How to Use Professional Horse Show Proofs on Social Media

How to Use Professional Horse Show Proofs on Social Media

Rant alert – one of my biggest pet peeves is to see people willy nilly posting professional show proofs on Instagram.  Yes, they’re of your horse who’s adorable and amazing.  Yes, there is almost always a way to save the picture from the photographer’s website.  No, that doesn’t make it okay to use.

I realized a while ago, that many people just don’t know that this isn’t okay.  While the world of photography and social media has a lot of blurred lines (cue Robin Thicke), there are some fool proof ways you can navigate safely.


Before I get into how I (former horse show photog) think you should use proofs online, let me say why I think this is important.  Horse show photographers are dropping like flies.  Many don’t shoot shows anymore, and those that do often don’t even put proofs online.  If they catch someone snagging their work for free, it’s a good way to stop getting pictures taken of your horse by professionals.

So if you like having horse show photographers, keep these guidelines in mind.  If not, well… thanks for ruining it for the rest of us.  Sorry, not sorry.

Photo (c) Heather N. Photography
Photo (c) Heather N. Photography

If a proof says “Stolen from ‘X'” – you can’t use it.  Ever.

While many show proofs just say ‘Copyright’ or ‘Proof’, some photographers have gotten quite explicit with their messaging, and rightfully so.  While good show photography can be expensive, and it’s tempting to save the proofs to share with your friends on Facebook and Instagram – let’s take a second to look at the world steal.

take (another person’s property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.

You know what is also expensive (like show proofs)?  Designer purses.  You know what I don’t do, grab one off the shelf to show my friends at work the next day.  Don’t do the same thing with show proofs.

E1316RC2-Rio Vista Centex II

But what if it doesn’t say ‘steal’? 

Even if the message is less direct, it’s still not okay to save proofs off a pro photographer’s site and share on social media.  Even though the photo is of you, the artistic work is copyright of the artist… in this case, the photographer.  Redistributing it breaks their copyright of the image, and you could face legal action.  Best case scenario, you’ll piss off the photographer.  Worst case scenario, you’ll get a bill in the mail asking for payment for the image or a pending law suit.  You may think I’m joking, but pro photographers in the Equine Photographers Network would often post on the forums about sending people with stolen photos  a large bill.

So how do I show my blog readers and Facebook friends the really cute pictures of ponykins?  How do I get help from friends figuring out which one to buy?

You know what photographers love?  Free publicity.  A great way to share photos on social media is linking directly to the photographer’s site.  Here’s an example of how I would do it.

The pictures that Awesome Photography Company took of Simon at the show are so great… I can’t choose which one I want!  Click here (link) to see them and help me pick your favorite!

You’re still sharing the photos, and you’re sharing them for free.  In this example, the photographer gets 100% credit and the photos are available for purchase right in front of the viewers.  Who knows, maybe your grandma will buy some proofs of precious ponykins for you since you put them right in front of her face.

E1319CF-Centex Final Show


Tough nuggets.  Isn’t it better to take the higher road?

What about really old proofs that aren’t available for purchase anymore, and don’t say “stolen”?

This is a gray area that I myself admit I have posted photos in this category on this very blog from time to time.  100% safe?  Don’t do it… but since I’ve literally done this, I asked a pro photographer friend what she thought.

Not okay - I should not post in the future
Not okay – I should not post in the future

Her advice?  Try to remember who took the photo and link them with the proof.  Something like “This is an old show proof from Awesome Photographer (link) that I found!” as a caption for the image.  If you don’t know who took the photo, it’s hard to say.  You’re still breaking a copyright law (in this case, me) by posting that really old photo.

Not okay - I should not post in the future
Not okay – I should not post in the future

What’s the solution?

At the end of the day, professional photos are a luxury – not a right.  Most photographers these days have reasonably priced web or Facebook sized images for digital download.  Don’t confuse a web image with a purely digital file though!  Sometimes the digital files are for high resolution prints, and that can get very expensive.

If your local show photographer doesn’t offer this, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. I’d venture that any photographer would rather have a polite email from a potential client wanting to pay them for their work than having same person just take their work for free.

Photography is a changing art form in this digital age of social media, but the responsibility isn’t 100% on the photographer.  As consumers, we need to be law abiding, polite and clear in what we want from professionals moving forward.


What are your thoughts on this issue?


