Equine elegance

Jade Price sought out equine photographer Emily Hancock’s three-day Training Barn workshop in the New Forest for a crash course on pony portraits

* Leica S2 and Nikon D3

* 70-200mm and 180mm f/2.8

* Card space and backups

* Spare batteries

* Folder of contact details in case your client cannot find the location

* Assistant with Polo mints, nuts and grit to shake

It’s probably safe to say that I am the animal enthusiast of the PMteam, but for all my knowledge and love of beasties great and small, I actually had no idea how to go about photographing horses with their riders. Cue equine photographer Emily Hancock FBIPP and her handy Training Barn nestled in the woodland of the New Forest.

For what was Emily’s first workshop — of which I can guarantee will be one of many more successful ones to come — I can quite safely say that photographing horses and their owners is not easy, but wow, was it enjoyable.

The Business Bit

Arriving early to the sun-speckled woods on a Friday morning, Emily was keen to kick-start the workshop. With a packed itinerary right up until the last minute on the Sunday afternoon, participants leave with a greater understanding of both Emily’s own business and how to advance their own as the workshop consists of theory and practical guidance from Emily.

Sat around in the newly furnished barn with tea and biscuits galore, and amazing lunches provided by her lovely mother, the small group sat and absorbed every word. Emily is a mastermind at business and her visually led presentations on pricing, exhibitions, clientele and branding leave you thinking ‘of course, why didn’t I think of that?’ Proof that simplicity is key. There are plenty of business opportunities with equine photography it turned out, targeting anything from farriers (horse shoe fitters) to professional show jumpers as potential clients. The sure fact is that horses come at a cost and people love to dote on them, so building a business that aims to capture gorgeous shots of people and their horses is a sure fire way to making photography a source of income. But you also need the skills.

If you Go Down to the Woods

You can’t get a more beautiful backdrop for photographing a horse and its owner than the stunning New Forest. Just a short walk from Emily’s home and Training Barn HQ, participants will photograph a number of volunteers that Emily has reined in especially for the course shoots.

On my visit the group is small in number as Emily believes in enabling each photographer to get critical one-on-one time photographing the models and their horses. I was photographing the experienced Mitch, who had posed for photos before, and her trusty steed Zara alongside a young girl Becky with her beloved pony Roxy.

Emily taught the group how to get the best shots of the horses and their owners, looking for key props in the woods, body posture of the horse and positioning of the rider. This trait may only last for a split second, so you learn to anticipate the animal and pose ready. Other times it ended in a chorus of odd trilling and neighing noises from the group as we tried to direct the horses’ attention. This is an important factor as owners will be looking for shots where the horse looks its best and is either posing powerfully or interacting closely with its owner.

We aimed our shots and posed the owners to be looking into their horse’s eyes, holding the reins loosely to make for a natural, relaxed image. Tree stumps act as great platforms for posing the riders and the results from the group’s weekend of photographing a variety of models and horses were fantastic. Emily also instructs how to best edit the shots in post-production, leaving enough room around the horse’s ears for framing later on and other important tips. Amazingly Emily told us to shoot on one camera, one lens and one setting and to leave it at that. She does very little post-production work too, simply bringing background colour down and altering the shadows.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water

The training didn’t quite run as smoothly as planned however, as the group went out on the second day to photograph a sunset shoot with mother and daughter Gabrielle and Elise Jenner with their horses Prince and Here Comes Trouble II. And trouble he was. This horse was only a youngster and not a fan of standing still and looking pretty with his owner for too long.

Emily stepped in to keep the horse calm as he was braying and kicking up a bit of a fuss. She explained later that it’s all about keeping the owner happy who will in turn keep the horse happy — talking calmly to them, assuring them it’s nothing and that great photos are being taken in a relaxed situation will bring out just that. And sure enough once Gabrielle had relaxed Trouble did too and we were able to get even more fantastic shots.

Students will leave with a folder of notes and presentation slides, full stomachs, memory cards and a greater understanding of how Emily’s business success can be applied to their own, be it equine photography or another venture.

Top tips for equine photography

Make sure the horse’s ears point forward in every shot.

Pick a setting and stick to it. Unconventionally Emily told us to set our cameras to f/5.6, ISO 800 on Aperture Priority mode and leave it there, concentrating on the shots rather than the camera.

Get the models into a pose that looks natural with their horse, don’t push them to perform. They should also keep smiling and not talk to their horse as you want to capture the exact moment when the ears are forward and the owner is smiling at you. 4Bring along Polo mints for treats to tempt a shy or bored horse.

Use the environment around you for natural props. But be prepared to use your imagination for clients who arrange a shoot at their yard where there is not much of a backdrop.

Get the models to bring a few changes of clothes — having pictures on their horse wearing nice clothing rather than their riding gear will produce special images they’ll want to buy.

If a horse is playing up simply get the owner to walk it round to ease it into the unusual situation. Regular breaks are important. Be aware of background objects, you don’t want trees growing out of anyone’s head.

Think outside the box occasionally — rather than follow all other equine photographers try and think of new poses and angles to give your images the edge without retracting from the subject of horse and owner.

Have fun. You want to make sure the owner enjoys the experience as that will help in the buying process later on.

Business tips

Build your portfolio so you have a variety of shots to show clients.

Make a list of contacts you already have and then a wish list of who you would love to photograph and see how you can work towards them through existing contacts.

Set realistic business goals, be it daily, monthly or yearly.

Stay on your clients’ radar by keeping your images out there by all means possible.

Attend shows to get new clients and broadcast your work through physical and social networking.

Ensure your website says everything about you and your kind of work.

Use a calendar of promotions for your work to draw people and existing clients back, such as Mothers’ Day and Christmas.

If exhibiting your work it must be compelling and tell a story, not just a random collection of images.

Have your sales pitch set out and rehearsed before meeting a client. Have a good range of products available such as framing, prints and canvases and introduce them all casually to the client at the image viewing session.

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