Model Horse Photo Showing

by Corina Roberts, Model Equine Photo Showers Association

Photo shows for model horses began in the 1970s.  Today’s photo show entries bear little resemblance to the pictures we took 30 years ago.  Today, competition is top-notch; the horses are beautiful and the photos are realistic and high-quality.  Realism is the goal.  Some showers create elaborate scenes, and incredibly accurate arena shots.  Others prefer a plain background that does not detract from the horse.  Regardless of how you choose to photograph your models, there are several elements you’ll want to pay attention to.

The Horse  All kinds of horses and horse-related animals such as donkeys and zebras can be shown in photo shows, including plastic, china, resin, original sculptures, statuary, and customized models.  Some basic things to look for in the horses you choose are conformation, color and collectable quality.  Size is not an issue; micro-minis can do as well as traditional scale models if they are well photographed and if they possess good conformation and color.  Unlike live shows, minor flaws do not necessarily mean a horse will not place; if they have a small scratch or rub on one side, they can be photographed from the other side.  Toy models do not do as well as the more realistic horses; they generally have exaggerated features that are not realistic, such as eyebrows, huge synthetic manes and overly arched necks.

Crisp markings and well defined eyes separate the winners from the rest of the entrants.  Nice shading, dappling and good definition between light and dark areas are winning qualities to look for.  Legs should be straight, and while a little scuffing on the bottom of the hooves can be overlooked, watch out for rubbed ears, nostrils, tails and general wear and tear that comes with well-loved models.  These can often be touched up, but once a factory-produced horse has been altered in any way, it is considered a custom model and not an original finish.

The Camera  You do not need special equipment to photograph model horses.  You do need a camera that can give you a sharp focus on the horse.  While most people these days use digital cameras, 35mm film cameras can deliver results that give the digital image a run for its money.  A tripod is a good investment for stabilizing the image.  Flash can be used on models for indoor and outdoor shots, but be aware that flash can wash out details and leave shadows on backdrops that may be distracting.  Depending upon the show you enter, manipulating photos may or may not be acceptable.  A small amount of color balancing is acceptable for most digital images, but retouching the horse in a Photo Shop or similar program is generally not allowed.  If you are shooting with a film camera, avoid taking the same shot from the same angle over and over; move around a little, change the lighting, move the horse in relation to its background; otherwise you may get multiple images you aren’t pleased with.

The Image  How an image is cropped is entirely an artistic choice on the part of the photographer, but there are some things to avoid.  The judge needs to be able to see the whole horse; ears, hooves and all.  While a nice close-up image is attractive, the horse feels “crowded” into the picture if its nose is pressed up against one edge and its tail against the other.  In English and western riding classes, including trail, do not crop the doll’s head off or shoot so tight that the obstacle being negotiated or the motion of the horse is obscured.

For performance classes such as pole bending, barrels, all cattle work and jumping, tight shots that focus on the horse and rider’s motion can give dramatic effect.  It is acceptable to photograph a horse and rider in mid-flight over a jump from the front, or a barrel racer coming out of a turn from a three quarter view.  Take lots of images from different angles and using different focal lengths.

Angle  For halter photographs, most horses should be shot from their “best” side in a way that allows the judge to see all four legs clearly.  Stock breeds can be photographed at a ¾ view as long as the whole body remains in focus and the judge is able to see more, not less, of their conformation.  Get images of your horses at eye level, as if they were real horses and your own eyes were meeting with their shoulder area.  Never shoot “down” on a model…nothing says plastic horse faster.

Lighting  The best time of day to take pictures in natural light is in the morning and the afternoon, when there is side lighting to show off the horses’ musculature, color and body outline.  Overhead light at noon casts shadows underneath the model, as well as on the body, making it hard for a judge to examine the horse.  For indoor photography, choose a balanced light source that is not too warm (yellow) or too cool (blue). See if you can mix incandescent and fluorescent light, or get a balanced photo bulb (these can be expensive). Pay attention when using photos or paintings for backdrops to which way the light is coming across the scene; you’ll want your light source to be coming from the same direction.  Try to capture the light in the horses’ eye if you can.

Background  Regardless of whether you shoot indoors or outside, using natural or artificial elements for your background, there is one rule to follow.  Make sure the horse stands out against it sufficiently that the judge can see all parts of the body clearly.  Avoid having dark heads and legs against a dark part of the background, or white portions of the body against white elements in your backdrop.  You can use contrasting colors or harmonious ones in your background; just be sure they don’t blend into the model and obscure the lines of the body.

Props, Tack, Dolls and Companion Animals  Perhaps the most important thing to be aware of when using props of any kind with your horse is the scale.  Tack should fit properly.  Dolls should be proportionate to the horse they are riding/grooming/leading. Dolls should have proper attire for the task they are performing; chaps for working cattle and western classes, top hat and tails for dressage and saddle seat, and so forth.  The placement of the hands and feet, holding of the reins, and the overall position of the rider in any mounted or equitation class is critical.  Dogs, cats and other animals need to be in scale with the model and need to be of the same or similar quality, or they will detract from the overall appeal of the photo.  Fencing should come to the shoulder region of the horse unless it is well recessed in the background; rodeo arena fencing is higher and dressage arenas may have lower railings that allow the motion of the horse to be witnessed.

Footing  Choose a footing material that is realistic for the activity the horse is engaged in and that is in scale to the model.  Model train and hobby stores often have footing you can purchase.  Fine sand (including reptile sand) also works well.  A piece of suede leather with a few grains of sand sprinkled here and there can offer an effective footing.  For those of you who venture outside in the winter, experiment with snow.  Do make sure that at least most of the horses’ hooves are visible for halter photos.

The Show  Read show rules carefully before entering.  For shows that require mailing in actual photos, make sure your name and address is on the back of each photo as well as the name, breed, type and gender of the horse, and the classes you are entering the horse in, in numerical order and neatly written.  Be sure to choose an appropriate breed or breeds for your horse; make certain the conformation, markings and color match that breed.  If a performance class requests that you describe what the horse is doing or what part of the pattern it is negotiating, provide that on the back of the photo.  Put your photos in first class order to minimize the labor on the judge, and include a return envelope with postage sufficient to cover printed results if that is how the results are distributed.

Finally…  have fun.  Be creative.  Enjoy yourself.  And don’t forget to turn your horses out for a good roll when the shoot is over.                     

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