Instead of sending out generic, store-bought cards to your friends and family this year, why not create a more personalized greeting featuring your favorite horse? There are many services online and at department or drug stores that help you build a unique card using their templates. You just have to provide the perfect photo. Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up your holiday photo shoot.
Remember the basics.
Timing is everything.
There’s nothing like a beautiful snowy background for your holiday photo, but in order to get your cards in the mail in time for the holidays, you’ll want to have your photo shoot done a few weeks ahead of time. Plan to take your photos by the beginning of December for Christmas. Don’t wait around for a good snowfall, however, or your holiday cards will end up being Valentines.
If you’re really committed to the snowy scene, start planning next year’s shoot now and keep your camera and holiday accessories handy for a January blizzard. If you prefer to show your horse off in his gleaming, show-season glory, there’s nothing wrong with bringing your decorations out to the barn on a summer day to capture a great portrait before his winter coat comes in.
If your horse is fussy about having his ears touched, the day of the photo shoot is not the time to work through the problem just so you can make him wear a Santa hat or reindeer antlers. If you can’t desensitize him beforehand, skip the headwear and find other ways to decorate. You want your horse to be comfortable and happy, so don’t get him agitated by trying to make him wear something that causes stress.
If you’re using wreaths or garlands, remember that some types of greenery, such as yew, are toxic to horses. Fake plants are safer, but your horse should never be left unattended when decorations are within reach.
Choose your location.
Anytime you’re taking photos, you’ll get better results if your background is as plain and uncluttered as possible. If you have a blanket of white snow, that’s perfect, but you can make do without it. One popular trick is to close the doors on one end of the barn or indoor arena and position your subject in the opposite doorway, just far enough out so that he’s illuminated by sunlight. This will create a dark background around your horse and really bring out the colors of his coat and any decorations you’ve adorned him with.
If you have a wide-open space available, another option is to keep the sky as your background so that no one sees the green trees or muddy ground. Focus on taking a nice headshot from the shoulder forward, and shoot from a low angle.
Putting your horse in a stall with a window to the outside or in a small corral can solve a lot of common problems. You won’t necessarily need an assistant to hold him, although it does help to have an extra person to get his attention so he doesn’t wander off. For horses that won’t wear decorations, you can still have a festive look by decorating around the stall or fence.
Get some help.
Ideally, you want to have a couple of helpers. If you’re operating the camera, you’ll probably need a person with some horse experience to hold or wrangle your horse, and someone else to help get your horse’s attention so that his ears are up. Your attention-getter doesn’t necessarily have to be a horse person, but it helps to equip your assistant with a bag of tricks. A crinkling peppermint wrapper or a little bit of grain rattling in a bucket is usually enough to get a horse’s attention, at least for a while. The sound of another horse whinnying is a reliable way to get almost any horse looking bright and alert. Of course, there aren’t too many barns with a horse trained to “speak” on command, but there’s an app for that. If you have a smartphone, there are various animal-sound apps that can serve as backup when your horse finally loses interest in that peppermint wrapper.
Choose the right décor.
You can make your holiday scene classy and understated, or go all out with Santa hats and Rudolph noses. Visit your favorite craft store anytime after Halloween, and you’ll find plenty of garlands and bows to decorate your horse’s portrait. Find accessories that complement your horse. A golden leaf garland looks great on a black horse, but it won’t photograph well on a gray. The big ribbon that looks so pretty on an Arabian will look oddly tiny on a draft horse.
Of course, you can always set up a simple photo shoot of your horse without holiday accessories. Many of the card templates you’ll find have plenty of embellishments to give a plain photo some holiday flair.
Prepare the supporting players.
Maybe you’ve heard the show-biz saying, “Never work with children or animals.” Getting one horse to look alert and happy for your photo is challenging to begin with. Trying to get multiple horses, a dog and a couple of young kids to look forward and smile all at once can be practically impossible. But if you can swing it, the results are priceless. Just make sure all of your players are prepared: If you don’t regularly bring your dog to the barn, don’t expect him to sit quietly next to a horse while you get your shot.
Capturing a great holiday portrait of your horse is challenging, but it’s also a lot of fun. If you’ve taken a memorable shot this season, share it with our community at Facebook.com/HorseIllustrated.
This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.
Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer in Lexington, Kentucky. She is convinced that her horse, Snoopy, enjoys wearing the Santa hat for photos every year. www.lesliepotterphoto.com