I don’t think I’m alone here when I say that I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram.
Mainly, it’s a relationship borne out of envy. It seems like every rider I know is taking elegant, professional-quality photos on horseback and around the barn. Even worse, the captions always seem to indicate that they just rode up like this.
“Just hangin’ at my happy place,” reads one photo, the rider bedecked in white polo, breeches, and perfectly winged eyeliner.
“Got a quick ride in!” shares another, as horse and rider soar over a three-foot jump bareback.
Meanwhile, I’m lucky if I manage to take a selfie with my horse where everyone’s eyes are open and ears are forward. (I do own a mare, after all).
Most adult amateurs, I’ll hazard, just don’t have the time, money, or energy for a professional camera crew and team of stylists. But never fear! After some hard-hitting Internet research and deep soul searching, I’ve come up with five surefire ways to take awesome amateur photos.
Will they be a hit on the ‘Gram? Yes. Will they be entirely honest? Absolutely not.
1. Fake it ’til you make it
My number one problem with barn photos is that when I’m around horses, I often look like some sort of crazed wood troll that has emerged from my den solely to feed peppermints to ponies and steal poop from errant wheelbarrows. I’m talking ratty sweatpants, mud on my face, and an oversized jacket that has SEEN things. Sometimes I even have hay in my hair before I get to the barn, which I still don’t understand how that happens. But I digress.
Maybe we’ve been going about this all wrong, friends. Perhaps the best way to get a great barn photo is just to #OWNIT—with a misleading hashtag and nonchalant caption that suggests this is all on purpose.
Grocery shopping in your breeches? Tell Instagram you’re “Hitting the shops! #BarnCouture”
Are your new boots a 4-H tack sale steal or are they #Parlanti? Name drop an equestrian high fashion brand name and the world will never know.
2. Find your line
One wonderful thing about the art of photography is that you can manipulate lighting, backgrounds, and angles to show you and your horse in the most flattering way. Use that to your advantage! If you can’t see the ground, who’s to say whether your jump is two feet and not four? Having trouble getting your leg into position? Take photos from the thigh up! It’s hard to pick apart someone’s hand position when the picture is taken at an angle directly behind the horse.
If all else fails, I suggest a late-night ride. Nothing says beautiful, timeless photo like riding in a dim corner of the arena, partially lit by that one weird blinky stadium light.
3. Pick your audience wisely
Sometimes, your photos simply aren’t going to be great. Maybe that extended trot didn’t look as impressive in stills as it felt, maybe you have a ginormous winter booger. Who knows? While I can’t help with that second one, I can provide a recommendation for the first: your photo is only as impressive as your audience thinks it is.
So if you want to have a big impact, limit your audience to people don’t know anything about horses. Your granny? Yes. Your non-horsey work friends? Sure! Your riding instructor from four years ago? NO. The last thing you need is to spoil the magic with a comment about how you’re never going to learn to keep your shoulders back over a crossrail…
4. Choose the subjects carefully
Now, normally I love taking photos with my barn friends. Those barn nights where everyone is just having fun being together? Those are the best. But if you truly want a great, internet-worthy photo, you’re going to have to go in a different direction.
The best way to look really, really ridiculously good riding in your next Instagram post is to ride with people who make you look that way. Perhaps you could find a children’s leadline group to ride in. Or maybe put out a Craigslist ad for a tipsy horse-riding monkey. Hasn’t your coworker’s cousin’s best friend been bothering you to “let her daughter come ride your pony!”? Well, cowboy up, sister, because tonight is the night. When she’s careening wildly around the arena on the barn’s resident pony grump, elbows flapping around her ears, your own riding will look masterful in comparison.
5. Filters are your friend
Instagram made filters for a reason. They’re great at hiding all the little things that might make your photo not so great. And what better time to use them then when you’re trying to capture a moment between you and your mount?
So I say, filter away my friend! Filter your face. Filter your friend’s face. Filter your horse’s face. Filter the barn cat’s face. If everyone is wearing those weird animal ears and has big ol’ freaky sparkly eyes, no one is going to notice that you lost one stirrup and your hands are up so high it looks like you’re cursing the heavens.
And so I send you all off to take your very best amateur photos yet. I’m feeling pretty good about my own pics lately. All I need now is a filter to fix my jumping face, which someone once kindly referred to as “looking like you’re terrified about being constipated.” Thanks, former barn friend. Remind me to crop you out of my social feed.