How to Photo Show Your Models

Most model collectors live a fair distance from one another, so photo shows enable members to see other people`s models and provide a great way to learn more about different breeds at the same time.

Click the links below to be taken directly to these sections, or read through the whole page.

Photographing the Model Horse

Types of Photos

Entering a Mail-In Photo Show

Photo showing has an advantage over live showing – the judge can only see what parts of the model you photograph. If one of your models is a little scratched up on just one side, there`s nothing to stop them from becoming a photo show champion! Just turn the scratched-up side away from the camera, and start snapping.

There are two main types of photo shows - mail-in and online. With both types of shows, a show host publishes a class list, similar to what you might find at a real horse show, with classes for breeds, colours, finish and performance, and then an entrant will send in their photos to the host to be judged. The only difference between mail-in and online photo shows is the method of sending the photos.

Mail-in Photo Showing

Physical photos are labelled on the back with the model`s information and owner`s details, and then mailed to the show judge. Once the show is complete, the photos are mailed back to the owner.

Online Showing

Instead of printing out hard copies, digital copies of the photos are stored on the entrant`s computer and sent to the judge for judging online. Depending on the type of show, they can be sent to the judge in a number of ways:

  • Email
  • Posted on a forum
  • Uploaded into a free photo storage service (such as Webshots or Photobucket)

There are a number of international online showing groups that are happy to advise newcomers on how to take part. We recommend:

Refer to the entry rules for each group, as each will differ. AIMHC also offers online photo shows from time to time.



Even if you don`t have any photography experience, it`s relatively easy to take quality photos of your model horses. All you need is a decent camera, some time and willingness to experiment, and your models!

Some clubs and/or judges prefer `realistic` photos (with a background such as a paddock or arena) over `studio` photos (which have all one colour as the background and footing). Realistic photos are more generally accepted in photo shows, but if you want to use studio photos, check with the judge first.


Studio photo exampleAbove: an example of a studio photo. (Depeche resin, owned by Di Boardman)


Example of a realistic photo.Above: an example of a realistic photo. (dp. Brazen N Bulletproof, owned by Danielle Seivers)


Pictures for Photo and Online Showing


Taking Pictures

The first step to entering a photo show is to take some photographs of your models. The best camera to use is an SLR or DSLR with 35mm lens. There are many different camera lenses available. One with a macro zoom lens is best to get those close-up shots, but be careful you don`t blur the entire picture.

Don`t have a SLR or DSLR? A decent-quality compact or `big zoom` digital camera should do the trick. Make sure you read the manual to get the best use of the camera`s modes and settings. You may need to experiment to find out your camera`s capabilities when it comes to taking excellent, detailed shots. The best photos have the model in sharp focus. You don`t need fantastic camera skills, just a knowledge of how to make the most of your camera`s features.

Photo show pictures can either be taken inside or outside. Both have their benefits and disadvantages; it`s up to you to decide which works best for you. The ideal photo will create the illusion that your model horse is real. There are lots of tricks you can use to help achieve this vision, but the first, and perhaps most important trick depends on whether you are taking your photos inside or out.

Indoor Photography

Indoor photos require: a good lighting source (two or three is best); a large, flat surface on which to set the model; some sort of footing, such as fabric to simulate grass or sand, and a background or back drop. Your backdrop can be plain, such as a solid pale blue piece of cardboard, or it may be a photo blown up that represents a horse scene, such as a paddock or arena.

When setting up for indoor photography, you may need to take lots of test shots to ensure that your photos won`t come out too blue or too yellow. Experiment with your camera`s white balance to find what works best for your lighting situation.

Lighting sources, such as lamps or from a window, should be arranged so that they do not shine directly on your model or background. You`re looking for a soft, natural light. Your camera`s flash should never be used when taking photos.

To hide the line between your background and footing, you can use a prop such as a fence, or background-appropriate items like bushes, leaves or logs. Remember to watch out for spots of glare on the model or background. Most printing services will allow you to crop your photos (trim the edges so that the focus is on your model) before printing, so don`t stress too much about the edges of your background being visible in your photos. However, when cropping your photos, remember to leave around one centimetre of visible background around the edge of the photo. Photos with chopped-off ears or hooves are not very flattering to your models.


