Making portraits with a less-then-ideal background

Have you ever wondered how all those equine photographers get all the best backgrounds while you can’t find a nice location? Did you know you don’t need a lot at all? With just a little bush, or a well-placed tree you can get quite far!

It’s a complaint I hear a lot among equine photographers! How they are not able to get a nice background and have to make do with what they have. And how they are not able to go to a proper forest or another natural area to get some high-quality photographs in a nice surrounding.

Even with a subject as big as a horse you can go to a suburban area to get some amazing portrait photos. And that is precisely what I did!

Welsh x Haflinger crossbreed Luna and her owner, Else, where my partners in crime as we set out on a mission to show it is very possible to go to a less-than-ideal area and still get amazing photographs.

There are no real secrets to this, you just have to make sure you are really looking at your background. Sometimes inching left or right or point your camera a bit more up or down can mean a world of difference.

Location 1: Wildflowers and nice greenery!

The reason I immediately wanted to shoot at this location was due to the wildflowers in the front garden of this house. Luckily the neighbours across the street had some nice looking bushes. Between the tree and for-sale-sign, we had to manoeuvre our way a bit, especially to keep the flowers in frame. Luckily Luna was very patient with what we wanted to do and granted us some lovely looks in exchange for a bit of grazing.

As for the lead rope, most equine photographers photoshop it off, but for me, that looked a bit off, especially because she was wearing this lovely halter. I opted for a nicer lead rope but the lead rope wasn’t as sturdy as this one. Since we were going to walk through a suburban area and passing busy roads we choose safety over a slightly more beautiful photo. And honestly, I think the lead rope looks ok on the photo!

With that being said, enjoy the photo and the behind-the-scenes photo (made with a phone) as well!

Location 2: A school with some bushes

The second location was near a local school. The bushes in the background looked lovely and I liked the light that came from behind. It gives a little bit of a rim of light to Luna. Adding a bit of depth. Look at the catch-light in her right eye (left for the viewer). Again we needed to manoeuvre our way a bit to avoid the school building entering our frame while also preventing the tree in the background not to “grow out of the head” of Luna. That is something I always try to prevent. A tree at the placement you see in the before-photo is acceptable to me, but sometimes trees are placed behind the head by photographers and that is something I always dislike. It looks a bit like the tree is growing out of the horses head. Something to avoid if you can!

Ooh and I just love how much Else loves her horse Luna. And even though you can’t see it here, Luna certainly lovers Else back!

Location 3: Contrasting purple and green trees

This is a location I loved as well because of the purple tree. It’s not a colour you see in the background of horse portraits often but as you can see this colour occurred naturally. Since this purple tree was right next to a very bright green-yellowish tree, that gives a nice little punch to the photograph. It frames the picture a bit. Also at this location, I choose to let the light come from behind, look how lovely it creates a catchlight on the mane! This helps separate the mane from the background. You can also see the catchlight at the lower part of her neck and chest area. (BTW, doesn’t her neck look amazing! So thick and strong, and know Luna is a mare! I would have believed she was a stallion by her appearance!).

Location 4: Lovely colour combination

This is a location I liked because it was even more challenging than the other locations. I had to make sure the building debris, the windows of the house and the pole of the foreground were not in the picture so I had to really make sure Luna was at the right place as I couldn’t move around too much myself.

Normally when we are in a natural area, I move around myself a lot, to make sure I have the best background I can. This makes sure I don’t have to move the horse around too much. Because moving around a horse too much can make them nervous or agitated. And that is something you’d want to avoid! How else are you going to get those ears to move forward?!

Location 5: Shrubbery with purple flowers <3

The last location was with this Rodhondendron shrubbery, it was fully blooming with these amazing purple flowers. Even though the shrubbery itself was quite small, it was enough to capture it in the portrait. There was enough greenery behind the bush itself to help and preserve the atmosphere in the photograph. Working with colourful bushes or trees with flowers in them can bring you amazing results. I hope by now you see you don’t need a lot to work with. Just look around and know where to point your camera. And it helps to move left, right, up or down yourself to ensure you are avoiding any disruptive objects in your photographs. Because, as you can see in all the behind-the-scenes-photographs, I encountered enough of them!

I absolutely loved working with Luna, she is a born photo-model! Thank you Luna and Else for going with me on this crazy adventure! I just love how you are always up for the weirdest requests and adventures, you are the best!

Do you have any examples as well?!

Do you have any nice photo’s accompanied by a behind-the-scenes photo? I would love to see it!
I challenge you to go out and make nice photographs in a challenging area and show me your results!

Merel Bormans
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Merel Bormans is a photographer with her website and portfolio on https://www.merelbormans.com. She specializes in equine and canine photography and travels the whole world in pursuit of the most amazing photographs!

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