5 Essential Horse Riding Photography Tips for Your Next Equine Adventure

Equestrian Adventuress Aga Karmol shares 5 essential horse riding photography tips, so you can take the most amazing pictures on your next equine adventure.

Author: Aga Karmol

Sunset over the Mountains of Heaven in Kyrgyzstan with horses and a shepherd.
A shepherd. Sunset in the Mountains of Heaven, Kyrgyzstan. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

From Nat Geo to Forbes

Aga and her husband, Andrzej come from Poland but live happily in England where they share a passion for horses, travel and photography. In fact, their photos and articles have been published in Polish Press regularly. They’ve been featured in National Geographic Traveler  (Polish Edition), Forbes (Polish Edition) and a Polish national horse riding magazine, Kon Polski.

Riding bareback through a river in Botswana.

Aga Karmolinska

Crossing a river bareback in Okavango Delta. And yes, there were crocodiles there. When I saw how beautiful the light was, I gave my camera to one of the grooms and asked to take this pic.
Botswana, Okavango Delta. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

A portrait of rider and horse in front of a herd of elephants in Botswana.

Andrzej Karmolinski

A classic safari portrait. Only sunglasses and a camera (notice the leash!) give away when this picture was taken. Without them it might be a scene from “Out of Africa”.
Botswana, Okavango Delta. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

Aga shares with us her top photography tips and how to take spectacular photos from the saddle:

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Climbing a pass in the Mountains of Heaven, Kyrgyzstan at 4000m above sea level
Climbing to 4000 m above sea level (13.000 feet) Mountains of Heaven, Kyrgyzstan. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol
Horses and riders at the Son Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan are waiting for heavy rain to start
The rain hasn’t reached us yet, but it will be a downpour soon. Until then, we can admire serenity of vast pastures against boiling storm above. Kyrgyzstan, Mountains of Heaven, Son Kul Lake, 3000m above sea level (10.000 feet). Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

Most of us would like to bring home not only awesome memories from our horse-riding adventures, but also a set of beautiful photographs.

I usually travel with my husband and both of us take a lot of pictures. I am a pro, but my husband is an absolute genius with taking photos during fast, crazy gallops. Though I take many pics from the saddle as well, I prefer to focus on showing the atmosphere of a ride, landscapes, chores in camps. He shows the speed.

Taking good photos from the saddle is not an easy task: your hands are busy, your horse not always cooperating. But there are a few tips to get better photos from horseback.

Light and clouds make a simple horseback riding scene magic in Ecuador
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” (Edward Abbey) Ecuador, Avenue of The Volcanoes, 4000m above the sea level (13 000 feet). Golden light of the late afternoon and stormy clouds added magic to this simple scene. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

1. Choose the right equipment

Forget a big camera. Yes, you can pack it for your trip, but you won’t be using it from the saddle. DSLR cameras take the best quality pictures, but I am using mine only when I am on foot. To operate it properly you need two hands, precise adjustments, steady hold and looking through the lens. Not good for a rider.

Horses led by a groom after having a swim in the ocean.
Our groom leading our horses on a beach in Madagascar. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

A camera to use in the saddle must be small – so you can keep it in your pocket or bum bag. Should be easy to fully operate with one hand, and must be tough. Through the years of our trail riding, our cameras would usually last one year. Sometimes one ride… A few years ago in Morocco, we encountered a sand storm. For 2.5 hours we were forcing our way through it, keeping our cameras deep in pockets or pouches. Sand got its way everywhere and none of the cameras survived. 10 cameras (each rider had one) – and we were left with none after the sandstorm. The only one that kept working was my huge DSLR, packed deep in my luggage and sealed in a dust-proof bag.

So, recently, we have bought an Olympus Tough, which is supposed to be dust-proof, waterproof and shockproof. So far so good, it’s our second year with it, and it’s still working! Not the cheapest option, but if you want to have a tough one, go for it. Or similar.

It takes good photos, and it’s a perfect choice for shooting in full gallop with dust and grit flying around.

