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Photographing Horses At Events

Techniques > Photographing Horses At Events

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Category: Animals / Wildlife

Horse Event Photography - The Cheltenham Racing Festival is on this week so now seems the perfect time to try some horse photography.

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If you know your racing you will know that the Cheltenham Racing Festival is on this week. It features the best 'jumpers' in training and attracts massive crowds including a massive Irish contingent. If you want to enjoy it, try Channel 4's excellent coverage.

If you want to photograph it, you are probably too late to get tickets for this year but it is worth a check on their website. That is not a problem, though, because the crowds at Cheltenham make it a challenge for any photographer. It is just so, so busy.

The really good news is that horse racing (jump and flat) takes place on most days of the year, including many Sundays, and in the summer there are evening meetings too. With some tracks being 'all weather' racing can still take place in poor weather. If you want to try your hand at this form of photography there are opportunities aplenty. Just check out: British horse racing. Of course, there many other equestrian events to try too. 

If you want to make more of horses you will definitely need longer lenses, something like a 300mm is good. So if you own a 70-300mm, that one lens can cover people and horse opportunities. A teleconverter can give even more pulling power, and these accessories are worth considering on bright days.

Set your camera to ISO200 or 400 to allow fast shutter speeds to avoid camera shake with the longer lens. If you want, take a monopod, but it is not essential.

As with any event, doing your research and arriving early to find the best vantage points and to see where the sun will be shining when will help you. Course diagrams will give you an idea of the layout and which way the horses will be running.

In racing, the higher the ticket price the closer to the finishing line you will be. Tracks and the facilities on offer for different prices should be checked out first. Indeed, on some tracks you can get to bits of the track or fences without paying a penny and still get decent shots. On some smaller tracks you can close to the action or even next to the fence or starting stalls.

If you can get next to a fence try a low camera position – and of course, take great care with where you stand because racehorses are highly strung. Try to press the shutter button to capture the moment when the horse is mid-air, over the jump.

Side-on shots of horses work better if you show the horse's legs extended. It may take a few goes but make sure the leg closest to you is beginning to step or fully extended when taking your photograph. If you plan on panning, a slower shutter speed will blur the background leaving all the attention on the horse and rider.

If you get to the start of a flat race, where starting stalls are used you can get dramatic images with slow shutter speeds, perhaps with some zoom action during the exposure thrown in, can give great images, but timing is all important so not very easy to achieve.

Away from the action, try shots in the saddling enclosure or the warm-up ring. Both are good spots for people as well as horse photography.

As with every subject, do watch your backgrounds. Fill the frame and blur your backgrounds by keeping your apertures wide.


For more information on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 visit the Olympus website. 

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