At many of my equine shoots, I start our session in the barn aisles for black background shots. This allows me to start a relationship with my horse in the comfort of their ‘home.’ For the most part, this is the place where the horse will be the most relaxed the entire shoot – next to his friends, in the barn he spends most of his time living in. However, I only start shooting here if I can close every door and turn off every light to naturally create a dark backdrop.
Step One: Choose an entrance to the barn that is shaded from the sun. Skin tones are most luminous in “open shade.” *This is personal preference, because I know many photographers who choose the opposite (and want the horse in direct sunlight).
Step Two: Close the barn door behind your subject, and try to eliminate every source of light. I try to make the backdrop as dark as possible by turning off every light, closing all of the windows, and shutting the barn door. Here are some iPhone shots “behind the scenes” of what this looks like:
Step Three: If there are any remaining light sources, try to cover them with your subjects in your composition. This is what it should look like pulled away, with the only light source coming from a single open barn door:
Step Four: I usually set my aperture between f/2.8 and 4.0 to get more of my subjects in focus. Additionally, I have their eyes on the same plane.
Step Five: As I take test shots to set my exposure, I intentionally underexpose to get the background as dark as possible.
Here are several examples. “Straight out of Camera” on the left, “Edit in Lightroom” in the middle and “Edited in Photoshop” on the right.
Step Six: I edit in Lightroom by increasing exposure, warmth and contrast. I usually bring “shadows” up and “darks” down to achieve a dark background.
Step Seven: In Photoshop, I cover any blemishes, smooth skin, and use the “Brush” to go over any parts of the background that aren’t jet black (due to a skylight, a reflection, a door, etc).
That’s it! Enjoy a few more of my favorites below…