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How To Take Black Backgrounds | Horse Photography Tutorial

We all know how popular black background portraits are in horse photography so today I'm going to teach you how to take black background photos!

Sidenote: If you have any tips or tricks of your own share them down below with us!

The Setup For A Black Background

With this technique you can turn just about any photo into a black background portrait you just have to keep one important thing in mind...The lighting

You want to avoid having harsh shadows on your subject at all cost and the easiest way to do this is by placing your horse inside the a barn aisle, indoor arena opening, or at least position your horse in the shade. Just be sure to make the lighting consistent and even across the horse.

As you can see here in this photo my horse, Kosta is well lit, the lighting is very even across his body and there are no harsh shadows on him.

Here's an example of harsh light, this is taken in the middle of the day and you can see these unsightly shadows all across the horse.

Here's another example of harsh lighting obviously, this horse is not in the shade the sun is shining directly onto him from the left and it's creating that harsh line.

It is possible to take photos like these and still turn them into a black background portraits however it's a lot easier if you do it in the opening of the barn or place them under something (full shade) because it looks more natural.

Here is another example of soft light. This horse is outside but the lighting is still even. The best time for this is when it's overcast, during golden hour (sunset & sunrise), or if the horse was in the shade under something like a tree.

So, would be ideally what we're aiming for when your taking a photo outside for a black background portrait. The lighting is even across the horse and there is no harsh shadows across her body.

If you are using the opening of a building, position your horse completely in the shade of the opening, facing the light to avoid getting the sunlight on your horse, as it can create those harsh shadows.

If you look at the picture down below you can see that I have Kosta completely inside the building therefore the light outside light isn't touching him and it makes for a very well lit photo.

Any opening will do but the more attention you pay to your background the easier it'll be to edit your photo. What I mean by that is, take a look at the picture above - you can see there's some barn lights that interact with Kosta's neck, there's also the barn opening background This would be an example of not having a completely dark/black background.

As opposed to a photo like this, where the subject is not interacting with any bright spots in the background. It's pure black. This would be an example of a 100% dark/black background.

So my tip is to always watch the what's in the backdrop because it makes the photo a lot easier to edit.

Here is another example of not having a pure black background. Although both of the horses are in the same arena, in this photo you can see the sweatshirt is interacting with the bottom of this horse's face and neck. He has a lot of little hairs that we would lose when editing this photo, because part of the background is "bright grey" due to the sweatshirt. When this happens it makes your photos a little bit harder to edit...

The Camera Settings For A Black Background

There is no one setting for taking black background portraits, however, a common setting I start with is around F 2.81 250th of a second and my ISO around 200.


I use F 2.8 as my aperture because it provides a shallow depth of field separating the horse in the background making it easier for me to edit and allows the subject to stand out against the background making them pop a little more.

The higher the aperture number the more in focus the background will be and the more in focus the back part of the horse will be.

Another little tip, I usually stay around F2.8 to F4 for black background portraits because it leaves the background blurry and the subject sharp making it much easier for me to edit.

If you look at this example, you can see how the subject stands out against the dark background

Shutter Speed For A Black Background

I use 1 250th of a second as a starting point for my shutter speed because horses move around a lot and we want the photo to be sharp and without motion blur. Animals are unpredictable so you will need a fast shutter speed to make sure you can catch the pose before the horse decides to move or change its position.

Another little tip here, is avoid having blurry photos by never allowing your shutter speed to go below one 250th of a second for horses standing still.

ISO For Black Backgrounds

I try to keep my ISO around 200 to make my camera's sensor slightly a little more sensitive towards the light. It's useful to do this in low-light situations such as shooting into a dark barn Isles that way the horse isn't lost in the darkness and it creates a little bit more separation from the background. It also allows me to increase my shutter speed if I need to.

The ISO in the image below is 800 and if you're shooting indoors you're going to need to have a higher ISO setting.

ISO or ISO is artificial light and with it comes noise. You can see what noise is in the photo below. It's the "grainy looking pixels" when you zoom into a photo.

The tip here is I usually only go to a max of 400 for my black background portraits.

If you want to learn how to edit your black background portraits check out my detailed YouTube tutorial I made. It includes the tips and advice from this blog and I show you how to edit your photos in photoshop. I also share with you 3 different examples!

Also, If you like seeing before and after photos I have bunch up on my Instagram. You can check my Instagram out at ChelseaLizPhoto.

Well, there you have it! Now you know how to set up and shoot your black background equine portraits. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or message me on facebook or instagram and i'll get back to you as soon as possible! I hope you found this tutorial helpful and if you did please let me know! Feedback helps me better create the content you want to see! Take care! <3


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