Despite these images looking like there were taken in a studio, they totally weren’t! Here are some absolute necessities you or your photographer need to nail images of this style.
A covered barn aisle entryway, with doors/windows behind the subject able to closed or covered. Lean-to or run-in shelters just won’t work the same way a long, dark barn aisle behind the horse will. The goal is that the only light is coming from one side of the barn—the open doorway that your horse is standing in.
Ideally, the aisle way should be wide enough for the horse to stand comfortably in—both broadside and straight.
The position of the sun should also be taken into account as you do not want direct rays falling onto the horse. If the door opens to the east, south or west, take care that the timing of the session does not coincide when direct rays will be shining into the barn opening.
In my opinion, the best full-body images are obtained when the horse is standing on concrete. A sand floor like in an arena just doesn’t have the same clean lines in the final photo, and your photographer can’t do too much about it. Editing out a floor is possible in photoshop, but it’s time consuming and difficult under the best of circumstances.
I’ve seen some apps that people use with their phones to black out the background of a cell phone shot. That’s great that just anyone can play around with this style of photography! Go wild! However, a professional level camera and lens are the way to capture detailed, high resolution images that can be enlarged for wall art without losing quality. The majority of the magic of these images are done in post-processing software like photoshop, which means your photo needs to start at a certain caliber level to be able to be edited down to the pixel level.
Fun fact, did you know that lenses under the 85ish mm mark will cause distortion in the picture when photographing a large animal like a horse? That’s why some horses’ heads or necks look out of proportion in some photos you see online. The photographer wasn’t using the correct lens!
I use the canon RF 70-200mm lens for all of my photos. It's versatile and a total workhorse.
To be honest, frequently photographers have done a nice job in editing the horse, but did not go to the extra effort to pose them correctly. At the end of the day, a well-edited photo of an awkward angle of the horse will still be awkward. It might take some gimmicks and tricks during the session to get the exact pose you want, but setting the horse up square again will be so worth it when you’re working on the final photo. Bonus points for artistic posing. When selecting a photographer for your horse’s black backgrounds, make sure their portfolio is full of consistently attractive poses, displaying the horse’s best features.
As I mentioned before, the majority of the magic of these images is produced by a well-practiced hand in photoshop after the fact. Knowing your camera settings well while taking the original photo is important, but it is the post-processing editing that makes or breaks these images. We photographers do not go home and immediately upload the images we just took to the web. A finely crafted photo may take upwards of an hour to edit, not to mention the hours and days it took to learn the basics of Photoshop. It’s a jungle, my friends.
Some basic black background editing that takes place:
Nicks, bites, scars: the horse’s coat is cleaned up to look it’s finest
Tack: may be edited out all together or enhanced. BUT be careful, if tack isn’t properly cleaned for the session, it’s very time consuming to make it look clean in PS, if it's possible at all.
Lead ropes/hands/distractions: all the aforementioned can be edited out, but it's easiest if it wasn't there in the first place, or in the case of a halter, a thin photography halter was used, like in the video below.
Background: making the dark background fall gracefully behind or on the horse takes a skill. Without this knowledge, your photo may look like a cookie cutter of a horse placed against a black piece of paper. The horse should fade into the dark.
Coat color: lustre is restored and the horse “pops” in the picture.
Eyes: detail is either sharpened or painted in altogether.
Hair: Your horse’s flyaways look like they just met a bottle of Tresemme, and their bald rub spot looks like it just got rogaine’d.
Compositing an image: bringing two separate images/horses into one in post-processing
Black backgrounds are beautiful fine art, and truly timeless. Horses are such inspiring creatures and black background-studio style imagery really captures their elegance. Enlarging the image on a huge canvas or acrylic to show off to any house guests is the best feeling, to be honest!
Take a look at the before and afters below! While they look like they happen in a few clicks of the mouse, editing layers are being activated/shown after a complete photo edit was done.
Notice the halter edited out, the eye detail brought back, the coat shine & contrast.
The busy background and that hand in the bottom portion fade away for an elegant bow.
Background fades gracefully around the subjects, eye detail added, coat lustre pops.
That's a wrap! A lot of work, practice and know-how go into these photos both during the session phase and the post-processing. The results are oh-so-satisfying!
Are you interested in having these keepsake images taken of your own horse? Both our Equine Portrait sessions and Horse & Rider sessions include them! Reach out with any questions! firstname.lastname@example.org