Death of the Equine Photographer? Part II

Death of the Equine Photographer? Part II

Last week, I wrote about some of the struggles I faced when I shot horse shows professionally.  There was a lot of great discussion in the comments, some surprised and some understanding.  As with anything though, there are two sides to the story.  Today I hope to talk about the competitor’s needs and frustrations with equine photography as it stands today.

Believe it or not, just owning my fancy camera setup does not mean I get good quality photographs from horse shows.  Like many of you, I usually rely on the official photographer to get great shots of my horse.


Disclaimer:  This feedback is compiled from twelve years of horse showing across multiple states.  This is not to pick on any specific photographer!

As a competitor, I have a few over arching requests of the equine photographer.

Get shots of me and my horse.  Believe me, I understand from a photographer’s standpoint that shooting a multiple ring horse show is kind of a nightmare.  With costs as high as they are and profits as low as they can be, the idea of hiring a second shooter is frightening.  I understand that, but as a consumer?  If there is a photographer there, I expect them to take a picture of me.  I have been to multiple horse shows where I would have happily paid almost anything to have a picture of a special moment, only to find out that the photographer missed me entirely.  Can’t support my photographer if there are no pictures of me.


Get shots better than my friends or relatives could have taken.  This may sound snarky, and I apologize if it does.  It is pretty disappointing to see video of your horse jumping around really well and then all the photographs are just… off.

Make them available in a variety of formats for reasonable prices.  I understand “reasonable” is super subjective here.  I will gladly pay $15-$25 for a web only digital download picture, but Sally may think that’s crazy.  For me, this request is granted if the photographer has an arrangement of images and prices.  In this day and age I would hope every photographer would have a reasonable “web image” for sale since most people are happy sharing photos on facebook and blogs.  Bonus points for a “Buy the entire CD” package, but honestly a lot of old school photographers don’t like this business model and I understand why.  As a consumer, I’d love to pay a flat fee if all the photos were great but prefer individually if there is just one or two I like.


Reward me for being a loyal customer.  Maybe I’m being naive here, but in my opinion if I buy multiple photos from you from multiple horse shows… I’m a loyal customer.  Now I don’t expect a parade or anything like that, but maybe try to make sure you get some pictures of me riding?  Or take a few extra candids and throw them in my show album so I see them?  Better yet, perhaps an email coupon to a list of your customers.  Little touches like that go a long way for us riders feeling like we have a fair and happy business relationship with the equine photographer.


What are some of your frustrations or lack thereof with equine photography in your neck of the woods?  Do you have any requests like I have listed out here?

32 thoughts on “Death of the Equine Photographer? Part II

  1. One thing I would love is to be able to “sign up” for pictures at a flat rate. $75 or whatever ensures that the photographer takes pictures of ME at my ride times, and then I get up to 5 pictures (or all of them, whatever) included. That way the photographer is making $, I know I’ll have pictures of me, and it’s all good.

    I actually love printed photos, and I wouldn’t mind buying photos AT THE SHOW. Remember when that used to happen?

    1. That’s a great idea and similar to what I have done when I shoot at a horse show. It simplifies things and makes it more affordable.

    2. See, I have been burned twice by a photographer that did this. I got three shitty photos taken with horrible lighting for a $45 deposit. That deposit did go toward the purchase of a photo, but I was left with no choices. I will never do business with this business model again.

    3. This business model is what James L. Parker (The Book LLC) does, except his prices are much higher, but the concept is the same. I am not a client of his and never have been, but my understanding is that he charges a flat rate for the year and he and his photographers take pictures of you and your horse whenever you are at the show. These pictures include candids and action shots. The downside for the rest of us, is that those who cannot afford to purchase his flat rate, miss out on having this wonderful photographer take photographs of us. However, I certainly understand why this business model works for him. He takes beautiful photographs and I can understand why people would pay a flat rate.

    4. This is what photographers at my area’s local circuit do… and I don’t love it. Mainly because they ONLY take pictures of those signed up, and the one special night class. I don’t always want to invest $75 for photos, but I definitely might buy one or two if they turn out well.

    5. Ah, see, at the kentucky horse park, one of the photographers sort of does that- he emails out before hand and you can sign-up as “priority” for free, or pre-purchase the CD for a reduced price. There’s also a reduced price for at-show purchase (but not quite as inexpensive as pre-show) and then the price increases after the show. I think that’s a fair way to prioritize shooting individuals without ripping them off, and a way to induce increased CD sales.

