Cameras and Lenses
I use the awesome newer Nikon D750. It’s FX (full frame) and 24 megapixel (plenty big!). It’s fast for my animal action (7fps) and it’s deliciously light and super ergonomic! The price is just right and it also has HDR video and all the bells and whistles one needs (1/2 of which I will never use!). I chose this camera over the more expensive and more “megapixel heavy” D800. Mostly because of the frames per second and also the larger 32 megapixel files are not conducive to the shoot and sell fast pace we often work in as an equine photographer. When I’m not doing a show, or just shooting to create art images, the 24 megapixel becomes a huge file once edited and saved as a tiff or psd. I have delicious noise free 30×40 images I did in my old D2X (12.5 megapixel) camera. don’t get caught up in the megapixel war! Unless you are regularly shooting for billboards or massive 6 ft long metal prints for some NYC art gallery, 24 is plenty. In fact you can certainly get away with a lot less, but I wouldn’t recommend buying too far behind technology. If you don’t have a short zoom, get the bundle. It comes with a handy 24-120mm: D750 with 24-120mm
You can get just the body here: Nikon D750 body only
Comparable to Nikon’s D750 is Canon’s 5D Mark 3. I have always been a Nikon girl and frankly once you are married to either Nikon or Cannon, it’s very hard to switch! That being said, if I were buying a Canon I would consider their 5D Mark3. It has many of the same features as the Nikon, it’s plenty fast and with 22 megapixels, you will be plenty up to date along with the must have FX format. Check it out here: Canon 5D Mark3 body only
Cream of the crop Camera bodies
If you can afford it, and you like to have the best of the best, then you can’t go wrong with the top of the line D5 for Nikon users and EOS 7D Mark II for Canon. These cameras will have more features, bells and whistles than you will ever need or use. That being said, they are fully loaded and will surely get any photography job done well, especially in the world of horse photography. If you must have they are linked here: Nikon D5 Cream of the Crop!
Canon EOS 7D Mark 2
Back up Camera
This is a must for show or event photography. You cannot afford to have a camera go down with no back up! Weeks and months of planning can go down the tubes when your camera freezes up for some unknown reason! I have never had this happen personally, but I firmly believe it’s because I always have back up! For me I have another used Nikon D750 as my backup. For a long time I just used my old trusty Nikon D2X. Still works to this day 14 years after I first bought it, at the turn of film to digital! When I bought the D2X it was top of the line- but now its severely out of date. If you can’t afford another FX camera as your back up, get yourself a used NIkon D200. It shoots well and creates beautiful images. I would highly recommend as a great starter or backup camera. It is now discontinued but you can get it for a steal here: Nikon D200 great starter or backup camera!
I have “go to” lenses that I use daily for Equine Photography. The first is my Nikon 70-200mm VR 2.8. This lens ROCKS. Fast, medium weight with gorgeous results… I carry this thing around like it’s a baby in my arms. This is an indispensable lens for action and equally great for portraiture. I actually wore out the first one of these I bought! A good fast lens is a MUST have for Shows! Get it here: Nikon 70-200 VR 2.8- a must have for horses!
If you are a Canon user, this lens is neck and neck with Nikon’s. You can buy the newer 70-200mm mk-2 or a used mk-1, either will work great. I have not used but see these lenses everywhere I go (they are white) and they get an extremely high rating. You can have a look at them here: Canon 70-200mm 2.8- a must have Canon lens for horses!
The next must have lens is a short/wide zoom. You need this lens for doing group shots at shows, like the show rider/horse winners with their trainers. Also If you get asked to do a staff shot, you don’t want to be directing 15 people from way back using a the 70-200 zoom! The newest Nikon 24-120mm is awesome, lite, sharp, fast and so comfortable. I got mine bundled with the D750. I had the same focal length in an old film lens I used for years with my old D3, now they make it for the dslr. You can get it here or bundled above under camera bodies: Nikon 24-120mm, lens only
For Canon users they make a similar lens 24-105mm: Canon 24-105mm A short zoom that should do just as great of a job. It’s really about having a fast short, wide zoom. With either Nikon’s or Canon’s quality, you can’t go wrong.
