Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: Calgary, AB, Canada
It depends what you and the customer are looking for.
In general, always remember that horses are flight animals. There are some horses that are incredibly safe, but some are spooky. Some horses are probably ok if you pull out a fan, a big soft box, or a reflector, but other's won't be, so better ask.
Also, whatever you do, wear closed toe shoes and avoid standing behind the horse. Don't run and also avoid sitting / lying down in the vicinity of the horse, always be prepared to step away if the horse spooks for some reason.
We once had a photographer ask whether it would be ok if he brought out a model for some fashion pictures with the horses. One of the other horse owners said ok, and they came with three people (the photographer, the model and the "manager"). The model was wearing high heels and a short skirt and was clearly uncomfortable in a pasture environment and a little bit scared of the horse. I think the poop was the straw that broke the camel's back ;). I doubt they were very happy with their pictures.
If you are shooting horses that excel in a particular discipline, I would let the rider/trainer point out what is important in that discipline. E.g. jumping photos are nicest in a certain phase of the jump, dressage photos are best when the horse is nice and round and steps under himself etc.
If you are just shooting portraits without a rider, a clean horse and attentive expression goes a long way. The owner/rider should probably be responsible for brushing or washing the horse before the shoot. Poop stains, straw and dreadlocks don't look all that good.
Along with portrait shots of the head, I would aim to take at least two full body shots - one straight from the side with the horse squared up and one from a 3/4 frontal angle.
Like with people portraits, horses have personalities that you want to pick up and reflect. For a naturally nice, calm horse that might be softer light and an emphasis on a nice, big, round eye. For a naturally spunky horse that might be harder light,
head held high(er), ears forward, eyes open and nostrils flared.
It often depends on the breed / discipline what is considered beautiful too. For a Western Pleasure QH it is custom to be shown in a blingy halter or Western tack; an Arabian will be shown in a fine show halter and sometimes with the muzzle and eyes oiled to look sleek and shiny. The owner/rider will be able to help you out there.
Again, the boundary between attentive and spooky can be fine for some horses, so one horse might need very little animation and another might need a little more. I remember one photographer using a mirror to get the horse to turn his head in the right direction.
That's all I can think of right now. Hope that helps.