Show jumping is the classic photo opportunity. A photo of a horse in mid jump headed directly towards the camera is one of the classic equestrian images and is easier to get than you might think. One of the first things you should do is scout out the course as early as possible and find out what route the animals will be traveling. Often it's possible to find a shooting location where you can capture two, or even three, jumps depending on the range of your lens.
If your camera/lens combination is capable of fast continuous auto focus, then you can plan on following a horse though each jump and grabbing shots through one. If your camera doesn't auto focus particularly quickly, then pick the closest jump to your position and use one of the following techniques.
- Pre-focus (auto focus on): focus the lens on the end of the jump obstacle and wait until the horse begins its leap and then trip the shutter.
- Pre-focus (auto focus off): turn off the camera' s auto focus and manually focus on the obstacle. By turning off the auto focus you'll reduce the shutter lag, the delay between pushing the shutter button and the camera firing, that's often a problem when shooting action.
To learn more about pre-focusing, read Pre-Focusing: A Pro Tip for Better Action Photos.
Make sure you know what you want in focus: the horse or the rider. There will be enough distance between the horse's head and the rider's that you probably won't have enough depth of field to get both in focus. Base your pre-focus point on where you think your target will be when you trip the shutter. If you're shooting at a competition you can probably get enough practice to get the hang of it fairly quickly.
Plan on a shutter speed of about 1/500th and take advantage of whatever depth of field you can get. Work on your timing so you can catch the horse as it's rising up through the jump. You're better off with an image of the horse rising or level going over the obstacle. Shots that depict the horse descending generally aren't as popular.
While head on shots create the most impressive images, you can plan on getting some shots showing the horse and rider from the side too. It's best though if you can catch the rider looking towards the camera at the time.