The Tele Extender
This is a great addition to your 70-200mm zoom. You can increase your reach without adding too much weight to your camera with a telephoto extender. I use the 1.4mm and it gives me a nice amount of extra reach for those far away jumps on a cross country course or that herd of horses running that I don’t want to be too close to! Once you are used to the little bit of extra weight, you will hardly remember it’s on there. I can tell you from experience that it is tack sharp and you only lose about a stop of light. There are more powerful extenders but I wouldn’t recommend for action photography. Check it out here: Nikon’s 1.4 Tele Extender
Canon users can also buy a tele extender for their canon. It is also 1.4X- specifically EF 1.4 111 and should work basically the same. You can purchase it here: Canon’s 1.4 Tele Extender
I have a beautiful Nikon 200-400mm VR zoom, F4 that I use for wildlife photography. I thought this lens would come in handy for horse shows with far away jumps and for getting close ups of riders faces when they are soaring through the air! Well, turns out the riders really don’t want that. And it’s really impractical for the fast pace, too heavy to hand hold all day with 8-12 hours of show. So I leave that lens at home during shows, though I would use it to photograph wild horses for sure. Big Glass for Nikon, good for wild horses! If you are a Canon user: Big Glass for Canon shooters, great for wild horses!
I have a collection of film lenses that work great with Digital and I use them in special circumstances like portraits or close ups. I have a Nikkor 85mm 1.4 (wow, super cool) and it is gorgeous for portraits. Of course it is manual focus which I still like using every now and again. I also have an old and I mean OLD macro, Nikkor 55 Macro, also manual focus . I’m sure you can find used somewhere, you will have to search around but if you find one, it should only be about $50 or so and it is magic to use! Peruse the glass case used section in camera stores, or if you are lucky, you will find a camera swap meet where you can all kinds of old gems! To buy online right how, go here: Find old lenses and other used gems here!
The tripod for lots of photographers is a turn off. It’s big, unwieldy and awkward. There are two reasons photographers feel that way. One, you are using a cheap ‘pos’ and it doesn’t support your camera or lens weight. Or Two, you just aren’t used to it yet! The best thing you can do is just put your camera and long lens on the tripod (you need a quick release bracket too) and go around the house focussing on things. Pick it up, move it, point it up, down, extend the legs, put them back in. Just get to know your equipment! When you are in the field you will be so glad you spent that time. You will chuckle to see new photographers struggling with their tripods! If you can afford it, here’s the best and last tripod you will ever need to buy, a Gitzo SKU GT2542- Gitzo Tripod only with head of your choice, I like this one: SKU G2272M which is low profile and the quick release is included! This is the best Gitzo head for action & portraits!
The legs are made of graphite (just like my kayak paddle!) light and strong! I can carry this for hours and set it up in seconds. It is Italian made and operates so smoooooooth! I can’t rave enough but they are spendi!!!! I worked in photography for 15 years as a pro before I finally broke down and bought one. I like this medium sized model- The Mountaineer Series, good for a nice dslr and big glass if needed-up to 39lbs!!! This is great for creative action shots involving running horses and panning. For shows, it’s handy for large groups when you have no assistant. You can put your camera on the tripod and walk away from it and pose your group. It’s a pretty indispensable tool in my opinion and just takes a little practice. Links are above!
IF you can’t afford a Gitzo now, you can start out with a Manfrotto tripod (used to be called Bogen). I went through two of these tripods back when I used to shoot weddings & portraits with a Hasselblad! These tripods are easy to use and really sturdy. Not too heavy they are a great entry level tripod with lots of head choices. I used this Bogen/Manfrotto 3011 with these two heads:Manfrotto MHXPRO-3W 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head Awesome tripod- quick release plate included!, get this model for an all around DSLR camera holder. To confuse you even more, Manfrotto now owns Gitzo! Love those italian tripods!You can get them here:Basic Tripod in silver
Head great for panning and group shots: Head with quick release plates included!
