Creating Dark & Dramatic Horse Portraits With Flash


First of all, dark and dramatic horse portraits can be created without using flash. Other methods include:

Photoshop: The horse can be extracted from the original background, or the background is simply painted over using masks and selections in photoshop.

Another method is using and manipulating natural light. One of the easiest ways is via the use of barn doorways or large black backdrops. Natural light can be added or subtracted using reflectors and then tweaked in photoshop. Both of these methods require a good level of practice and skill and when done correctly, some amazing results can be achieved.

For me personally, I like the third option, which is to use flash. However, this also requires practice and skill when it comes to horses, together with a little bit of luck, as horses can get bored very quickly.  

“Killing the ambient light” is a term used when you want to take a picture that is purely lit by flash, so that you have complete control over the lighting in the picture you are taking.

How do you kill ambient light? In order to remove the ambient lighting all together, you need to start with a few simple basic parameters:

  1. Set your ISO as low as possible.
  2. Your shutter speed should be as fast as it can go (keeping in mind sync speed limitations with your flash).
  3. Place your aperture setting to the point where no ambient lighting shows.

The problem with the above is that horses spend the majority of their time outside, which in terms of controlling ambient lighting, it can be challenging to control. However, using flash enable you to far more control of the light as long as the horse does not move around too much.

How much power will your flash need to throw out to illuminate the horse and kill the ambient light? The short answer is it depends on lots of factors, subject to flash, the ambient light levels and how you are modifying the light, hard or soft light?

What I will say is that it is possible to use a Godox AD200 to kill the ambient light, but you won’t be possible on a bright sunny day. The below image was taken outside on an overcast day. The background behind the horse was a wire fence and conifer trees, so using the basic principle of light fall off, it was easier to get the back ground look dark, I then used photoshop to fill in any light leeks or gaps in the trees.   


The most challenging aspect of using flash, is that horse are not people, so setting up the lights and trying to get the horse in the right place is often hit and miss, but when things do go to plan, some great images can be created.

Although two and three light setups provide more options, styles and looks (when things work out) starting with one light is more manageable, especially with horses regardless if you shoot modified or unmodified. Personally, hard light is really growing on me and by not using soft-boxes the process is also a lot safer, but always make safety a priority for everyone involved, especially the horse. A lot of misconception exists about flash, be it in relation to babies, or horses. From my experience is the modifiers that can spook horses, not the light, so introduce equipment slowly, so the horse can get used to the equipment and if they object to it in anyway don’t persist in using it, safety and welfare should always take precedence.   


Horse Portrait Photography Yorkshire
Horse Portrait Photography


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