Outdoor Photography

To take photos outside, you will need to be in an area that will simulate a background suitable for the type of photo you are trying to take. You can set your model directly on the ground, or use some sort of table.

 A major disadvantage with outdoor photography is that it can be extremely difficult to find an area that does not have out-of-scale grass, leaves, fences, cars and houses in the background. If you`re lucky enough to have an area without these items, then you`re halfway to a great photo.

If you don`t have a clean background, you can use a backdrop or background, as explained above in Indoor Photography. Just make sure it is supported well so that it won`t fall over in a gust of wind.


One member`s set up for taking photos.
One member`s set up for taking photos outdoors.


When taking photos outside, the best days for model photography are those with a few clouds in the sky. A bright, sunny day is not necessarily good, as the sun can create create bold spots of glare and shadow on model horses. Heavily overcast days can also make achieving good photos difficult, as your photos may be dull and dark.

You can counteract not-so-great weather with your camera; experiment with the shutter speed, if available on your camera, to allow more light in your photo on overcast days, and try changing the white balance settings if your photos hav a blue or yellow cast to them.

The worst days are windy days, as the horse can fall over right at the moment you press the button to take the photo. Plus, falling can damage your models, so be careful, especially if you`re photographing models made from fragile material such as resin or china. Wind can also make haired manes and tails fly all over the place. For those models that don`t stand very well, try putting a small amount of sticky wax or Blu Tac under one of a hoof, though you should make sure it doesn`t show too much in your photo!

If your model is set directly on the ground (not on a table), you will have to lay down (use a towel or rug to lie on) to achieve the correct angle. Experiment with angles to see which shows off your model`s best features. Remember the judge wants to see as much of the model as possible.

Try and aim directly at the horse`s barrel or shoulder. Shooting from above (looking down onto the model) can make your model look like a toy, while shooting upwards can do the reverse and give your horse giant syndrome! Likewise, try and shoot at your model`s side, rather than at its chest or hindquarters. A `square` shot will give the judge the best view of your model`s conformation and make the assessment easier.

Keep some space around the model and don`t zoom too close. When photos are printed, they are printed in a rectangle shape, and often some edges are trimmed to fit that 6"x4" shape. If you have taken the photo too close, parts of your model like ears and hooves can be cut off!

When cropping your photo, do your best to have the model centralised in the photo. Avoid leaving edges of your background/base/footing visible; this ruins the illusion that the judge is looking at a photo of a real horse. Don`t leave too much space around the model like in the example below, as you`re wasting space that could be used to give the judge a better, closer view of your model.

Poor crop example.

An example of a photo that could be cropped better.

Better crop example.

The same photo, cropped closer.

Try and leave some space around the horse, though - you don`t want to crop too close or parts of your model will be chopped off by the printer. It`s impossible to judge parts that can`t be seen!

Cropped too close.

The above photo is cropped too close.





Halter classes are judged on aspects of your model, like conformation, colour, breed, gender and finish. A clean and sharp photo is required for the judge to be able to accurately judge your horse.

 A basic halter photo. D. Seivers

A basic halter photo.

Required Aspects for a Quality Halter Photo


  • A flattering view that allows to judge to view as much of the model as possible.
    • A direct side-on view, or a photo slightly angled to the front is best. Try to have as much of your model visible as possible.
  • A suitable angle.
    • The correct halter photo should be taken with the camera parallel to the ground, not pointing down on the model, nor looking up at it. Aim at the model`s barrel or shoulder to ensure you`re at the right level.
  • Decent lighting.
    • A photo that is too dark, or too washed out, will not allow your model horse to be fairly judged.
  • Sharp focus.
    • If the judge cannot see your model because the photo is out of focus, then it cannot be judged properly.
  • No distracting elements.
    • Is there a car in your photo? Is your model wearing an ill-fitting halter? Is your model belly-deep in giant grass? These are all elements that attract the judge`s eye, and pull their focus away from your model.


Above: The photo on the left shows the use of an object to hold the model`s lead rope. On the right, the photo ihas been cropped. Due to the angle of the horse, a photo like this would be best in Creative-type classes.