  2. Here, at our bigger dressage shows, the photographer will sometimes require you to pay a $25 deposit to even take ANY pictures of you. Even though that money goes towards your prints what if you dont like any of the shots? Plus then they will charge you like $40-$50 for one single printed picture.

    1. Huh good point. You’d need to make sure you like their body of work beforehand, and have their pricing sheet already out, before deciding to do the deposit.

  3. Funny story that’s sort of related. My dad is a professional photographer, but definitely not a horse show photographer. So my BFF and I go to a night show (do they even still have those anywhere?). BFF is on my leopard Appaloosa and I’m on my big bay TB mare. Dad of course brings the camera and videocamera. The next day we’re looking at the video and my mom says WTF, all the pictures are of BFF. Why didn’t you film your own kid?!? Poor dad’s reply was that in the dark, he had no idea which rider I was – it was all kids in navy coats on bay horses. He could easily pick out BFF on the appy. So at least someone got good pics 🙂

  4. I think you made some great points!!! I was agreeing the whole time while reading lol

    I know it’s hard when there are lots of people showing but it is SO frustrating when you want some great shots and there are none 🙁 Especially when you are in a few jumping and under saddle classes.

    I’d add that it’s a pain when they take shots at a funky angle- they have pretty much the ability to stand almost anywhere and should know what angles to take shots at and when to take them ( OF make sure knees are up… ). An ammy I get is still learning but if you are charging for these pictures I expect more I guess.

    I’d almost rather pay an ammy who will take a plethora of pics of me and let me have them all then a pro who has maybe one or two good pictures of me. Is that bad?

    1. One other thing, wouldn’t selling a bunch of ” 12 prints on a cd for $75″ be better then 5 photos the whole day at $40 each?

      Maybe that is my none photographer but business degree talking?

      1. Selling high quality digital images for a flat rate is usually not lucrative, because the person can then just print out as many prints as they want. Whereas if you have a fee for digital/fb pics and a fee for prints, you are protecting the image from unlimited use.

        1. I think the point Karley was making is that, if no one wants to purchase the print outs, you sold 5 pictures and that’s it. But if you have more people buy cds, even if the price is cheaper, you still make more money.

          when prints are 40$ a piece, I almost always walk away unless it’s just the most amazing photo ever. when I get multiple pictures for 75-90, I almost always buy. so assuming enough people are like me (I know many that are), the second model is more lucrative in the end.

    2. I think the point Karley was making is that, if no one wants to purchase the print outs, you sold 5 pictures and that’s it. But if you have more people buy cds, even if the price of the CD is cheaper per picture, you still make more money.

      when prints are 40$ a piece, I almost always walk away unless it’s just the most amazing photo ever. when I get multiple pictures for 75-90, I almost always buy. so assuming enough people are like me (I know many that are), the second model is more lucrative in the end, is what I think she was saying!

    3. Oops that posted twice- I edited it and I think I accidentally hit post twice! Apologies! Karley I agree- if Lauren was close I’d pay her haha 😀

  5. Is everything cheaper in Georgia? At the last schooling show I went to, I paid $30 for five digital copies of my photos. We only had one photographer and two rings going. She strategically stood between the two rings and would turn 180º to photograph both people. I don’t think she was too, too overwhelmed, but I’m sure she still missed stuff.

    I remember way, way back when I was kid showing. The photographer would get the film developed almost immediately, while other classes were showing, and we’d pour over the prints, with a giant “PROOF” written over them in sharpie. Then you’d just buy whatever you liked and if she was nice, she’d still give the proof copy of the ones you didn’t like.

  6. I hate when the physical print and the digital image cost the same… that really irks me. Also yes on the quality can’t tell you how many times I have not bought photos because they were early or late.. or badly cropped. Yuck. If a photo is really good I will buy it.

  7. I was just at a horse show and there were TWO professional photographers at this medium sized A show and they BOTH did NOT get my division at all…I understand if they miss an individual for some reason but they didn’t even get my whole division that ran over 3 days…wish they would have! I always buy pictures as long as they look somewhat ok!

  8. I would love for the pro photographers to take more candids– not just the jumping over fences. Sometimes the candids are the most special moments with my horse, as well as some just cantering around the ring between fences, or smiling and petting the horse after a good round as you leave the ring. Those are priceless and capture more emotion and the bond with our horses. I also like the idea suggested above about a flat rate option for the show, as well as the ability to just buy a digital image. I too am bummed when I have that rare great round and the photographer didn’t get any pix of me.

