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Equine Photography

Hone your digi-pix skills with this guide from a top professional equine photographer.

Keep a point-and-shoot camera with you to capture unique moments. Shown is a moment captured on the set of Horse Master with Julie Goodnight.
Photo by Heidi Melocco

Do you enjoy taking photos of horses? If so, you've likely entered the world of digital photography. With digi-pix, not only do you need to master photo-shooting basics, but also technical specifications for optimal results. Here, we'll first explain megapixels. Then we'll tell you how to sharpen your shooting skills, and size photos for print and online use.

Consider Megapixels
Choose a camera with as many megapixels as you can afford. A camera's megapixel designation tells you how many little dots make up the digital photos you take.

Think of megapixels as grains of sand. The more grains of sand, the more precise and detailed an image you could create. One megapixel means that your camera is collecting one million pixels.

When the transition from film to digital cameras first began, rumors told that 35mm film was equivalent to 14 megapixels — or 14 million pixels. That's what you were used to seeing with sharp-grained, high-quality film that could be used to make prints up to 16-by-20 inches without too much distortion.

That general rule will help you understand why you'll want a camera that's at least 8 megapixels — and probably more if you want to print and publish your pictures.

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Also, choose the highest image quality setting on your camera. If you choose a low-image quality, you may save space on your camera's memory card, but you'll lose resolution. In essence, you'll store only part of the colors and details your camera actually saw.

Sharpen Shooting Skills

Tip #1: Find the light. If you're in a half-shaded setting, move your horse-and-rider subject either fully in the light or fully in the shade. Your camera's automatic settings will work best in consistent lighting.

Tip #2: Choose your settings. In low light, set your camera's ISO setting to 400 speed to help stop the action and get a good exposure. If you shoot in the automatic setting in low-light conditions, your photos will show motion blur.

Tip #3: Watch the flash. If you must shoot in the shade, your flash will help even out the lighting and bust through speckled shadows. Know how to turn your camera's flash on and off. If you use the camera's automatic setting, it may fail to fire due to ambient light.

Tip #4: Be creative. Look for interesting angles and close up opportunities. Shoot through a tree to show the depth of the scene, include more sky than usual to show the view and the area's seclusion.

As an equine photographer, you have unique opportunities to show dramatic scenery. Rather than centering all your subjects, add extra sky to show the scope and seclusion of the scene. Photo by Heidi Melocco

Tip #5: Capture the bond. If a horse buddy has asked you to take portraits, try to capture the bond she has with her horse.

Tip #6: Pan with the action. As your subjects ride by, pan your camera to follow their moves. Keeping the camera focused on your subjects will help the camera continually focus and will help you hit the shutter release at just the right moment.

Tip #7: Take two, three, or four. Always take an extra shot of the same scene, even if you think you have the perfect picture. When you're photographing horses, small movements, such as tail swishes and ear twitches, may make or break the photo you want.

Size it Right
Upload your photos immediately to save space on your memory card. Make appropriate files, and stay on top of organizing the images. Save two copies of your photos — one storage file is like your original negative. You'll never edit photos from that file to ensure you'll always have a high-quality image.

Print prep. For print, each image needs to be 300 DPI (dots per inch), in the size it'll appear in print. If you have an 8 megapixel camera, its pictures will print well at about 8-by-12 inches. That means the photo has 300 DPI when sized 8-by-12-inches for print.

Your photo-editing software will likely do the math for you. If you type in 300 DPI, your software will tell you what pixel and print height correlate. You may even have an option that asks you if you want to save the image for print or web; if so, the program will take care of the rest.

Web prep. For the web, you'll aim for 72 DPI. At this resolution, photos are easy to e-mail and access via the Internet. The photos will look great on your computer and website, but won't print well.

Heidi Melocco is an award-winning equine photographer and horsewoman based in Mead, Colorado.

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