Carina Maiwald’s first job was working as a graphic designer for a newspaper in her native Germany. But it didn’t take long for her to realize that she was too young to stay trapped in a career she didn’t like forever. So she decided to strike out on her own as an equine photographer.
Maiwald admits her first images, taken of her own horse, weren’t very good. But there was something about them that was: she saw the character of her horse in the photos. Three years later, the 24-year-old won a 2015 International Photography Award (“Honorable Mention Pro”) for her series, “Heart of the Racehorse,” and she hasn’t looked back since.
“I believe that horses —just like us humans—have [good] sides and individual photogenic elements. For some, it’s an impressive mane, while others have the most beautiful eyes, with a precious sparkle in them. It’s up to us photographers to seek these special traits for a great photo,” says Maiwald.
To do so, the photographer often spends up to two hours getting to know and photograph a client’s horse. How long it takes to get that perfect shot, she explains, depends on each particular horse. “Some are absolute posers and want to impress me right from the beginning. Others are more withdrawn, and it takes a while for me to figure out what kind of horse I have in front of my lens. It’s breathtaking what you can learn about a character when you just watch them quietly,” she says. “Somehow horses seem to sense that my intention is not to harm them. I’m just waiting for them to express themselves.”
Using only the natural or artificial light available and no flash, Maiwald’s images are at once life-like and slightly ethereal. “I love showing equines in their natural environment. Horses and nature both seem like art to me, and I try to combine it in my photos,” she says, adding that her favorite time to shoot is in the morning, shortly before or after sunrise. “There’s nothing more beautiful than a horse feeling free and lighthearted during the first rays of sunlight. Your whole heart is overwhelmed with peace and absolute joy; it’s an experience everybody who owns a horse should try one day.”
For owners looking to capture meaningful photos of their own horses, Maiwald recommends using what you know about your horse to your advantage. For example, many horses are most agile and active early in the day, so if you’re interested in capturing an action shot of your horse running, ask your barn manager if you can join him or her in the morning when he puts horses out. “Most horses celebrate getting onto the meadow with kicking and having fun with their friends. Using a zoom lens, you won’t interrupt them and you can watch the horses play. Don’t try to force your horse into a situation,” Maiwald cautions. And of course, the photographer suggests bringing along a pocketful of your horse’s favorite treat—preferably those with a crinkly wrapper—in case you need to get his attention for a shot.
It’s the kind of detail only a lifelong, self-described horse girl like Maiwald would know. Though the photographer, who resides in a small town in North Rhine-Westphalia (about one hour from Cologne, Germany) says she currently spends too much time on the road working her dream job to own a horse of her own right now.
“Horses need balance and regularity, which at the moment, I’m not able to give them,” Maiwald says. “But you know what they say: Once a horse girl, always a horse girl. Two years ago, I met a wonderful Norwegian horse during a client session on my birthday. I fell head over heels in love. The owner gave me the chance to ride him whenever I can spare some time. I feel very blessed to have him in my life, it’s like a [pressure release] after stressful work days.”