Quick Release for tripods.
I don’t know how i lived without this handy inexpensive tool. It makes using a tripod easy breezy as you can slide or snap in your camera in seconds eliminating another reason many photogs shy away from using a tripod in the first place. Drop your legs, snap on your camera and shoot! A must have. The two tripods above come with quick release plates on the heads I recommended. Check the specs and if the head doesn’t come with a quick release plate, you can buy an aftermarket plate.
Let there be LIGHT!
I made my living for years doing weddings & events. I don’t do as many as I used to, but still have my speedlights loaded with freshly charged batteries anytime I go to do a portrait, show or event. You never know when a lighting situation will present itself that you cannot successfully shoot without a flash aka speedlight. You need one that has adjustable power output so you use as just fill flash outdoors, or to completely light a room. If you are a Nikon user, I highly recommend the SB 800. This speed light rocks! Plenty of auto and manual settings to dial it in just right and though it has a very powerful (guide # 184ft!), it never overheats! I also owned the SB 900- more powerful, and a little more control, but it overheated a lot. Not as dependable.
For Canon users they make a similar speedlight is the 580 EX 2. These two speedlights are comparable via specs, though I have never used Canon’s version. Read up on Canon speedlights for more choices, the key here would be a guide number of 190ft that will deliver on flash to subject distances you will encounter photographing horses with a longer lens. Anyways, those guide numbers are calculated at ISO 100 with a 100mm lens! Imagine the power you have when you increase your ISO and focal length! You can purchase them both here: Nikon SB800 Speedlight!
Canon: Canon’s Speed light
These can come in handy for shows like barrel races or rodeo where flash is acceptable and horses are used to it (don’t do this at an english show without permission!). Often in a show situation, you may not be the only show photographer, especially if it’s a championship show. You may get to choose one barrel to set up at or one jump in the arena. For instance, you can set your slave off to the side to really light the horse/rider going around the barrel, and your on camera flash really just acts as fill and the trigger for the action light via slave. We did this for a small local rodeo we shot many times while living in Texas. It can work really well, but of course with a slave, there is always the possibility of someone else’s flash setting it off. Strategically plan your set up to avoid that as much as possible. It matters not if you shoot Nikon or Canon or another brand… a slave is a slave and responds to whatever kind of flash you use. You can choose from many varieties and do a little shopping for them here: Radio Slaves
Us photographers know that Photography is all about light. Natural light is the most beautiful of all. Reflectors allow you to use natural light and put it where there is none or not enough. For instance you are photographing a horse full length, the sun is behind the horse giving him beautiful rim lighting on his mane and back, yet you need to light the shady side of him as well. Holding your reflector you can aim it at the sun and bounce gorgeous powerful light back onto your subject. Depending on what reflector you are using, this light can be more powerful than a flash or speedlight! I carry three that I have had for YEARS since my wedding photography days. A silver gives off the most light (sometimes too much!) I have a pink & silver( which is hard to find-gold works almost as well) gives a rosey warm color and is great for women/horse portraits and a large light diffuser, makes for lovely portrait light but you need an assistant to hold that one for sure. The diffuser is great but not always practical for horses. I would
definitely get a large white/silver to start, too small will concentrate the light and be too harsh. Get at least size 50” and if you can’t find the pink- get gold. I carry a set of reflectors in the 50” size. The small ones are too direct for portraits. Super indispensable tool awesome for really capturing the shine on a groomed horses coat!! Now you can get this 5 in one kit-Westcott 5-in-1 Reflector Disc – 50″ and you are set! This versatile high quality reflector set is last the last you will ever need to buy- mine are 20 years old and I use them all the time! 50″ Reflector Set