The photo above is not good for photo showing - the horse is not in focus, so the judge cannot see the horse properly. However, the horse is at a better angle than the photo above, and it shows off the horse`s conformation better.


When photographed for a halter photo, models should never wear any saddles, blankets, leg wraps, boots or other gear. This is so the judge can accurately examine your model`s conformation. The only tack ever allowed in a halter photo is a properly-fitted halter or bridle. If your halters or bridles don`t fit correctly, then it is better to leave them off.

Unless otherwise stated in the show`s rules, halter classes do not require your model to be wearing a halter or bridle. If you do want to use a halter, you can attach the end of the lead rope to something heavy, such as a mug, and position this outside the edge of your photo. This gives the illusion that there is a handler outside the photo frame. Have a natural curve in the leadline, so it won`t seem like your horse is being pulled.


Inspired by the real horse class with the same name, a liberty class is one where models are shown without any tack - not even a halter. A liberty horse shows exuberance and action, and an entry should show the natural beauty of its breed. In the real world, the horse is judged on its gaits, style, grace, animation, presence, move, action, charisma, boldness and enthusiasm plus the suitability of the music and the horse`s ease of catching.

When it comes to the model horse class, the class is focused more on the movement of the model, so horses that are moving will do better than a standing or walking model. This is the class for your rearing, bucking, galloping and cavorting horses! You don`t need to worry about music, or showing the handler catching the horse - in the model class, the judge wants to see bold-moving, charismatic and enthusiastic horses.


A good candidate for a Liberty class. dp Euphoria, owned by Danielle Seivers.

Tips for Halter Photos:

If your model has a flaw, take the picture from the other side of the horse. The art of photo showing can hide flaws if done well.

When photographing dark models, use a light-coloured background to make the model stand out. The same applies for light-coloured horses. Using a light background with a light horse means your model can disappear into the background and be almost invisible.

If you want to be creative with your photo angles and cropping, you can certainly do so. Keep an eye out for `Creative Photography` or similarly-named classes in a photo show, as this is where your photos will do best.

An example of a creative angle. DL Nazeem, owned by Emma Conlan.DL Nazeem. Owned and photo taken by Emma Conlan.


A headstudy photo is one of the head and neck area of a model. A good photo for this class should be clear and sharp, and show off the photogenic qualities of a model`s head profile, neck and throatlatch.

The photo should preferably not show any shoulder or chest area. While photos for online photo showing can be cropped square and thus remove any unwanted shoulder and chest, a 6" x 4" hard copy photo cannot be trimmed this close. Try using profile-orientated photos to eliminate as much chest and shoulder as possible.

Headstudy examplePhotos by Wendy Hinson

The photo on the left is not a great example of a headstudy photo. We`ve cropped it into a much better photo (right). It`s now more attention-grabbing and shows off the alert foal well.



Performance is a general name given to classes where the model is required to be performing an event, such as dressage, show jumping or calf roping.

Performance has three major divisions – English, Western, and Other. Other Performance includes everything from carriage driving to costumes to racing to Australian Stock Horse events and more. Generally, if a performance event that does not fit into English or Western, then it should fit into Other Performance.

The art of the performance photo is to try and achieve a snapshot that looks like a real horse is in motion (or not, as applicable), and is actually performing in the event your photo says. While performance photos are more time-intensive, it can be extremely satisfying to take a correct photo and have it do well in a show.

When taking your performance photos, first research the particular event to ensure that your model is a proper fit for it. Not all events call for all gaits. You`d never see a galloping horse in a dressage test, or a bucking horse in a Western pleasure class.

Secondly, check that you have the right tack for the class you want to photograph. Model performance classes follow the real equivalent, so you may be marked down for using the wrong saddle, or an illegal bit.

Rule books from real horse event associations are an invaluable tool for performance showers. If using overseas rules, or outdated rules, you must mention this with your photo.

Check that your props, such as fences, jumps, markers, cones or anything else that the class uses, are correct too. There is nothing wrong with using plastic tack, as long as it is correct for the class, is in scale and fits properly.


