How to Take Great Show Jumping Photographs

Today I had the privilege of shadowing Storm Equine Photography, a small business based in Ceredigion specialising in horse photography, and they are very very good at it. From working with them today here are the few things that I took from it all.

I was working with their equipment, in this instance, a Nikon D4 paired with a sigma 70-200mm lens. This camera has amazing capabilities and to get the best shots you can use all of its fantastic features. For instance using the auto ISO sensitivity to not go past 6400 and not letting the shutter speed drop down lower than 1/250, as show jumping is a fast-paced sport in which you need a fast shutter and quick light reactor, especially when working in overcast conditions or in an indoor arena.  It’s always best to shoot in an aperture between f4.0-5f.6 to get the full focus of the horse and rider. This may start to seem noisy, but it’s an easy fix post-shoot and not very noticeable.

show jumping should be centred

How to Take Great Show Jumping Photographs

Framing the photo is just as important as getting the settings right. For a good frame, you want to have the rider’s centre be central. Ideally, you want the horse in the centre of the jump, mainly as it shows symmetry and balance in the horse and rider as well as making the picture look symmetrical. Ideally, you would want to get both wings of the jump in to frame the jump and also give the height of the jump. Also leave space above the rider’s head as well as a small space for the flooring to give room for cropping and straightening, especially if you have a slight cant like me.

close up of a horse nd rider jumping in a competition

Another fantastic point I picked up is that you want to get the shot from a 45 degree to capture the length and depth of the leap the horse is taking. This works especially well for landscape shots. To work portrait it’s better to work tight to the subject, incorporating the horse’s tucked front feet, the rider and the top bar. In this example, you can see how the horse and rider fill the frame completely making it a more dramatic shot.

Action Shots

Something else to consider is what part of the leaping action makes the best photos. In the two examples here you can see that it’s the takeoff, clearly showing the horse’s jump and folded front feet and the rider looking balanced. Anything past the horizontal jump and the drop-down generally looks messy although some people like it as an artistic shot, especially if the horse has a great shape and the rider looks engaged.

When “walking the course” notice the direction the rider is going to be riding in and find a position that can capture 2-3 jumps, try and include the branded/sponsored jumps as these are usually the shots riders and sponsors want. Make sure you aren’t in the way of the horse either, it may seem silly but getting a shot and you’re standing in the path of a fast-moving block of muscle is not a good idea. Keep clear of the jumps that haven’t been jumped and make sure you give yourself time to reposition yourself.

Next step is to edit, somehting you can find more about here!

Things to remember and not stress about:

  1. There is nothing wrong with taking long bursts. The beauty of DSLRs means that it’s not the end of the world if you take too many pictures, you can simply go back and delete the ones you don’t want.
  2. Too wide is better than too close. In framing, if you aren’t sure always leave the shot slightly wider, you can always correct it in the edit.
  3. There is more than one jump in a course, don’t beat yourself up if you miss one, but try not to.
  4. Relax, Breath and enjoy yourself! Even if it works there’s no point getting in a tiff and stressing out about taking photos. Enjoy it!
  5. Practice makes perfect. Reading and doing research is one thing but actually getting out and trying it for yourself are two different things! Get out there and do stuff!

Have fun, laugh, smile and enjoy yourself!

See more of my photos on my Facebook.

signature briony molly

Published by Briony-Molly

Photographer & Designer. Horse Owner, Book Fanatic

12 thoughts on “How to Take Great Show Jumping Photographs

  1. Awesome post and agree with all the information.

    At we inspire amateur photographers in all types of sports photography so they can go to events, take great memories and sell those photo to participants.
    We enable amateur cover hundreds of Equestrian events a year and have specific video training on Dressage, Show Jumping and Cross Country 🙂

    From your knowledge, do you agree with the information in our videos?

    1. Good short introduction videos to the sport!
      As I am only an amateur myself and I’m still improving. I’ll post up about dressage and cross country in some later posts as I have a lot to write down and say about those areas, as well as adding more onto my show jumping post. I’ve written some feedback if thats okay!
      I’ve found in my time people want pictures in Dressage of their horses moving well and uphill. So 45 degrees again! Also you want to have the horse on the right leg going round the arena. The first example in dressage is a photo of the extension on the wrong leg so the horse looks slightly unbalanced. Ideally you want to see if you can get the topline straight alike to the 3rd dressage image and have a straight vertical. Its integral to understand the horse’s movement before you start taking photos, so just watching the rhythm of the walk trot and canter and getting an understanding of it before taking a burst. Of course as I wrote before it is practise makes perfect, the art of repetition. Candid shots at the end of the test are always lovely, but this is more about composition than movement, so a 3/4 shot of the horse or a tight portrait of the rider are the ones that sell.
      Show jumping, I’d get into the arena, just be aware that there are large animals around you and be aware of the course, don’t jump out in front of horses and don’t get in the way! Bursts shots are integral in jumping I agree. On side on shots it is nice to have a spread or an oxer to show the stretch of the horse and the size of the jump. I’m going to say it again but 45 degrees is a good angle! On the portrait shots I would crop it tighter to have the top bars and crop the ground out, especially if the horse is taking off and looking “uphill” as it makes the jump look big regardless of the groundline. Portrait I’d also stick to the 45 degree rule I have or front on. I agree with the smaller fences, get lower so the jumps look bigger!
      I haven’t had that much experience with cross country yet, so I don’t have alot to say, but keep with the same aspects as show jumping, but look for the best fences, especially the water parts, a great action shot of mud/water flying everywhere is dramatic and is always impressive. Cross country is a longer course than show jumping so it’s not easy to run between jumps, so its easier to camp out by a couple of jumps and don’t spread yourself too thin.
      Really good videos explaining safety/horse common sense and getting good shots!

      1. Hi Briony-Molly, Thanks for your response.
        Do you sell your photos from Equestrian events you go to? Would you be interested to use and/or write about that can be used by photographers to upload and sell photos from any event, including equestrian?
        One of the interesting things about GeoSnapShot is that multiple photographers can upload from one event giving participants access to all photos in one place.

      2. Currently I am working/shadowing a company called Storm Equine and they have a print on the day service as well as online sales. If I’m working for myself I usually just sell digitals as I don’t have access to print!

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