Tips for Taking Majestic Horse Photographs
Popular Photography|February 2016

Carol Walker is one of the world’s preeminent equine photographers. Whether stallions, mares, mustangs, or geldings, she captures them in all their natural splendor. Here, she shares her secrets for making images of horses in the great outdoors. 

Jack Crager, photos by Carol Walker

HAVING PHOTOGRAPHED equine subjects professionally for more than 15 years, Carol Walker can tell at a glance whether a pictured horse is domestic or wild. “The domestics are usually very clean and shiny,” she says. “Their manes are untangled, and they’re prettier.

The wild horses have a more rustic look—they’re just dirty,” she adds with a laugh. “They might have matted hair, and they look rougher. But they’re gorgeous when they’re galloping in the wild.” Walker has an affinity for both types.

“I’ve loved horses since I was a little girl, and I’ve ridden them all my life,” she says. “The more you know about your subject, the better photographs you’re going to get. With horses, I know how to predict what they’re going to do and how to work with them.”

A resident of Longmont, Colorado, Walker is a fervent advocate for the preservation of wild horses in the American West. “Right now our wild horses are getting squeezed out by very powerful interest groups such as cattle and oil and gas, so they’re disappearing,” she says. “I’ve been fighting to try to keep them wild. It’s a tough fight.”

Walker’s recent self-published book, Galloping to Freedom ($40;wildhoofbeats.com) is sponsored and partially funded by Cana Projects, a wildlife preservation foundation. “It’s about a group of horses that were rounded up in Wyoming,” Walker says of the book. “They were all separated from their families, then reunited at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. So it’s a true story with a happy ending.”

The key difference between photographing wild horses and domestic ones? In a word: control. “Wild horses are a challenge because you can’t say, ‘Move over here, the background is better,’” Walker says. “You have to anticipate where they are going and put yourself in a good position—and then it’s luck. With domestics you can say, ‘Let’s go over here,’ and it’s much easier.”

For the latter, a handy tool is the universal lure of food. “Sometimes I have a can with grain in it and shake it—horses are very food-oriented so they’ll jump to attention,”Walker says. “Then I usually get the owner to turn the horse loose out where it’s safe so they can run, because that’s where you get the best pictures. I enjoy action shots.”

For the photo on our opening spread, a trio of domestic horses were herded through water by riders outside the frame. “There were about five riders keeping them in place,” recalls Walker, who was leading a horse-photography workshop in the Camargue region of France.“They’re running through the water right in front of us, in late afternoon as the sun is setting.” Dressed in mud boots, she perched in the water with a monopod for her Canon EOS-1D X and a 200–400mm f/4L lens (with a built-in 1.4X extender). “The shot is staged, but it’s really cool to have several horses running in a line—you can’t get this under most circumstances.”

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