Well, the simple answer is….very carefully! But I've got some tips to help you get the best possible photos of your horseback ride, especially if you're traveling in an exotic destination and you want to fill your Instagram feed with gorgeous shots.
I first surprised my husband with a horseback riding tour on the South Island of New Zealand, to see some of the Lord of the Rings filming locations. That was the first or second time he had ever been on a horse and he loved it so much that he wanted to get a horse. Seriously. Then I had to convince him that we really don’t need, and can’t care for, another animal on top of our own three dogs, foster cat and foster dog (sigh, I hate having to be the bad guy and say no to an animal!) But I promised that we would go on more horseback riding tours. I even got him horseback riding lessons for Christmas last year (hello, core workout!). So now on every trip I try to find a cool spot to go for a horseback riding tour. After taking more than six tours now I have some tips to help you capture the best photos.
Do’s and Don’ts of photographing during a horseback ride:
Bring the right equipment:
Your phone, DSLR (prosumer level), or GoPro cameras will all do the trick, it just depends on what kind of photos you want to take. Do you want to post them to social media right away? Are you going for more dramatic landscape shots that you can’t ordinarily get to by car? Or do you want to capture the wide open space, maybe with some video footage?
I take both my DSLR camera and my iphone on the ride. I give the GoPro to my husband, and it inevitably stays in his pocket even if I remind him to get some shots during the tour. The camera phone is great for taking quick shots and to have one of the stable hands take a photo of you. But for images to print out or submit for sales you’re going to need a DSLR. Just don’t make the mistake that I did.
I was determined to get some countryside photos of an area that I otherwise couldn’t access in Killarney National Park in Ireland. So I brought both of my camera bodies with me, one with a wide angle lens and one with a telephoto lens attached. The stable suggested that I only bring one but I was concerned that I would want both lenses and I knew that it is impossible to change lenses while riding. I managed to get a few shots with the wide angle lens, didn’t use the telephoto at all, constantly had to keep the cameras from banging into each other, and was covered in bruises. It was definitely more of a distraction than it should have been!
Book a scenic tour
Look at any online images of the ride or ask the stables before you sign up to see which tour is going to be most conducive to beautiful images.
Sign up for the earliest ride in the morning
The basic lighting philosophies of photography still apply. Shoot for the golden hours of the morning or evening. Plus you won’t be riding under the harsh sun.
Ask your guide if they will be stopping for any photo opps along the way
Most of them are willing to pause for a minute so you can get a shot from a stationary horse.
Do bring a camera that you’re very familiar with
This is not the place to figure out which button does what or looking at camera menus.
Make sure that your camera strap is secure
You don’t want to lose your camera or risk damaging the camera or horse if your strap comes undone. Also make sure that it will hold your camera fairly tight against you, otherwise it’s going to leave a nasty bruise as your camera bounces against you with every step that the horse takes.
If you want to get video of your ride use a chest or helmet mount to keep your hands free.
Use a wide angle camera lens and lock the lens if possible
You will only have one hand to operate the camera since the other will be on the reins so a zoom lens will be difficult, if not impossible, to operate safely.
Put the camera on an automatic mode (either total Automatic, AV, or TV)
You won’t be able to manipulate all the dials with one hand and you may not have time to make manual adjustments
Zone autofocus is your friend
Try moving a single autofocus point with one hand, I dare you. I can’t do it while standing on solid ground, let alone while in the saddle.
Use a high ISO and/or shutter speed
You’re on an unstable animal moving across the landscape so grab the shot quickly. A slow shutter speed will mean that all your images are blurred.
Don’t forget the lens hood
Not only will it block lens flare, but it will help keep some of the dust and dirt off your lens.
Check your lens often for dust and dirt
This is especially important right after you’ve gotten into the saddle.
Don’t forget the close ups and details
Tell the whole story of your ride and include some point of view shots.
Memory cards are pretty cheap, horseback tours not so much. So take lots of shots and play around with angles, look for shadows, sunflare, etc. Sometimes if my husband is riding the horse behind me I’ll blindly shoot over my shoulder to try to get a shot.
Do get a shot with your new equine friend
Ask a friend, the guide, or take a selfie. I forgot to do this a few times and I still regret it.
Don’t forget to relax and enjoy the ride
I have occasionally been accused of missing the experience because I’m so busy taking photos of it. I can argue against that, but part of the joy of a horseback ride is working with the horse and is hard to do if you’re only concentrating on your camera.
Always, always keep one hand on the reins and listen to your guide!
That’s it! Go enjoy your horseback ride and get some epic shots!