September 2019 Q&A

I would like more information on getting ready for morning sessions. I see a lot of equine sessions done in the morning and I have never felt comfortable with this time of day. I would like to know what the typical start time is based on sunrise. Should the horse be fed prior? Is grooming done the night before? 

I prefer to shoot at sunset because logistically, it is much easier for my client to get ready. However, I do sunrise sessions several times per year. For scheduling purposes, I arrive at the barn at the time the sun rises and plan to start the sessions 20-30 minutes after the sunrise. My client does the majority of the prep work the evening before (bathe, brush, band her horse) but knows to arrive at the barn early in case she needs to remove manure stains, fix bands, and thoroughly brush him again. I always want the horse fed prior to our session.

Most of my clients show their horses competitively and understand how much time it takes to prepare a horse early in the morning.

How do you shoot black horses on a black background? Mine always seem to fade into the black instead of standing out!

Dark horses can be tricky! I have two main tips. The first is to make sure you have enough light reflecting back at the horse. I only use natural light, so I look for available reflectors (horse trailer, gravel road, etc). You could also use a collapsable light reflector, off-camera flash, etc. My second tip is to dodge the horse’s ears in Photoshop to bring them out against the back drop.

I have a course on how to take Black Blackground images here and the first horse we use as an example is black if you want to see these tips in action!

When increasing your prices how do you try to keep your past clients, if it’s a big price jump.. do you offer any incentives or just tell them it’s the new price take it or leave it?

You could do either! Truthfully, many of my clients have stayed loyal through pricing increases but I also never felt like my jumps were too dramatic. I would do whatever feels right for you & your clients.

Do you shoot in Kelvin to white balance or do you prefer another method?


Do you offer a tutorial on black background edits specifically showing the black to gray fade of the barn aisle?

Yes! I have a free article here, and my Black Background course here that shows I go through how I edit a full-body image in Photoshop!

Have you ever dealt with borderline dangerous horses while shooting? If so, what do you do for guiding the model? Or do you stop the shoot?

There are a few reasons the horse might be dangerous. If I think the horse has excess energy I have stopped the session to lunge it out. If I think the horse has a lack of ground manners, I keep the poses very basic and extremely safe so my client can handle him with confidence. If I think the horse has simply too many stimulants, I go back near the barn to keep him as comfortable as possible.

The truth is that every horse is dangerous and I make sure that I read the situations carefully. I also have a great contract that limits my liability in the case of injury.

How do you tell moms that ask “Can you send me all of them? Good or bad?” After you’ve delivered the gallery. 

I haven’t been faced with this request yet and how I handle this might depend on the context of the unique situation. I would definitely ask what they are looking for and why – did I miss a certain pose they wanted? Maybe I could comb through the gallery and try to find what they need. If they just want to see more variety, I would let them know that I included all of the images I felt surpassed the quality level of my brand.

Have you had a girl fall off her horse while shooting? What do you do if that happens?

Sure have! She was hurt and we had to end the session. It also took about 20 minutes to catch the horse…

I am insanely careful at every single session and I have had feet stepped on, hands stepped on, rope burns, stampedes trampling, and falling off. It is very important to have a contract that covers the full spectrum of the dangers associated with working with horses.

Do you do casual portraits first, like out in the field with daily outfits or “show” pictures with their riding outfits on first?

Great question! I prefer to start in show clothes while the sun is high and leave the softer light for casual portraits. However, I know that many times the cowboy hat will wear off makeup and ruin hairstyles, and saddling the horse will leave sweat marks in this Texas heat. I discuss all of these factors with my client at the beginning of the session to determine together the best order of outfits.

What settings do you use to get those airy/light backgrounds in your outdoor pictures? Is it partially due to editing in Lightroom/Photoshop? 

My style of photography is partly the way that I shoot (where I place the sun and what backdrops I use) and partly the way I edit.

I have several courses coming out: (a) shooting and natural light, (b) editing, and (c) “shadowing” a session which combines courses a + b to show you exactly how I achieve my aesthetic. Sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of this page to get a BIG discount when this course is released!

Do you shoot in manual or aperture priority?

I shoot in manual for portrait sessions and aperture priority at horse shows if I need to change between inside/outside quickly.

When tabling at an event/show, what do you think are the most important things to have available at your booth?

I have never had a table at a booth or event, but I would show a very minimal amount of product. Personally, I would show what I want to sell. I would make the table simple but very impactful. I think a single large canvas to make a statement would say more than a million small objects/trinkets on the table to overwhelm people.

How do you get ears forward?

I always bring an assistant to help with ears so that I can focus on taking the portrait. First, we try to get ears up using motion (walking around, throwing things, waving something in the air, etc). When that wears out, we try using noise (whinnies, shaking rocks, etc). My last resort is food (hay, grain, treats). Sometimes having motion off in the distance can help, so my assistant will go open a gate or move around some horses to give our model something to intently look at.

Advice on styling clients for horse & rider sessions?