Tips for Performance Photos

Ensure that your tack is in-scale and correctly fitted, and has no twisted reins or buckles. If your tack is a little too small, you can hide loose edges on the off-side of your model, to make it appear like your tack does fit properly.


`The Dreamtime` owned by Joanna Richardson
`The Dreamtime` owned by Joanna Richardson


Bits should sit in the corner of the horse`s mouth. Your photo may be marked down or penalised if your bit is sitting incorrectly, so study photos to see where the mouthpiece sits on a real horse. Use sticky wax, dental wax or similar to attach your bit halves. (This is available from The World of Model Horse Collecting on eBay, and Rio Rondo.) After placing your model in the right position for your photograph, check that the bit has not come loose before taking your photos.

In general, dolls are not required for performance photos. (The exceptions are English Handler and Western Showmanship classes. Some shows may require a doll for all performance classes; be sure to read the rules prior to entering.) If you choose not to use a doll, try and position your tack to make it seem like there is an invisible rider on your horse. You can do this by using sticky wax to attach your stirrups to the girth, so that an invisible rider is on board. Stirrup leathers should be flat against the saddle flap, and the saddle should drape around the horse`s side, not stick out.

Check that your girth/cinch is not too loose or too tight, and is positioned properly behind the elbow of the horse.


Performance Explanations

Performance explanations are compulsory for all performance photos. Put simply, it is an explanation of what class the model is in, and what move it is performing. Some examples:

Dressage EFA Test 2B

2          C         Track left.


            E          Circle left 20m [shown here]


Showjumping, 60cm, open local show

Approaching jump 7.


Western Pleasure, Senior Horse

Judge has asked for a lope on the left lead.

It is not enough to just name the class that the model is in. You must also state what the model is doing. While a judge should have broad knowledge of many different types of performance events, it is unfair to make them guess what your model is doing. There are many moulds that look like they are performing one gait to one person, and a different gait to another person. It`s always much safer to just write down what you think the model is doing, rather than hope that the judge`s assessment matches yours.

Make sure that your explanation matches your model. It`s no good to say your model is approaching jump 7, if your model is actually pictured mid-jump.

Generally, any photo that does not reflect a typical entry for a halter class may be deemed a performance photo, and should require an explanation.


Photo Size/Type

Generally a 6 x 4 inch (15 x 10 cm)-sized photo is used for showing. This is usually the standard `postcard` size most photo shops print when developing your pictures. Either matte or glossy finish is fine, though matte finish photos do tend to stand up better to a lot of handling than glossy. Glossy prints may also pick up fingerprints.

You may also print your own photos at home using a very good quality printer and the proper paper, but professionally-printed photos will always be better and more durable.


Labelling Your Photos

AIMHC recommends the use of mailing labels, available from newsagents and office supply stores. Printed white paper, trimmed to size and firmly secured is also a good alternative. Most computer programs can be set up to produce printed labels, which look very professional. If you don`t have access to a computer, neatly handwrite your information on the label before affixing it to the back of the photo. Never write directly onto the photo itself (as it shows through on the other side). Below is an example of a neatly-laid-out label:


An example of a photo label.
An example of a photo label. 


You don`t need to follow this exact layout. As long as your information is laid out neatly and details are easy to find, then you can use any layout you like.


Required Information

The information listed below is required on every single photo you intend to show with. Without this information, your photos may be disqualified, or not be judged correctly. (See Judging to understand how this information is used by a judge.)


Required Horse Information

  • Name1
  • Age1
  • Breed1
  • Gender1
  • Colour1
  • Finish1
  • Registration number (if registered) 1
  • Performance explanations2


Suggested Horse Information

  • References for unusual breeds and/or colours3


Required Member Information

  • Name
  • Address


1 See the Show Rules page for more information on how to decide this information for your models.
2 Explanations are compulsory for all performance photos.
3 Not all breeds of horses or ponies can come in every horse colour, due to genetics. Some colours are extremely rare in some breeds. If your model exhibits a rare colour, then you should provide documentation or a reference for a real horse of this breed that comes in the same colour as your model. You can do this by providing the address to the horse`s website, if it has one, or you can include a photocopy or printout with your photos. You cannot rely on a judge to know specific examples of every breed, so as an entrant you`ll need to prove to the judge that this breed and colour combination is possible and does exist in the real world.




