Eight Tips for Taking Gorgeous Dressage Photos

Updated: May 30, 2019

Taking photographs of a horse and rider is complicated! You’ve got two thinking, feeling, dynamic subjects to contend with, and chances are low that they look their best at the same moment. Someone is always blinking!

But all hope is not lost. It IS possible to take gorgeous photos of your favorite horse and rider duo. Read below for a few tips to photograph like a pro at the next dressage show!

Preparing to shoot

Position yourself so any bright light source is against your back, such as a window. If this is not possible, wait to take photos so it is to one side of the horse or the other, as opposed to directly opposite your camera.

There is a window to the top right of this image. I positioned myself so the light was coming next to my subjects, instead of directly behind them. This allows the light to accentuate the horse and rider, without causing a glare.

This is ideal for a few reasons.

  • One, if you're shooting in "Auto" or any mode where you don't control all the settings, the sun flare can potentially blind your camera to the horse and rider and either make the image too bright or too dark.

  • Two, having a brighter light source hitting your subjects enhances the horse's coat and muscles and gives greater definition to the rider.

Decide ahead of time what location is best for you to stand, then be there prior to the ride. Be sure the horse is able to see you. If you’re crouched behind a post or a tree, there is a chance if the horse sees you at the last moment or hears the camera, he could spook during the test.

Focus the effort of your photography toward the middle and end of the ride. This gives the horse and rider some time to focus on each other and settle into the test, which translates into better photos. That being said, it never hurts to take photos during the entire test.

While shooting

Shoot low. Aim to have your camera centered on the rider’s foot.

I was sitting on the ground for this shot. This angle draws the viewer directly toward the horse and rider.

Shoot on “burst” mode. Taking 4-6 images in a row will allow a horse to go through a full sequence of strides.

Wait for the horse and rider to be in a consistent pace for a few strides or take pictures as they are speeding up instead of slowing down.

Choosing from the images you’ve taken

A horse’s stride is critical:

  • When the horse is walking, look for images where the horse’s front leg is extended, and his neck is relaxed.

  • When trotting, look for images where the legs closest to you are both extended.

  • When cantering, look for images where the front legs are riding upwards. Bonus points if you can capture all but the far back hoof off the ground!

Whenever possible, look for images where the rider's head is up and the horse's ears are pricked forward.

By implementing some of these tips I hope you are able to capture photographs that truly highlight how beautiful the partnership can be between horse and rider. So much of it is timing and luck, so don't beat yourself up if it doesn't come together the first time!

I'd love to hear your thoughts if you try these techniques, or if you have a great tip not mentioned here!


Emily Knitter is a lifelong horseback lover herself, based in New York. Her photography is best known for its ability to capture the emotional connection between horse and rider with vibrant color and bold lighting. 

©2019 by Emily Knitter


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