Tuesday 15th of June 2021
The Gaitpost

Nico Morgan’s Photography Masterclass Part 2

Nico Morgan at Leadenham Polo Club

The first part of this Masterclass was aimed at photographing hunting during the Winter months, but as the hunting season is now coming to an end, this will be aimed at photographing jumping horses in general, whether it be show jumping, eventing or any other discipline.




It’s been a while since the first blog, so I will briefly recap on a few of the things we covered in Part 1. 

1. Make sure you’re welcome, wherever you are. Don’t shoot without permission.

2. Make sure what you take is flattering. If not, delete it and try again.

3. Get in front of the subject, or at least sideways on. Not behind.

4. Choose a suitable ISO (sensitivity setting). 400 on a bright, sunny day. 1600 or higher if necessary on a dull overcast day.

5. Set your camera to Aperture priority with a large aperture such as f4, to keep the shutter speed to at least 1/800s. If you prefer, choose Shutter Priority and a similarly high shutter speed.

6. Set your camera to continuous autofocus, so that it continues to focus if you keep your finger half-down on the shutter release.


So, we have the correct permissions to go where we want and we have the camera set up as we would like it. Now we must set ourselves up in a good place. 

In the vast majority of cases we want to be on the landing side of the fence. If we use a clock face as a guide, with 12 o’clock being the line the horse is going to take, we want to be positioned somewhere between 9.30 and 2.30 depending on the light. We nearly always want the light behind us. This will set the horse’s coat off nicely, and minimise the shadows on that side of the horse. Get to the fence in good time to give you time to make these decisions.


During the course of a day’s jumping I will try to get a variety of angles, from nearly head on to nearly completely side on. Some customers, whether they be magazines or the riders themselves, prefer one or the other.


Which brings me nicely to the subject of framing. You will remember that one of our priorities is to flatter both horse and rider. They want the photo we take to show the fence they are jumping and they want us to make it looks as big and dramatic as possible! So, we must frame our shot so that the horse and rider are near the top of the frame, and make sure we include the ground below the fence. This helps to accentuate the size of a big fence. If the fence is only small, the same rules apply, but you might want to get yourself as low to the ground as possible for your photo: it will make the fence look a little bigger than it really is.

Adam Cooke jumping a hedge near Puss's Bushes

Too much space above and not enough belo

Adam Cooke jumping a hedge near Puss's Bushes

Correctly framed: getting lower to the ground






We have our framing organised, now to make sure we get the focus exactly where we want it. All digital SLRs, and quite a few other cameras, have multiple focus points in the viewfinder. This is where the autofocus system looks for its subject. By default the middle one is used, but we need to get used to moving it for every shot. For our horse jumping a hedge we are going to put the jumping horse at the top of the image so we need to move the focus point to where it will be. Look through the viewfinder as you move the focus point to where you think the rider will be in the final shot.


The panning process is probably the most important part of the equestrian sport photography process, and should become a habit you never break. Practise it on people, cars, anything which moves, until you have it perfected. When you have, you should be able to slow the shutter speed down to very low levels whilst still keeping the rider and horse, largely sharp – a useful process for motion blurring.



Good panning can keep the rider sharp even if you are trying to achieve motion blur


In this case we want no blurring, so it’s a good time to check our settings before the first horse arrives at the fence. Take a test shot where you think the horse will be and have a look. Does your image look well exposed? Is the shutter speed at 1/800s or higher? Does it results in an image with even tones, with no areas of over exposed highlights or deep shadows? If you need to you can use your exposure compensation controls to tweak it a little, do it now.


The horse is coming. Move your camera to it before it approaches the jump, and position the focus point on the rider in the viewfinder. Press the shutter release half way to start the autofocus system. If you press too far, don’t worry; that’s the joy of digital. Now, move the camera lens with the rider. Move at their speed and keep that focus point on them and keep the shutter release half way down. We want to move smoothly with the horse and rider, through the take off and jump and even as they land. This panning process will mean that the horse itself is not really moving in the camera viewfinder itself. It stays in the same part of the image and this reduces the chance of motion blur.


Move your focus point to where you want it and track your subject through the jump

Move your focus point to where you want it and track your subject through the jump


At some point in the middle there we need to take a photo or two. Timing this is the key to a great photograph, so it needs practice. From personal experience, there are two points in the flight of a jumping horse that riders and editorial clients like: the highest point in the flight and the point when the horse is ready to land, the back legs are still stretched out and the front legs are extended and braced for impact. This is what we should aim for with hunting, cross country and racing. There are variations to this general rule: show jumpers prefer the high point, for example.


There are positions to avoid. They don’t flatter the horse and look, well, wrong. Too early in the jump and the horse can look like it is struggling to climb and about to fall over backwards. Another one to avoid is after the horse has touched ground, because the process of bringing the hind legs down to join the fore legs is not pretty when frozen in time.


A word of warning here. Some people will adopt the “spray and pray” approach to timing, taking tens of images of each jump and simply deleting the ones they don’t like afterwards. The problem is that they will often miss the perfect spot, between two of the ones they did take. It is better to practise taking a single shot at the right time, and the hunting field streaming over a fence in front of you is perfect practice!


Frame, focus, pan, click, then move back to the next jumper.


Next time: how to photograph specific disciplines, and what to do with your images once you get them home.


Check out Nico’s website to see more of his incredible work: www.nicomorgan.com

All photos are copyrighted to Nico Morgan

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