Horse riding photography tip no. 3: Shoot a lot, no matter what! Even sandstorms are no excuse!
Riders On The Storm… In a few minutes, the sandstorm will hit us. There’s nothing we can do – no other way, no place to hide. We can only gallop to meet the inevitable. Morocco, outskirts of Sahara. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

Our second camera is a Sony Alfa 5100. Much better picture quality, but not good for shooting when you ride fast. It can be operated with one hand (including zooming), small enough to keep in a bum bag, but too big for a pocket.  Since it captures nice details, I take a lot of pictures with it when we ride slowly or stop.

We never use a GoPro or similar devices. They take pictures at wide angle, so everything seems distant, and you don’t have any control on what you are shooting. Also, the picture quality is low, compared to those from regular cameras.

Dramatic clouds in the sky over the Avenue of the Volcanoes, Ecuador.
If you don’t like clouds, don’t go to Ecuador, they say… Ecuador, Avenue of the Volcanoes. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

2. Be ready, but protect your camera

A camera should be easy to reach – if you keep it in a saddle bag, you’ll miss the best moments. When in a pocket or a bum bag, it’s always easy to access, but if you shoot in canter, it’s also easy to drop it accidentally. We tie our cameras to us or to our saddles with a strong cord. If dropped, the camera stays with you. You may use a long shoe lace or a key leash.

Horseback riding in beatiful scenery in Mongolia.
Far away from tarmac. Mongolia, Zavkhan province. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol
The Balkan mountains in Bulgaria on horseback.
“A path less traveled” in Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

3. Shoot a lot

Just buy a huge memory card and shoot a lot. Instead of taking one picture, take ten. Most of them will be out of focus, some will be badly composed. If you have 10, it’s a better chance to find a good one.

Horse riding photography tip no. 2: Secure your camera so you don't drop it in canter.
“To ride a horse is to ride the sky” (Author Unknown). It’s not true that it never rains on a desert. Trying to make it to the camp before the rain. Morocco, Sahara outskirts. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

4. Delete

A secret of a good photo-album lies not in the pictures you take, but in those you decide to delete. Every photo tells a story, so don’t leave 5 identical stories. Choose the best one. Do not bore everyone with a thousand pictures. Show them a hundred, but carefully selected. I usually keep 10-20% of the pictures I take.

Riding with Bedouins in Wadi Rum, Jordan.
Riding with Bedouins. Dusty sunset in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol
The landscape of Wadi Rum in Jordan served as Martian Landscape in some Hollywood movies.
Martian Landscape. If you watched the movie “Martian” you may recognize these places… Wadi Rum often “plays” Mars in various movies. So, we were riding horses on Mars! Jordan, Wadi Rum. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

5. Edit – but don’t overdo it

Crop your pictures, make a composition better. On a trail, your horse contributes to composing your photos – usually moving unexpectedly just when you are pushing the shutter button. Fix your horse’s unwanted contribution.

An Eagle Hunter on horseback in Kyrgyzstan.
Never miss the opportunity of taking pictures of some locals, but ALWAYS ask for permission. Eagle Hunter, Kyrgyzstan. Photo Credits: Aga Karmol

In difficult light situations most cameras fail, even the best ones. Human eyes have a different way of seeing than any artificial device. No matter what camera you have, you’ll get some pictures showing reality differently from what you remember from the trail – low contrast, black shadows, changed colors. Edit them, but don’t overdo it: you want to show your impressions from the ride, not a non-existent reality. Editing photos is a vast subject, so do your research and keep it simple!

5 Horse Riding Photography Tips in the Saddle
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2 thoughts on “5 Essential Horse Riding Photography Tips for Your Next Equine Adventure”

  1. I use Adobe Lightroom Classic. It’s a great tool for professionals – not only for editing but sorting and storing pics. It can be a bit intimidating at the beginning, like most pro tools. It doesn’t allow you to combine pictures, remove unwanted parts of a picture or add something that wasn’t there. So you can’t cheat.
    But you can improve contrast, lighten dark shadows, crop, adjust the white balance, straighten the horizon etc – simply do all those things that your camera failed to catch properly.
    Also, when you buy a camera, it usually offer its own editing software – coming on a DVD or ready to download from the makers’ page. Most of them are really good, so stick to them – you don’t have to invest in pro tools.

  2. great advice.. what program do you use to edit your pictures? I take a lot of pictures riding also.

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