Look through the AIMHC newsletter and decide what show you wish to enter. Once you have decided, pick what photos you are going to use. Read the show`s rules thoroughly to make sure that your photos have all of the required information on the back, and are right for the classes you want to enter.

Use a strip of Magic Tape (also known as invisible tape) for writing class numbers on, placed on your the back of your photo in an easy-to-find spot. The tape makes it easy for you to erase the numbers after this show, and reuse your photo. Then with a pencil, write what classes you think your horse goes in, making sure the numbers are in order. For example:


Like this: Not like this:
Classes 1, 15, 45, 65 Classes 45, 65, 1, 15


Once this is done, check them again to make sure the information about the horse is correct and the right class numbers are on the back. Count how many photos you are sending and make a note somewhere, so when your photos are returned, you will know if any are missing.

Sort your photos into class order, (photos for class 1 first, class 2 next etc) as this makes the judge`s job a lot easier. When sorting your photos, only sort by the first class number if your photo is entered in more than one class. Sort your photos with the labels facing you. Put the photos into a zip lock bag to protect them and keep them together.


Correctly sorted photos.


If you like, you can tell the judge in a note that this is your first show and ask that they make sure you have entered the right classes. The judge will check to ensure the photos are entered correctly, and might even make a few suggestions to help you.


[Your name]
[Your address]


Hi [Judge`s name],

Enclosed are my photos for your upcoming show on the [date]. I have entered (number) photos along with my entry fee and a SASE. I also have enclosed extra stamps in case with results it costs more. Please return any unused stamps. This is my first photo show! I hope I have put my horses in the right classes; if not, could you please put them in the right classes for me? Any helpful suggestions would be appreciated. Hope you have a great show!


[Your name]


You will need to send your photos in a roomy envelope. Business-sized envelopes are not a good idea for more than two or three photos. AIMHC recommends the use of C5 (16cm x 21cm)-sized envelopes, or AusPost Tough Bags.

As well as sending your photos, you will need to include your entry fee (in cash unless otherwise organised), a stiff piece of cardboard to ensure your photos are not bent in transport, extra stamps, and a SASE (Self-addressed stamped envelope). Your SASE should be stamped with the same amount of stamps as the envelope you are using to send everything to the judge. The extra stamps that you will include will be used by the judge should your envelope increase in weight on the way back (from including printed results, or prizes).


Entries ready to be sent.

Above: photos, ready to be packed up and mailed off to the judge. From left to right: envelope, cardboard (with entry fee and extra stamps), photos in ziplock bag, SASE. The elastic band is to hold the photos to the cardboard while in transit.

The judge reserves the right to withhold your photos if you don`t include enough return postage, and will request that you reimburse any extra postage costs.

Seal your envelope with tape before posting. You can also write `Do not bend` on the outside of your envelopes to help prevent your photos becoming damaged while en route.

Always send photos at least one week before the closing date of the show to allow the photos to arrive in time. Do not decide to enter a show with three days to go as your entries may not make it in time, and most judges will not restart a show once judging has begun. If your photos do arrive late, the judge will either send them back saying they didn`t make it in time, or will put your photos in any remaining classes not yet judged.

Tip: Normally coins are sent to cover entry fees, but make sure you tape them to a piece of cardboard or wrap them securely in a large piece of paper, and put them in your zip lock bag. Loose coins, or coins just wrapped with a bit of tape and placed in an envelope can easily wear a hole through the paper and be lost or stolen in transit.

If you and the judge both have email, you can let them know that you are entering their show and the judge can advise you when your entries arrive.


Depending on the size of the show, you can expect your photos to be returned two to three weeks after the show date. Results will usually be sent by email, but most judges will offer a hard copy on request. (Remember to send extra stamps if you request results to be sent back with your photos.)

Don`t be too disappointed if your models didn`t do too well - there are many good horses out there, and when your photo skills improve you will see a difference. Remember the most important thing is to have fun!