Everyone loves to have pictures of horses at liberty, running freely alone or in groups, doing what horses do naturally.
First, and most importantly, always consider the safety of the horse and yourself or any helpers you may have on hand.
If you are going to pressure your horse to move out at liberty, make sure that pressure is gentle and you don’t push them too hard. The best pictures are when the horse is moving in a relaxed manner. Liberty photos can be difficult because in general horses don’t take direction very well. The trick is getting the horse to move through the areas that have the best light and the preferred background.
Be careful as some horses won’t respect your space, always be prepared to move yourself to safety!
Some of the easiest liberty pictures to set up are when horses have a routine like heading out to pasture in the morning or coming back to the barn at night.
You’ll typically need a minimum of 1/1000 shutter speed, and even that might be slow depending on how fast the action gets.
Keep shooting until the action stops. If you have a two or more horses at liberty be sure to watch for those interaction shots. These are some of my favorite images!
Ears up will help to make the horse look alert, happy and engaged but it’s not always necessary.
In general, when you’re photographing horses, you want to get good positions for the ears, neck, shoulder, and legs. So, choosing the right lens is important. My go to lens for equine photography is the telephoto 70-200mm F2.8 Lens. Shooting somewhere between 135mm or higher will produce a natural perspective free from the distortion caused by using a wide-angle lens. Not to say I may not use a wide-angle lens if I have a beautiful scenic backdrop!
Switching the camera to burst mode and continuous focus works best for photographing horses at liberty.
The burst setting is a must when animals get excited and start running or playing so you don’t miss the action. Continuous focus has different names depending on the camera but will allow you to follow your subject around as it moves.
Animal’s will blink, turn their heads, and move around at the most inopportune moment. For this reason and because I don’t want to miss anything, I usually keep my camera set to burst mode. This will allow you to take multiple photographs in a row while pressing down on the shutter.
As with most all photography my favorite time of day to shoot is early morning light, half an hour after sunrise, and the light an hour or so before sunset can help you to shoot beautiful photographs. I find overcast days are the best for shooting sharp, clean shots. Especially true if you have a Black Horse to photograph!