First and foremost, GROOM your horse. Make sure the horse is clean, well groomed, and if you photograph him in tack it should be clean and look decent. Show-Sheen would be a nice touch.
Check what is in the background. Is there debris laying around behind him? This is distracting from your horse! Place him in a clean, attractive area (corner of the paddock, in front of a blank wall of barn, etc.) and have someone hold the lead (out of frame), possibly even showing a carrot at the last second to really get the horse to perk its’ ears and look attentive. If your horses’ ears are forward, the horse looks alert and happy! Step back from the horse by at least five feet. Ensure the entire horse is in the frame of the photo. Always include the feet.
Take a photo from the side, the front, and behind – direct on each time. Try to ensure the horse has its weight evenly distributed between all four feet.
Watch for stark shadows. Bright but cloudy days actually produce better photos! You can also try early morning or late afternoon as the lighting is softer then as well. If there are stark shadows on the horse, it makes him look skinny and will highlight any faults.
Finally, crouch down slightly (if needed) so that your camera is pointing directly at mid-barrel height.
Here are some examples of photos where people actually seemed to try to have a decent photo, but failed:
In the photo above, they placed the horse on grass with no real rubbish in the background. The main problem with the photo is the horses’ head is down and he’s eating grass. This emphasizes his larger belly and relaxes the back too much. If his head was up the back would be straight and the belly tucked up a bit. Nice try, and I assume the person was alone since the horse is on a lead but the lead is not held (another mistake). Also note, photographer didn’t crouch down at all, so you’re looking down at the horse.
Winter photos are more difficult. This horse has its’ head up and is looking back a bit (fairly decent overall for horse posture), but there is a ton of manure around its’ feet which is very distracting. Try to find a clean spot to photograph your horse. And again, we’re looking a bit down at the horse.
If this were the only shot of the horse, I would say terrible! Too close, you can’t see the body, there’s too much going on in the background with other horses, ears are not perked, angle makes the neck look terrible and the nose longer and skinnier than it probably is in reality.
I’ve seen MUCH worse out there in ads, but chose these because the owners looked like they were at least trying to post decent photos of their horses.
Below are some ads where the photos are much better.
Nice head shot, beautiful tack, lighting is pretty good (if a bit harsh on the poll), background is a bit busy and you can see the handlers hand… but you can see the difference between this head shot and the one above.
Same horse as above; you can see it’s extremely well groomed, the tack is lovely, the background is better and the horse is posed beautifully. Had they moved themselves a few steps to the right and took the shot straight-on, they could have avoided the strip at the right (unless they were avoiding something worse to the left).
Nice action shot, you can see how well the horse jumps, if you’re selling a jumper you really should have an action shot of it! You also want the standard shots as well, but this one would catch the eye of the person looking for a good jumper. Technically speaking it’s not a fantastic shot overall, but it does show the horse has some talent and experience. A good example of how even a half-decent shot looks better than a totally crappy shot.
Please note, this photo is fairly decent. Not fantastic, but decent. Absolutely worthy of placing in an ad. BUT, I took the liberty to crop it slightly and below is the final version. This took me exactly two minutes! If I’d had the original, it would have looked even better (downloaded from internet, low resolution).
The horse fills the frame, theres much less distracting from the horse itself.
Here’s another shot of the same horse as above. Nice shot overall, but not what I’d really call an “action shot”. I do wonder if they are “implying” the horse can rope, what with the cattle in the background and the rope in her hands… But they’re certainly not showing that the horse can do that.
And the same horse again. Excellent shot. Almost perfect! Lighting is fantastic, shadow is falling on the far side of the horse, horse is groomed well, the only thing I would suggest would make it better would be if you could actually see the entire hooves.
Here are some links with further information if you really want to delve into taking better shots of your horse:
And a final note; there are particular ways to pose different breed horses. If you are selling a specific breed, google the proper way to photograph your horse to attract buyers looking for that particular breed.