Equine Photography: Why Colour Matters

In Equine Photography, Colour Matters. In photography we are guided by the three C’s; Contrast, Composition, and colour. For portrait photographers, balancing colour to compliment skin tones is one of the main aspects, so why should equine image editing be any different?

In my last post, we cover a whole range of topics to get the basic ideas of photography. In this post, we delve a little deeper into the specifics. To truly be a master of your niche, you need to have the knowledge, as well as the experience. As a human, I am always learning. As a photographer, I am always developing style and experimenting. All artists need to branch out in order to stay inspired!

In this post:

Lightroom side by side of how colour matters. Image shows a bay horse running in an open grassy meadow.
Image of Cardhu, a bay horse. On the Left we see the original balanced photo taken on a fullframe digital camera. On the Right is the edited image focusing on the golden and red colours of the horse’s coat.

Horse Colour Theory

Horse colour genetics are fascinating. We still don’t know everything to do with colour genealogy, but what we do know is already incredible. Let’s go over the basics as that’s all that we really need when it comes to Equine photography.

There are three basic coat colours. Black, Bay and Red (Chestnut). All other coat colours are from dilution genes and pattern genes, which show up in conjunction with the three basic colours. Grey horses hold a dominant trait, meaning that their colour will show through bay or red coats with one dominant gene. Whereas Red, chestnut horses are recessive meaning you need two genes to show this coat colour.

With the basic coat colours, you can get a mix of a horse appearing black with red genes, meaning in summer the horse’s mane and coat will lighten to a russet brown. A chestnut may have a slight black dilution to give them a coffee chestnut or liver chestnut coat colour.

A common dilution gene is the cream gene. The cream dilution in conjunction with the red coat leads to golden colours such as Palomino. Cream and bay create the darker buckskin with blackened points and a dark mane and tail.

Knowing about the basic coat colours and how the dilution genes work can really aid your photo editing and how to make coat colours shine in the most natural way possible.

Find out a more in-depth explanation here!

image of a chestnut horse looking over his shoulder
Red undertones in chestnut horses make editing a breeze.

Equine Photography Colour Matters

Understanding the genetic makeup of horse coat colours can really boost your editing skills. Knowing what undertones the coats carry helps enhance the colours. Coincidently, you can flatten the colours too using traditional colour theory with complimentary colours.

Black horses can appear to be dark brown, and for owners that is a problem as they know their horse is not a bay! In removing the red tones, you can make sure your portrait shoot of a black horse stays black. See the example below:

See the removal of red undertones to create a true black finish

The same principle works for adding a slight tint to the subject. For Palomino coats, the genetic makeup requires a chestnut, or red base, so adding a slight red hue to the horse brings the colour out stronger. Of course, it is only a slight addition of colour. For the image below I added a 8% red overlay on the pony to deepen the palomino colour.

See how a little red tint can enhance the palomino colour

The same principle can be applied to grey horses too. Young grey horses are often chestnut or black in appearance or lose their colour in dapples. For black bases, a cooler tint on the coat can enhance the grey and white colour, whereas a warmer tint works well on warmer roan colouring.

Easy Editing

If you are interested in this concept but have no idea where to even start in Lightroom, I have created some coat-specific bundles, exactly for this in my store.

The store is always updating so keep an eye out for ore coat specific bundles!

Published by Briony-Molly

Photographer & Designer. Horse Owner, Book Fanatic

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