantage point from outside. If we are shooting in a pasture, be safe and make sure there are no eroded areas or holes, and please pick up manure piles before your photo session.

Conformation photos: Your horse will look best, and stand up most comfortably, on level ground. Here we can be more flexible about surfaces: besides arena footing, pavement or hardscape is perfectly acceptable for "stand ups". If we will be shooting conformation on grass, you'll need to mow the area prior to the shoot, otherwise your horse's hooves will disappear!


For your formal, horse only conformation portraits, you can assess your backgrounds by going out to your potential photo areas at the times of day that we would schedule your session, and stand with the sun at your back to see what will be behind your horse. For horse and human portraits, I'll often use softer light or light from behind the subjects, and an uncluttered background makes for beautiful photos. I can work with a range of backgrounds, but they all have in common a lack of vertical objects in them such as poles or baby trees (which look like sticks in photos), and horizontal items like telephone lines. Other things that are NOT appropriate in a background: vehicles, grooming racks, muck buckets, hoses, your child's swing set .... You get the idea! Again, safety is the first priority: I will never ask you to pose a horse in a place that could endanger you, him, or me.

Drop-out backgrounds

If our goal is a Drop-Out Background, where the background will be completely removed and replaced with Black, White, or a textural color, then we have lots of freedom about where to shoot.


Morning and afternoon light are best for photographing horses. For portraits of just the horse, I will normally stand with the sun behind me. For portraits including humans, I will often face the sun or photograph in open shade for softer lighting. Except during the winter, the middle of the day does not provide attractive light, and for full day sessions we will usually take a break from shooting in the middle of the day. The most dramatic light happens in the hour after dawn and the hour before sunset: this is the Golden Hour. But the only way to use that delicious light is if it falls unfettered on your location - no tall trees, buildings or mountains block the sun - and if the weather gods cooperate. If that isn't the case, excellent lighting occurs until mid morning and after mid-afternoon.


Handlers: Choose your best handler if you are presenting a horse for sale or stud. I've watched horses run rampant with owners: sometimes a handler other than Mommy is the best for all concerned. Besides myself and the handler, I require a third person on the ground to get ears up, wipe slobber from horse's mouths and touch up fly spray as needed. If you don't have someone available for the day of the shoot, I can often bring an assistant with me, but there will be a surcharge.

A group of horses: It's best to have one handler per horse, regardless of how many of the handlers will be included in the photo.

Riding photos: I welcome having your trainer or other eyes on the ground to assist you in riding your best. While I can give some direction (i.e. "let his nose out a bit," or "bring the haunches more in the half pass"), I would rather concentrate on directing the shoot. But just one voice, please! Too many people calling instructions is distracting.

Liberty sessions: I will almost always need a team. Three or four "whips" are needed to keep horses moving around the paddock. One will be assigned to keep the horse an appropriate distance from my camera. I use long lenses, which means if they come too close I just can't get the photos I'm after.


It goes without saying that a clean, tidy horse photographs more beautifully than one with grass stains.

Adult horses: Make sure that anything you normally trim, such as ears and bridle tracks, are recently done. I like whiskers on horses.... Just saying. A little bit of baby oil around the ears and muzzle can be a nice touch, but don't overdo it unless your breed is traditionally presented with lots of "makeup".

Baby horses: Age appropriate, anything from just turn them out and let them be babies to standing them up near their mama with their halter on. Babies can shape-change from "he's perfect" to "what IS that?" back to ,"that's my future superstar," in the blink of an eye. I'll always do my best to minimize the ugly duckling phase if that's where we are when I get there.

Portraits and stand ups: I prefer to see the horse presented in a clean, well-fitted snaffle bridle. The type of noseband is totally up to you, but if your only noseband has a holder for a flash attachment, complete the picture with the flash strap, otherwise you'll be wishing the little loop could just disappear when you see the photos. Some folks prefer to present their horses with a chain shank replacing the reins, but please make sure the shank is long enough for safe handling and that the chain is shiny.

Under Saddle: Of course everything is spotless, because that's how you roll! Whether you boot or wrap is completely up to you. If you wrap or boot, black or white for wraps, and black, white or neutral for boots usually makes for the most elegant photos, but if you've got an amazing outfit of matching saddle pad and wraps for your horse, I'm all over it!

Braids: Your choice! If you would like to photograph both braided and loose, which I often do for Friesians and Iberian horses, then we start with braids and then let them down. Button braids or hunter braids kink the mane hair more, so we'll have to schedule enough time to undo them, wet the mane and dry the mane between braided and loose photos.

These are MY personal preferences: if you wish to have your horse photographed in a double bridle, that is perfectly fine too. If you wish to have your horse photographed in a halter, a well-maintained leather one is the only appropriate head gear! One possible exception: children and ponies who have their own strong opinions, about, for instance, Things That Are Pink.


For under saddle or in hand photos, the humans should be as well groomed as the horses.

Riding photos: You are welcome to dress in show attire or casual schooling attire for riding photos. Helmets are mandatory for action or over fences photos, and for any mounted photos that will be used for promotion or publication.

Portraits: I welcome as many costume changes as time - and your horse's patience - allows. Choose the clothing that makes you feel beautiful, but please avoid large busy patterns and obvious logos (unless it's your sponsor or barn name!). If you're going to wear your Manolo Blahniks for photos, please be sure you've got a handler to manage the horse for you on the way to and from the photo location. For group or family photos, it looks fabulous if everyone is wearing either the same color or a similar style of clothing.... Best to stick to solid colors for group photos, unless the theme is, for instance, "plaids" or "stripes".

other cameras

You are welcome to chronicle the photo session with video or even the occasional phone photo, but I require there be no other photographers shooting the subjects during our photo session.


For the question, "Can't you just Photoshop that out?" the answer is: usually. But retouching takes time, and do you really want to pay my hourly rate of $100.00 per hour to Photoshop something that could have been fixed for free in five minutes?

However! There are things that I retouch as a matter of course:

On humans: flyaway hair, blemishes, the dreaded "helmet chin". Wrinkles will be softened unless you request they be left in all their hard-earned glory.

On horses: spittle, temporary blemishes such as cuts or rubs, a turned ear or a closed eye if necessary. I will not change a horse's conformation or way of going, nor do I allow that sort of adjustment to be made by anyone else after the fact.

Retouching that CAN be done for an additional fee: Removing handler, removing or moving shank or reins; removing the flash loop on noseband; adding/removing logos to saddle pads or clothing; removal or blurring of background distractions; artistic or painterly digital treatments.

Backgrounds can be replaced: If after all your searching, a suitable perfect background could not be found, I can always create your very own world for you and your horses. And of COURSE I can add a black or white background, or something even more elegant.

painting reference

Please remember that only Terri Miller has permission to use Terri Miller photos as reference for a painting. 

Commissioned Paintings information can be found here.

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