How I Photograph My Models

I’ve gotten a few questions about how I set things up for pictures, so this post will be an attempt to share that. This isn’t meant to be a tutorial on model horse photography or photography in general. I’m no where near experienced enough to write up one of those! (If you’re looking for a more in-depth guide to photographing model horses, I highly recommend checking out Jamie Baker’s tutorial.)
I’ve had a growing interest in digital photography for a number of years. I bought my first DSLR a few years back and have spent lots of time playing around with it, trying to figure out how to use it to get the results I want.

Aside from tips I’ve picked up off the internet, I’m entirely self-taught and am by no means a “pro.” Half the time I have no idea what it is I’m doing. But I’m one of those people who learn best by doing, rather than just reading about it. I believe that it is one of the best ways to learn anything.

1: Camera
I have two different cameras. My point-and-shoot (a Canon Powershot A560) is the camera I toss in my backpack or purse and take everywhere. It has literally been around the world with me and is still working great. I think it’s 5-6 years old now.

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My DSLR (a Canon Rebel T1i) is my “big” camera and is what I use for the majority of my pictures now.

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Both cameras have pros and cons, and both can produce really nice results or really poor ones. That entirely depends on ME, and how focused or lazy I am about getting “the shot.”
You do not NEED a big fancy camera to get decent photos of your models! Does it help? Well, yeah, especially if you want to shoot in low light or want that half-blurred, half-focused look. I shoot models 99% of the time indoors, which is one reason I use my Rebel more often.
But my little point and shoot works wonderfully too, especially outside since I’ve got better light.

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Whatever sort of camera you have, I strongly recommend learning how to USE it. Cameras come with thick manuals that are incredibly boring to read, but are full of useful information. There are books out there written specifically for certain camera models, which can be very helpful as well. Like I said earlier, the best way to learn is to practice. I still don’t know how to use every feature on my cameras, but through repitition and experimentation, I’ve gotten a better idea of how everything works. And I still have SO much to learn!

2: Lighting
I hate lighting. Lighting makes me crazy because it’s never just right. Obviously I need to do more research on proper lighting but… bah!
A lot of people like to use light tents for taking pictures. These vary in size and can be purchased or made yourself. I attempted to make one out of cardboard (suprised?) and while it worked ok, it was a pain to set up and much too big to leave up. I was lacking proper lights too, and since I’m a college student cheap, I didn’t go out and buy a bunch of them. Someday, maybe, but for now, I prefer to use my desk lamp’s light…

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…or natural light from my window, depending on what time of day it is. It would probably be best to just go outside on a nice, somewhat overcast day, but it’s winter and it’s cold.

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3. Background
I prefer simple, plain backgrounds for most of my pictures. One of these days I’d like to set up something more realistic, but, well, you know how I am.

My go-to background is a piece of white posterboard that’s seen better days. I really need to get another one. I’ve also got one in black, and have a collection of those white cardboard pieces that come with clothing you order online. Those make nice backgrounds for little stuff like halters and bridles since I don’t show the entire horse.

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I also like using scrapbooking paper, origami paper, or any other colored paper for backgrounds.

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Sheets and blankets can make good backgrounds too.

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Whatever you use, choose something that won’t be a huge distraction. Unless you want it to be distracting.

4. Set Up
My set up is really lazy. I set the posterboard on top of a hard surface, (usually a large coffee-table book if I’m on the floor, cause models hate standing on thick carpets) plop the model down and voilΓ !
I have a tripod, but it’s too tall if I’m taking pictures on the floor. A stack of hardback books works just as well, and gives my hands some extra support.

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My collection pictures, (most of them anyway) were taken with a more elaborate set-up, (folding table, piles of boxes and a white sheet) a tripod, remote, and an external flash, which I used to bounce light off of a white surface. (an old journal, I think? told you I was lazy) They’re kind of blown out but I actually like the look. One of these days I’ll probably look back and wonder what the heck I was thinking and re-do them all, but for now, they’re good enough.

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Photographing an entire collection is an all-day affair, just so you know. (and my collection isn’t that big!)

5. Shooting and Post-Processing
The nice thing about digital cameras is that you can take hundreds and hundreds of photos and see them instantly. I take so many pictures it’s ridiculous, but in the end, I only use a handful of them.
Some things to keep in mind…

Play with different angles. I’ve been messing around with tilting the camera to try and create more motion. I don’t know if this is working.

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Get multiple shots. One of them will be blurrier than the others, almost always. Remotes and timers help but even then…

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Get down on the model’s level. If you could scale the horse up or scale yourself down where would your camera lens be? This is hard to get right because laying or kneeling on the ground with a heavy camera can be painful. πŸ˜› (but when people get it right it’s worth it!)

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Focus on the horse. I’ve seen lots of pictures where the background is in focus but the horse isn’t. It’s sometimes hard to tell until you get the images on a computer, but that’s why I take lots of pictures.

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Focus on the details! Some point-and shoots have macro settings which help with the little things. My dslr doesn’t like focusing on small stuff so I usually end up focusing manually, which is nice cause it gives me more control on what I want to be in focus.

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Shut your pets in another room unless you want them to invade your set up. Especially if you’re using a blanket for a background… it’s like a magnet.

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Dust your models please. πŸ˜‰ Makeup brushes, large paintbrushes, soft cloths, a sweater sleeve… lint is unavoidable though and I’m ALWAYS picking it off tack, horses, backgrounds, ect ect…

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Whatever pictures I get I take into a photo-editing program for further tweaking. I’m a Photoshop addict, what can I say? I use Photoshop Elements for almost everything.
Most of the time it’s just cropping, sharpening and resizing. I do mess with color levels from time to time though, because my pictures sometimes come out more yellow (or red or green or blue) than I would like.

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Post-processing is an entirely different subject though. It’s not always needed but I figured I would mention it anyway, since I do it so often and is just part of my process. πŸ˜€

That’s all I’ve got for now. Hopefully someone will find my rambling helpful? If not, well, I tried. πŸ˜› Honestly though, the best advice I have is to 1. learn how to use your camera, 2. practice, practice, fail, practice, fail, etc etc…

Oh, and have fun too. πŸ™‚

8 thoughts on “How I Photograph My Models

  1. I’ve always been interested in photography but didn’t know what to use for a background. I never realized that I could use a poster board! Yeah, most of them are used, but I never use the back! And I think white looks cleaner than the neon pink that most girls use so all of them are white!

    Thanks, I found this really helpful!

  2. That’s really interesting and great to know. I got a Rebel T3 recently and love taking pictures with it more than my Nikon point and shoot camera. I always love how crisp, clear, and professional your pictures and models look! I need to make a photo area lol. I didn’t realize you could use basic posterboard as a backdrop. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Haha, I have the PowerShot, too, and it is still in use and doing its work day in and day out. XD
    Your post is great for beginners and all others and I love the good dose of fun that you added.

  4. I made diy halters out of a rubber band. you put it on the neck, twist it, and put it around the muzzle of the horse. Thanks for reading this! ( I could not find comments under halters so i put it here)

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