You’ve seen them on social media. They look clean, professional and fancy af. It’s the kind of photo you’d have hung over your fireplace or in your living room for all to see.
Everyone needs a fancy black background of their horse. It’s a gorgeous memento of your majestic beast that you’ll have long after they’re gone. It’s one that you can frame and leave in your house for years to come. When your grandkids ask “who is that?” you can say your magical unicorn from 2020, the year the world started going downhill, and story time will ensue.
The best way to get a black background photo is of course to have a professional do it. But unfortunately, not everyone has the time and money available to set aside to have a shoot like this done. That’s why I am here to assist.
Black background photos are professional, they’re pretty, they’re fancy as s*** and when your beloved creature does pass one day, you’ll have a gorgeous keepsake instead of a bunch of iPhone photos. And with this method, it’s cheap and time effective, so your busy schedule and tight budget can remain in place.
Lucky for you, black backgrounds are the easiest edit to make. How fancy it looks all depends on the type of camera you have (basic DSLR or iPhone) and what editing software you want to use (free app like Snapseed or Photoshop). If you want a nice, fancy professional-esque black background pic of your lovely steed, you’ll want to try to use an actual camera and a free trial with Adobe Photoshop (if you don’t have the subscription) to really get the perfect frame-worthy shot. But if you don’t have those resources at your disposal, a phone and free app will work too. I can also edit your pic for you for $5 (I used to do it for free but people took advantage and never even said thank you so the freebie ship has sailed).
But anyway, no matter what camera or phone you use, the shot setup is exactly the same. It’s very easy to accomplish.
Step #1: Setting Up the Shot
The easiest way to achieve the black background shot is by taking your horse in the barn aisle way. Turn the lights off in the barn, and position your horse in the middle of the aisle inside the barn, maybe a little outside if it’s too dark. It depends on the lighting. For best results, take these shots when it’s an overcast day. If it’s too sunny, the contrast will be very sharp which means there will be more prominent shadows that look gross. And you have to take it at a particular time on a sunny day, when the sun is at the perfect angle otherwise it won’t work. A gloomier day is the best time to take it, and you can take it any time because the the sun is covered by overcast so it doesn’t affect the shadows as much.
Once you have your horse positioned in the aisle (see above), take a moment and ask yourself the following questions:
Is the entire background dark? If you see any bit of light coming in the background, it means more work for you. If you want this to be as easy and natural looking as possible, make sure the entire background is dark. It’s ok if there’s a light colored object back there, but if there’s a window, a door – anything bright letting in light that is directly behind the horse – re-position the horse or yourself to avoid it.
How are the shadows? If you took the photo on an overcast day, the shadows should be barely noticeable and they should blend into the background. For example, the ground in Eve’s shot above has a nice dark gradient blending into the back. That’s what you want. If you chose to take the photo on a sunny day even though I specifically told you not to, you’ll see a harsh line in shadows which sucks (but we’ll get through it). You also might see some harsh shadows on your horse. If that’s the case, just position your horse (or shoot at an angle) so that the shadows are behind. It won’t get rid of them entirely, but it will help.
Where is the lead rope? Unless your horse is really good and is standing there without a leadrope on, be mindful of where the leadrope is hanging. It can cover a hoof or part of the leg which will be really hard to reconstruct in Photoshop if you’re not familiar with doing it. It can also cause a gross shadow on your horse which is just an additional touch-up you’ll have to complete. If you don’t want/know how to get rid of the lead rope, you can just take this photo in a run-in shed in the field instead of in the barn aisle. It won’t be as dark, but you will get near the same results (though they will look less fancy because the ground will be dirt/mud/grass instead of pavement). Getting rid of a lead rope in photoshop is not hard though, so long as it is positioned properly. If you do full body shots of black backgrounds, you’ll have to do more editing. If it’s just a head shot, it will be a lot less and take two seconds. I can also be of assistance if you really need help.
How is the ground? Just do a quick sweep before you take pics. If the ground is dirty or there’s a pile of horse crap, you might want to get rid of it before you take the pic so it looks like your horse is staying at a fancy barn you see in the magazines and not at the petting zoo down the street.
Step #2 Taking the Shot
If you are taking this photo with your phone, just point and shoot – bam done.
If you are taking this photo with your DSLR camera on a gloomy day like you’re supposed to, have your aperture set between f 5-6 and your shutter speed around 1/1000. I make the iso auto, but you can play around with that if you’d like. Take some practice shots to see how it looks. If your horse is blown the F out, then up your aperture to 7 or 8. It’s ok if it’s darker. Darker is actually better anyway. If your photos still aren’t turning out, put that bitch in sports mode and roll with it.
If you’re taking this photo with your DSLR on a sunny day, I literally told you not to. But since you’re already there assuming you didn’t have any other choice, start your aperture at 8 and go from there. It’s going to be bright af. If it’s too bright and your horse looks like a ghost, move him further back into the barn away from the sun which should help.
No matter what you’re using be it DSLR or your phone, take many photos from all angles. Head shots, body shots, close ups. Stand to the left, stand to the right, stand directly in front. Just take pics from as many different places as possible. You won’t realize what you screwed up until you go sit at your computer and go through your pics. And by then, you’ll have to start all over. So look at the pics you’re taking frequently and see how they’re turning out. Even if you think they look fine, switch it up and try different angles – just in case.