Ok, now that we have all our great camera gear and lenses, let’s not forget what we need to actually record our images…we need MEDIA!. You see, all media cards are not created equal. To break down a rather complex subject- cards are rated for storage capacity (the largest number on the card), then read & write speeds also on the card (in smaller text). Starting with your camera’s megapixel rating ie 12 megapixel, 24 megapixel, 32 megapixel etc… if your camera is 12 megapixels or under, you can start with an 8 gig storage size. Over 12 I would do a minimum of 32 GB on your card so you are free to shoot RAW. If you are shooting horse portraits, you may not need the spendy SanDisk 32 gig 280mg read/write speed card- yes, that is fast!!! But… if you are shooting horses ripping around the arena bucking and snorting…spend the doe, get the fast card and shoot RAW to your heart’s content! I have several sizes of cards and speeds and find the 32 gig works for large portrait session, or if I’m going to be shooting all day, the 64 gig is where it’s at. Always have plenty of cards in your bag, it would be so embarrassing to say…well, shoots over, I ran out of memory! I have SanDisk SD cards but there are other reputable brands like Toshiba and Lexar. Most newer cameras take SD (it is the most common today), but some take mini SD and a few older like my old D2X and D300S take Compact Flash cards. No matter what size you use, get a good card otherwise you risk your best image being the one corrupted file from you shoot! Read & Write Speed is really important when shooting action (so your camera/card can keep up with your finger or burst mode), so get at least one faster write speed and a couple of good quality cards like the SanDisk 32 gig (my favorite) with a write speed of 95 mg for portraits. Get your size here here:
I’m not a big gadget or accessory person, not in my kitchen and not in my camera bag. I like it pretty simple so these are my go to filters, and the list is short. If you like more creative filters, I listed a few you can try but here’s all I ever carry. A UV filter is a must on EVERY LENS! This not only cuts the atmospheric haze but it protects your precious lens glass which cannot be fixed if you scratch it! Keep a filter on all. I have both the expensive B+W glass (best), and the a little less expensive Hoya, they both work just fine.
A good polarizer is key for certain lighting situations and also has some creative uses. You can take the glare off the water and see right through it, just like polarized sunglasses. I don’t use it very much for straight horse photography but once in a while for doing more creative shots. It can give a little more punch to your images of horses on an overcast day, so I do use once in a while. *Caution learn how to meter with and use this filter, you can severely underexpose your whole shoot!
Choose your lens size- ***these are for 77mm, fits both Nikon 70-200mm & 24-120mm and Canon’s 70-200mm & 24-105mm.
Cleaning and other
I keep lens cleaning clothes, a dust blower, q-tips & flat cotton wipes in my bag for keeping my camera and lenses clean in the field. I”m always in dirt, dust, mist or snow. I suggest having all the mentioned along with lens wraps and some nylon ripstop or even extra large baggies to have at all times to protect your stuff when the weather gets nasty!
You can gather a lot those supplies in your local drug or dollar store except for the lens solution and Domke wraps. I have used these wraps for over 20 years and they are awesome! They have saved me so many times in a sudden downpours as I have used them like a rain jacket for my camera. They also pad your equipment within your bag and keep dust and dirt out of your gear. I recommend the 19″ size and a visible color like red or purple or yellow. I have lost too many black ones! Check em out in the links below:
Camera lens clean link: Handy Lens cleaning kit
Bags, Cases & Straps
I’m kind of a bag/pack fanatic. Not purses, they don’t do it for me but a cool camera bag or messenger bag- oh yeah… my interest is peaked! I have used Lowepro bags for years. For doing horse shows and horse portraits where you will need to walk or bike to many different locations with your gear handy, the backpack style is the way to go for sure. There are so many good ones, but this one holds all you need (2 cameras, 70-200 and a short wide zoom and all your accessories) and is comfortable to wear when going arena to arena or field to barn! You can read about it and purchase if you like here: Lowe Pro Backpack style camera bag!
That about covers what you will need in the way of camera equipment to do this amazing and fun business of Horse Photography! We sincerely hope this resource guide helps you put together your business and saves you lots of time and money, buying the wrong things! As above we disclosed that we have provided affiliate links where we make a small commission when you use the links we have provided you. You are under no obligation to buy from us and this page, but we so appreciate it if you do. Don’t forget to read our other resource pages: Computers & Hardware, Websites & Software and the Ultimate Booth Setup-LINKs.
River & Clay