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Taking pictures and films in Mongolia

The following tips come from Sabine Grataloup's experience. She has been travelling for years on horseback all over the world with a mission to bring back pictures for use in brochures and websites for Randocheval, Absolu Voyages and Mongolia Travel and Tours.

This "quest for the cover photo" prompted her to find tips to capture the beauty of horses and riders moving in majestic sceneries.

Taking photos of Mongolian landscapes

Mongolia is a fascinating country, with breathtaking scenery you would like to photograph constantly...

And yet, back home, you will often find just a fade picture, a horizon line with grass below and the sky above, which does absolutely no justice to the immensity that you had before you!

To avoid this trap, here is some advice - quite conventional in in terms of framing - but indispensable in Mongolia, under penalty of being struck by the curse of the empty photo!

The rule of thirds

When you frame your picture, do not place the horizon in the middle of the frame, but stagger it:

  • at the lower third if you want to highlight the sky, ,
  • or the upper third if you want to highlight the landscape.

Find a foreground

Put something in the foreground: a tree branch, an animal, a rock or a flower just by standing at ground level. You will accentuate the perspective effect and avoid the "empty" picture.

Another pitfall of the photo in Mongolia is to have no reference to "disorientation". Some photos may have been taken 10 km away from your home!

To avoid this, try to find something "typically Mongolian". Just a detail to provide context: a piece of yurt in the corner of the photo, a yak, an ovoo all wrapped in blue cloth, the saddle of a horse...

Portraits in Mongolia

As always, ask the person if he/she agrees to be photographed. This will usually be the case, with a big smile to boot.

Avoid posed photos, choose the photos on the move, which will account for the everyday life of nomads, surrounded by their herds.

Do not always ask your subject to face the sun, on the pretext of avoiding the back light, because he/she will blink being dazzled, and facing sun erases the colors and contours.

To shoot someone on horseback if you are standing, try to put a knee on the ground, the angle will be better.

Taking picture from horseback

Avoid blurry photos

The major constraint when taking photos from horseback is the risk of blurring due to movement of the horse. To avoid this, place the wheel on your camera set to "Sport", or if you have a device that allows, select a very short exposure time.

This tip will save you lots of pictures, but this requires a very bright environment. On overcast days, the risk of blurring remains important.


How to frame other riders

Riders from behind

To photograph other riders, the first instinct is to photograph those ahead of you.

It's nice to give an impression "like if you were there" because you have the wide open perspective in front of the riders, but you end up with pictures of human and equine rumps a little boring...

A variant of this technique is to photograph your horse's head. In action, you will often accidentally frame the ears of your horse.

Reinforce this by framing voluntarily ears of your horse (close enough, you will have a funny effect like "The world between my horse's ears").

If you shift your camera at your hip, you should be able to have your horse's head with the landscape to which you are heading. Nice too, but double or even triple the picture because with movement and inability to frame fine, it's a bit random!


Riders facing you

If you turn around, it gets a little bit freestyle but you have riders and horses facing you, with a horizon not always "horizontal", precisely, but it can easily be corrected later with a photo editing software.

It's better, but these photos never give an impression of speed, because it is difficult to distinguish whether the horse walks or gallops on a front photo. You lose the concept of motion.

And if you are trotting or cantering, it also becomes very difficult to get a sharp picture under these conditions.


Side-view of riders

The best way to succeed your photos of riders is to shift your horse 5-6 meters on the side, so you can shoot other riders sie-view.

This way, the horse and the rider "fill" the picture, you have a beautiful sense of movement at a gallop, and you can interact with the rider being shot to make your pictures very much alive!

Furthermore, you are in a better position to hold your camera, and even at the gallop you get to take nice sharp pictures with a little practice.

Remember to shift to the left of the rider if you are right handed and right of the rider if you are left handed, so you do not have to cross the arm to take the picture.

Which camera?

SLR camera

If you have one, a SLR camera will of course be your best ally, whether for landscapes or portraits!

Lens side, you definitely need a wide angle for such landscapes.

But do not overlook a 200 or 300 mm lens, allowing you to photograph the Przewalski horses in the Hustai Park, a yurt rather distant, an architectural detail on a Buddhist temple ...

Compact camera

If you are on a horse riding trail, it will be hard to take your SLR camera with you.

OK, it makes great pictures, but it is heavy, it will hurt your back if you keep it accross the shoulder (I know what I mean, I do that, but it's my job...), you must hold it in your hand at the trot and canter, and the shocks will reduce its life expectancy...

The best solution is to take a compact camera (in addition to your SLR that you can keep for the visits and when you are not on horseback).

This compact camera will be kept at your belt, always ready to use!

Prefer a device that has a wide angle, high ISO sensitivity and a "sport" option.

Avoid cameras with external zoom, the dust can cause the system to bind and fully block the device.


Sport camera (Gopro ...)

These cameras are very useful on horseback. Some of them are even able to film and take pictures at the same time, but you will have hundreds of picture to checks after a 2 weeks trip, and you can't really frame your pictures.


Attention: extreme conditions!

Plan in all cases, whether you are a rider or not, strong equipment as it will be subject to shocks during 4x4 trips and dust.

Protect your equipment carefully, and be careful when you change the lens of your SLR.


We wish you good pictures, please send us your masterpieces!

Our office in Mongolia

Mongolia Travel & Tours
/ Randocheval Mongolie LLC

8 toot, 33 bair, Erkhuugiin gudamj
7r khoroo, Sukhbaatar duureg
Ulaanbaatar, MONGOLIA

Our office in France

Randocheval Mongolie
1645 route du Vernéa
38440 Moidieu Détourbe
+33 437 02 2000 (Monday to Friday)

IMPORTANT - Flights in Mongolia

Be aware that very few airlines go to Mongolia, flights are therefore quickly fully booked, especially between June and September. Book at least 6 months in advance to have the best air fares.
If your luggage has been delayed, the airlines do NOT deliver it in Mongolia, they keep it available in Ulan Bator. If your tour has already started, and you are already in the Orkhon Valley for example, it can be very expensive to deliver it.
We can do it for you at extra cost:
- 50 € for a delivery inside Ulan Bator
- 100 € for a delivery in Hustai
- 200 € for a delivery in Khogno Khan
- 300 € for a delivery in Karakorum, the Orkhon Valley or Arkhangai
- 400 € for a delivery at Lake Khövsgöl or in the Gobi Desert
This cost includes the driver & the vehicle for 1 or 2 days depending on the distance + fuel for the vehicule for the round trip + meals and accommodation for the driver if the roundtrip is more than 1 day.
If your flight is late, the same rates apply if you need a private transfer.