  9. One of the photographers at shows around here lets you email him beforehand to specifically take pictures of you. He doesn’t charge you anything for it, and he usually gets some great candids as well as all three phases–whereas a lot of event photogs at one day shows only capture the cross country, or only certain levels of the dressage. He’s actually one of the few photographers I’ve bought pics from because, with him knowing I’m interested in having my picture taken, he takes the best. I’ll support that all day long.

  10. If the pictures are good, I’ll buy. Hands down. I too prefer prints to digital copies, but if I’m going for digital copies I would prefer a cd of several pics. I would gladly pay $75 for a CD, but not $25 for a single digital print. I haven’t had much luck with show photographers as of late though – all of the pics my friends took for me ended up being way better and they’re not even professionals!

  11. This probably fits somewhere under your second point, but please photographers, know what you’re taking pictures of. Different breeds and disciplines have different ideals. Whether it’s barrel racing, jumping, trail, saddleseat, whatever, we all have a different iconic shot. Don’t take a bunch of pictures at the Arabian show with the horses in Quarter Horse poses. Nobody is going to buy them. And similarly, don’t go out of your way to get a bad picture of me! I don’t know about the photographers at your shows, but when I look at the proofs from the hunter shows around here there are always ones of people coming off, horses rearing, refusals, etc. Nobody is going to buy those! Ugh!

    My sister always sorts carefully through the pictures she takes, only posting the best of them on the proof page. Nobody needs to feel embarrassed when they see themselves there.

    Last year at our show they had some group of “kids” doing the pictures. Obviously their first gig. And maybe their last. Not sure there was a single good picture of anyone, their website didn’t work (and is now gone thank goodness), and they succeeded in spooking several horses while trying to get “the perfect shot”. I’m thinking they weren’t horse people.

    I’ve seen good photographers capture nice moments in even the worst rides. These photographers are my heroes and I’ll buy from them every time!

    1. I know people who have bought refusals because they were particularly funny hah. It’s too difficult for the photographer to just sort it all out at shows, so usually it all goes up and people buy what they want. Does suck though if there are particularly unflattering pictures of your horse that don’t correlate with the horse’s actual talent 😛

  12. I haven’t shown in a while so I can’t add my 2 cents on how horse show photography is here in SoCal. However, I would like to proclaim my love for that gorgeous bay with the braided tail. I have never even met him/her and I am smitten. And beautiful job capturing the expression on the chestnut that is looking left. Very nice work, Lauren. 🙂

  13. Oh gosh where do I begin with all my gripes? First off average quality for high prices. $55 plus for photos here. Why can’t they pick the prettier jumps to photograph with nicer backgrounds? Not pick the plainest jump with an ugly backdrop, timing is off, no candids. I have gotten equal or better quality photos from friends’ photos.

    1. ^ Haha, my exact gripe. ALWAYS THE CRAP JUMP! Hello, I may get a refusal at the big jump, but if I make it, I want a picture of it dangit!

  14. Ha all of these are spot-on. I hate when there’s none of my horse, or worse when the pictures are all terrible and someone who randomly showed up with a half decent camera got better shots than the photographer- what!? Also when they are all crap except for one or two and the CD special is 100$ and individual downloads are 45$. WHAT. To get those two good ones I might as well pay 90$ but that seems kind of outrageous. (I mean, that 20 photos is 100$ and 2 is 90$). Usually that is a full-size download, so that makes sense, but when there is no option for the facebook sized image it’s just frustrating.

    Another pet peeve that happens in eventing is that in almost EVERY xc course, they will get the most boring small jumps. WHY? I will never understand this. OR, there will be multiple photographers, and they will all still get the same jumps. (And by multiple photographers I mean more thane one photographer for the same company or multiple companies- but either way it’s useless to have 15 images of the same boring jump). At one show, there was only one company but they had all 3 photographers at the water. WHAT!? So I had 20 (boring) images of me going through the water from different angles. I would’ve much preferred one angle with the other photographers located elsewhere on the course. Anyway, like I said, that’s an eventing frustration 🙂

    Oh- and taking forever to ship the CD. I bought a CD once and, first of all, about two weeks after the show and the order was still pending- then they ran the card and another two weeks later I still didn’t have my CD nor had it been shipped and it took repeated emails to get a response to check in on my order. That was just bad business. The guy wrote back that he and his wife had day time jobs etc., which I understand, but don’t run a charge until you’re ready to send- otherwise just looks like fraud!!

    that said, I have learned what photographers I generally really like and have good fair prices at events and tend to be repeat-customers of there’s- so good business really does generate more business 🙂

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