I have a comprehensive welcome packet that helps my clients prepare for their session (and I made a course about it here).

You could prepare Pinterest boards, blog posts, assemble links to great shopping sources, or purchase guides to help your clients.

Time and project management and a week in the life of Kirstie Marie! Balancing the planning for sessions, time out of office for sessions, editing previous sessions, client emails, client orders, social media, marketing, blogging, business planning… and then having time for your own personal life and sleep. How does one do it all?

Let’s start with sessions! A slow month might have 4-6 sessions, where a busy month might have 12-15. My sessions are 1-3 hours long and usually have a bit of commuting time, too. I would estimate that an average of 8-10 hours of my week is spent taking pictures. Each session takes about 1 hour to cull, 2 hours to edit in Lightroom and 1 hour to edit in Photoshop. That means roughly 10-15 hours of my week are spent editing. I respond to emails at all hours of the day, so I don’t have carved out times that I do this. I would estimate about 5-10 hours a week are for client communication. I also do marketing (including blogging and social media) at all times of the day as I have the capacity. I spend more time business planning during slows months than I do busy months.

I think that because I spent 3 years building this business up on the side, I became wildly efficient with my time. I answer emails as they come in so there is rarely a backlog, I post on social media as I feel inspired, I try to blog consistently on a schedule, I edit in the mornings, and I shoot at sunset.  I have found a rhythm that works my business into my lifestyle.

Recommendations for printing companies. Do you use different companies for different products?

I recommend trying samples from vendors and comparing the results to fit your brand. I use WHCC for most prints and canvases, Ryan’s Denn for my proofing boxes, Amazon for my USBs, and Madera Books for my albums.

How do you balance a 3-hour shoot (with multiple horses) and make it stress-free and fun for everyone involved?

Oh boy! This can be difficult! Three hours is a marathon. I try to keep things moving with different locations, different outfits, and switching the horses out so they can have a break. I also try to set a pace that isn’t exhausting. I work much faster/harder during one hour trying to hustle every pose in than I do 3 hours. I take my time to get to know everyone, relax, and take breaks.

Do you have any tricks to selling albums or other products?

If you want to sell more products, I think it is important to:

  • Sell what you love, so that promoting it comes naturally and effortlessly. It is easy to sell products that you believe in and are passionate about.
  • Study sales psychology and understand your clientele. Some may be motivated to purchase if you include a print credit in their session fee. Others might be motivated by discounts or limited/special offers. Some people may only order if you hold their hand in an in-personal sales session, while others might want the freedom to design their own products online.
  • Show what you sell. Advertise with images of sample products, and then take pictures of actual client orders to promote.

Go to lens for shooting portraits of equestrian and horse?

I primarily use a 135m lens. Here is a full list of what is in my bag.

I’m new and don’t know where to start. What time of day do I practice? How do I get subjects? Is there a good prompt book? What aspect should I practice first?

“There is only one way to eat an elephant. One bite at a time.”

Take the camera gear you have and walk outside – or even stay inside! Just press the shutter. A friend of mine challenged herself to shoot for 15 minutes per day (anything she could find) every day, at all times of the day. I think it is important to learn and study light at all hours of the day to develop your personal preferences. Many photographers prefer to shoot around sunrise and sunset (myself included) because the light is softer, but it is important to understand how to photograph in any situation. As for subjects, start with what you have: a friend,  a dog, a succulent. I started by photographing the horses in my front pasture. That turned into me photographing my friends with their horses. In turn, I built my entire career on those tiny stepping stones.

In the beginning, I studied pictures that I saw in Facebook photography groups. I dissected images to determine where the light source was, how it was composed, what I liked, and what I didn’t like. YouTube has an endless source of free education for any technical question you might have along the way. Pinterest is a great source for knowledge and inspiration, as well.

How to reach more clients!

I have a marketing course that goes into great detail about how to reach new clients!

I would also encourage you to think about how to treat your current and past clients better. Make sure you are giving them an experience they will rave about to everyone they know!

Equipment: the must-haves from camera, lens, to editing equipment.

Here is a list of what is in my bag

Here are my suggestions for a new photographer.

When shooting towards the sun, what are your settings and how do you do it?

In general, my settings are f/2.2 and ISO is under 500. The shutter speed is the variable I use to underexpose by about 1 stop. Taking pictures towards the sun takes a lot of practice with your specific gear. Every camera and lens setup will interpret light differently, so knowing your gear inside and out is key. I am always playing with the amount of sunlight I let into my lens for a flare effect.

To see me in action, stay tuned for my new course “Working With Natural Light”. Sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of this page to get a BIG discount when this course is released!

Have more questions? I offer Skype sessions if you want to chat!

Fill out the contact form on the home page to schedule a session.

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Kirstie jones

fine art equine photographer

A lifetime horse enthusiast, the Texas-based equine photographer has experienced first-hand the immeasurable bond between a horse and a girl. She strives to capture that special relationship for each and every client.

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