Keep in mind that taking full body shots require the most editing because you have to clean up the ground in addition to removing the entire lead rope, painting the entire background black and making sure the ground has a natural gradient into the shadows. If you’re not super confident in yourself, stick to taking head shots and medium close-ups (above the legs) so that you don’t have to deal with that additional editing.
Step #3: Editing the Masterpiece
So you have your photos on your computer. Go through them and find the one you like the best. None of them will be pretty. They’ll all look like average photos of a horse just standing there. It’s the editing that makes the photo amazing. Pick a photo where the background is all dark and the horse is standing nicely, ears forward. Once you have your photo, get a free trial on Adobe Photoshop. You have like 3 days for the trial, so make it count! Go go goooo!
If you don’t want to learn Photoshop, send me your photo and I can edit it for you same day for $5.
Step 1: Filter > Camera Raw Filter
Go to the filter above and edit the photo accordingly. Bring the shadows down, the contrast up, the blacks down – for sure. Everything else is just to tweak the photo so that the subject looks fancy and the background stays dark. Here’s a before and after with the camera raw filter.
After editing this, you should see that the background is pretty much completely black. If your photo does not look like this, you done goofed. The editing it will take to make your photo black is way more exhausting than just retaking the photo, so I suggest reshooting in order to achieve the fancy natural look. Otherwise, your photo will look cheap and overprocessed – not a frame-worthy photo to show off during your dinner party.
If your photo has harsh shadows, try to lower the contrast and up the shadows on the horse. It will be more complicated to edit a photo like this because you want the shadows dark, but if you make the shadows in the background dark, you’re also making the shadows on the horse more pronounced which you don’t want. In this case, you’ll have to edit as best you can so that the background is darkish and the horse looks good as well. You’ll need to find a nice middle ground.
If your photo does look similar after the basic editing, congratulations!! Raise a glass and take a shot because we are ready to go to the next step towards completing our masterpiece.
Step 2: Create a new layer & mask
Now is where we get to paint in the rest black. This has a number of steps involved – they aren’t complicated, but it’s kind of tedious to keep posting screenshots of each step. So I created a short video here to show you how to make the rest of the background black. When doing this, make sure you’re in a dark room with the lights off so you can truly see if you’re making the entire background black. I’ve edited photos before where I thought they looked true black, and then I noticed later while lying in my bed looking at my phone that they were most definitely not. Don’t miss any spots, and make sure everything is black black, not just dark.
If after this step, your photo looks complete, then by god you have done it. Your masterpiece is complete to be mounted over your fireplace or posted on a billboard in the middle of Time Square. I’m so proud of you!!
And if you’re like dude what the hell my photo doesn’t look done – then please take a seat the class isn’t over yet.
Step 3: The Touch-Ups
If you’re complaining that your photo doesn’t look complete, I’m guessing there’s a lead rope still in your shot or some other unsightly object you’d like to get rid of. If that is the case, then you must remove the lead rope or object via the clone tool. Removing objects is very tedious and annoying, but if you watched where your lead rope was in your shot, then removing it should be a breeze.
Here’s a video showing how to remove lead ropes. All you do is select the clone tool (make sure it’s a soft brush). Use the tool by hovering over an area next to the lead rope that you want to use to cover it up. For example, if the lead rope is covering Eve’s fur, you want to hover over a section of Eve’s hair that can be used to “paint” over the lead rope. Once you’ve found that area, press and hold option (use alt if you’re using Windows) and then click the area. This will select that area. Now you can brush over the lead rope a little bit at a time to cover it up. You will need to hover and select multiple times otherwise the image will be repeated. Basically the clone tool is just that – cloning/copying part of the image and making it continue somewhere else. So if you hover over an area, select it and paint it somewhere else (and you keep painting using just that one area), you’ll see the entire image being replicated. The clone tool can also be rotated to fix any edges or if you need to reconstruct a hoof. It seems complicated, but it’s not. I’m just super bad with words and explaining.
It helps to create a copy of the layer with the lead rope, so you can see the before as you edit the lead rope out. If that makes sense. You don’t want a blurry line going down the horse from where the lead rope was edited out. So keep the layer there so you can keep going back and seeing if you can tell where the lead rope used to be or not. It helps a ton.
After the lead rope is out, you might want to remove some dust in the shot, maybe some dirt on the ground, some spots on the horse, flies. Do what you must to clean the shot up and make any final touches you want (like a black and white filter, vignette, sharpening/contrast adjustment, etc.)
Once your final touches are done, then you have finally done it. You have made your own fancy black background of your fancy af horse. Words cannot express how ecstatic I am that you have made it to this point. Drinks on me tonight. Go wild. I can’t wait to see your photo hanging on your wall at your next dinner party.
If your photo didn’t turn out as planned, no matter how hard you tried to edit it, don’t worry about it. Just figure out why it doesn’t look right and reshoot the photos. If you need help figuring out why it didn’t work, DM me on Instagram and I can help you.