Create Black Background Portrait Photography - Three Red Ponies

Three ways to create Black Background Horse Portrait Photography

I’ve had a few inquiries recently about the set-up required for the black background equine portraiture that I create, so I thought I would write a post to describe the various options and process involved with each.

There are three ways that these black backgrounds are made: completely in photoshop, with artificial light or with a combination of natural light, studio lights and environment.

1. Completely in Photoshop

This is the option most event photographers will use for a photo taken in sunlight. The horse is cut out or extracted from the background, or the background is simply painted over and blackened out using photoshop.

The problem with this method is it will look very un-natural and often amateurish, as if the horse has been cut out and stuck on a black background (which it essentially has been).

My background in photorealistic traditional painting has helped me develop a keen eye when it comes to lighting, light fall off and creating form from highlights and shadows. I am a digital artist as well, so I use a wacom tablet and pressure sensitive pen to manipulate the light, reflected colours and shadows so that the black background wraps around the horse’s form in a much more realistic way.

This is a very time consuming process to do well, its my least favourite way of creating black backgrounds and because the results do not look natural (depending on the light in the original photograph they can look downright awful), this is not the black background horse photography option that I offer to my private portrait clients.

Chestnut Arabian Black background studio horse photography
Warren Ag Show Horse impression sandstorm

2. Artificial Studio Lighting

The second way is to create the black background in-camera using artificial studio lighting. This is the most effective way to create black background portraits with minimal photoshop work needed if the facilities are right. The main problem with this method is the studio equipment required to create them is expensive and it takes considerable experience and knowledge to be able to use studio lighting equipment properly. Studio photography should never be undertaken by a photographer with little experience with horses.

Interestingly enough most horses I have used artificial lighting with are not concerned about the flash of light at all (even the hottest of thoroughbreds).

Some horses may prick their ears at the ‘pop’ when the lights trigger, but the thing most horses will be concerned about is the modifiers and softboxes that are required for studio lighting. Like most things with horses, time, experience and patience will desensitise most horses so that studio light photographs can be taken safely.

While an indoor arena is ideal for these portraits with artificial lighting, it can be done in other environments such as a big hay shed, stable breezeway or large carport. With strong enough lighting they can also be done completely outside.

Aesthetically speaking, artificial lights create more contrast in black background portraits which works particularly well on animal coats to increase the depth and shine.

Thoroughbred horse on a black studio photography background by Bunbury horse photographer Michelle Wrighton Photography
Andalusian stallion black background grey horse photography

3. Natural Light

The final way black background portraits can be created is 100% in camera with no artificial light at all. This method creates natural looking images as they are created by manipulating natural light and shadow during the photography session, and then enhancing the shadows in photoshop.

The downside of the natural light method is that it does require the session to be held at a location where there is a barn, shed, stable or carport to create the shadow/darker area behind the horse.

The horse is positioned at a specific point where the natural light and shadow meet in harmony, this positioning will change depending on the actual building being used as well as the size of the horse.

Professional quality camera equipment is required for the best results. Depending on the colour of the horse and other variables, it can be necessary to under-expose the photo which causes all sorts of problems with noise, soft focus and quality degradation with camera equipment that cannot handle low light well.

Black background portraits created with this method take skill in photoshop or lightroom to process, but the end result when done well, is a natural looking photograph.

Natural light black background horse photography

I prefer the second and third methods when I create black background portraits, depending on my client’s preference for the look of the final images, how the horse responds to the equipment and the facilities available at the session location.

When using artificial lighting I always take the time needed for the horse to adjust to the umbrella, softbox and backdrop stands, using the same training principles that I use with my own horses (think Warwick Schiller, Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, Buck Brannaman et al).

Knowing how to shoot these sessions with 100% natural light as well as with portable studio equipment means that if your horse happens to be one of those that does not desensitize to studio lighting equipment, I will still be able create beautiful fine art black backgrounds portraits for you.

Conversely, white background portraits can be created using natural light from simply positioning the horse against big open sky or by using a white studio backdrop. I offer both black and white backgrounds for my clients, the specific method used will depend on the environment the horse is in.

Bay horse black background thoroughbred horse photography
Studio black background bay horse photography

Book your fine art black background equine portrait photography session here or contact me for a chat if you would like to know more about creating some beautiful portraits of your equine soul mate.

Join VIP News

Keep in touch for Three Red Ponies news, exclusive offers, helpful tips, competitions and model calls straight to your inbox.

black horse and girl prepare for a photoshoot

8 Mistakes to Avoid when Planning a Photo Shoot with Your Horse

When you are investing in a professional photography session for your horse, its important to take some time to prepare for the session so that both you and your horse enjoy the experience together and you end up with beautiful artwork that you absolutely adore. All Three Red Ponies Photography clients receive a fully comprehensive Welcome Guide that covers everything you need to know to

Read More »
horse good photo example

The best photos for your Horse or Pet Portrait Painting

One of the most important things for any artist is to have good quality reference photos to work from – the quality of the finished painting depends on it! While I can create a painting of ‘a’ horse or ‘a’ dog from an average photo – to create a painting of YOUR special horse or dog, I need to be able to clearly see the

Read More »
Peel Horse and Pony Club photography

2007-2014 Archived Horse and Dog Event Photos

I have finally had time to go back through my archives and compile a list of horse and dog event photography from 2007-2014. This includes all portrait sessions and commercial photography sessions for this time period. I’m not planning to upload all these photos to the new photography website because a) there is unlikely to be much call for them and b) during this time

Read More »

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Horse and Dog Photography Model Database

Horse and Dog Photography Model Database

While I am technically still on holidays (the first since 2007 that I have officially booked into my calendar in advance), I have had the chance to finalise one of the major projects that I have been working on for a very long time.have been working on for a very long time. One of the services I offer is commercial

Read More »
AIPP Accredited Professional Photographer

AIPP Accredited Professional Photographer – What it means for you

2018 has been an incredibly difficult and painful year for so many reasons, but there have also been some amazing things happen along the way. I am proud to announce that I have been notified last week that my application to the Australian Institute of Professional Photography has been successful and I am now an Accredited Professional Photographer. This means

Read More »
Tessa chestnut arab horse

Why I chose the Canon 5D Mark IV for Equine Photography

Some photographers get all bent out of shape about which is better, Nikon or Canon, I’ve had both, they are excellent brands but for me personally, the Canon line feels better in my hand and I find it more intuitive to use than Nikon. I also now have a decent investment in Canon glass that I am very happy with,

Read More »

Memories Lie – Photographs Tell the Truth

The passing of time brings many things to our lives, some good, some bad. Even those things you know are inevitable, still bring heartbreaking sadness. Long term readers of this blog may remember the many years we went through with very traumatic life threatening health issues my husband had, with Royal Flying Doctor trips to Perth, countless hospital admissions, including ICU and

Read More »
showjumping horse Bunbury agricultural show

Equestrian Event Photography Website Update

All equestrian event photos since 2015 (with a list of archived events from 2007-2015) are available again at I’ve had a number of computer and website challenges for the past few weeks so to resolve the event photo website as quickly as possible at this busy time of year, I have renewed with zenfolio. This means all your saved

Read More »
Scroll to Top