51 thoughts on “How to Use Professional Horse Show Proofs on Social Media

  1. I am very much right there with you. What I hate more than Instagramming stolen photos though are people trying to sell their horse using stolen photos. Trying to make a buck while ripping off the photographer who made the image you’re using for marketing- NOT okay!!

  2. My thing is – I wish our local photographers made it EASIER to buy from them! I don’t want to have to log in, answer a secret question, solve arithmetic and do a handstand in order to give you money!

    …But I understand it’s all needed in order to protect photos and proofs :/

    1. True! A well made shopping cart is a great thing. A local friend sent me a link of some great photos the other day that she wanted to buy, and there was truly no ‘add to cart’ or ‘buy’ button ANYWHERE. That’s frustrating as a customer!

  3. YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES. People just don’t get that using professional photos without buying them is stealing. A girl I know also once asked on FB HOW TO REMOVE A WATERMARK FROM A PROOF because she didn’t want to buy it. I flipped out.

  4. Agreed on all fronts. I used to photograph at shows (but have never claimed to be professional) and people would hijack pictures off of my facebook page or tag their friends that we at the show, who would subsequently hijack the photo. While I wasn’t making money on ANY of it, it was still offensive to not even get the credit for the origination of the image. I can hardly imagine the grief if causes someone who takes these shots for their sole income.

    1. This happens to me now a lot. I take photos of friends at shows, but not everyone. Still, some of my photos showed up in a sales ad recently with no credit or thank you or acknowledgement anywhere. You can guess who won’t be getting any more taken by me 🙂

  5. As another former horse show photog, this is such a frustrating issue. Seeing screenshots of my images shared, often with no credit, was so infuriating when I was facing the realization that I couldn’t make enough money shooting horse shows to continue doing it. Often, by the same people who had bought one or two images then stolen the rest.

    I am one of those that has sent people a bill. In 3 cases, I filed in civil court to collect from repeat offenders and I was awarded payment in all 3 cases.

  6. Stolen pro photos really irk me. I’m not a pro and obviously don’t have the equipment or skillset, but nothing says “classless ho” quite like instagramming/facebooking/blogging obviously stolen photos. I will disrespect you for that.

  7. I have made this mistake and luckily you and a few other people politely pointed this out to me! I will never do that again and now I try to purchase the photos I love not only to share via SM, but to support the show photographers. Their job isn’t easy and I understand a lot of time, effort, and talent goes into what they do. I think a lot of the time, people (like myself) just don’t realize and take the photographers for granted. Never again!

  8. i completely agree with you! I even reached out to an Austin area trainer who had a stolen proof on her website! People also don’t realize that it’s not just standing out there snapping pictures…out of hundreds, you trash the ones that didn’t come out, spend hours editing etc, etc. It’s a lot of time and we do it because we love horses and we love photography….

  9. Okay, so I totally get the not taking from a photographer’s website. What about if I find a photo online that has no watermarks or anything on it? What are the “unspoken” rules on that? 🙂

    1. I rarely do this, but it’s become the norm. Really it’s safest to run under the assumption that every photo is copyrighted and nothing is available free for use with a few exceptions:

      a) Photos in a Creative Commons directory which have different rights associated with them and often a request to be credited
      b) Photos you take
      c) Photos you have bought the rights for

  10. Totally agree with everything you said. I asked my wedding photographer all kinds of questions regarding sharing her work as well, as she doesn’t put anything on her photos to make her recognized as the photographer. It is as simple as just asking a few questions and respecting ANYONE’S work.

  11. Yes! Thank you. I’m as far from a pro as someone can get, but my biggest pet peeve is when I’m asked to attend small rodeos/shows (which has happened, I’m very excited about this lol.) to take photos, and I post them with watermarks, etc, and they post them and remove watermarks etc. I literally post with all of my photos that they are free to repost, but must keep the watermark on the photo and give credit. My photos aren’t professional so I’m extremely laidback, but hey, it’s annoying. You like the photo? awesome! But don’t forget the photographer.

  12. Some of the local photogs have gotten pretty clever and will sell photos on the cheap for uses on social media/phones. It’s really only a texted photo, but it does seem to help them avoid getting people stealing them online to post on instagram or something.

  13. Designer here. I occasionally use Creative Commons work in my things, always with a link or a watermark to credit the photographer. It’s courtesy, and respect. It also makes me feel like I’m developing good karma towards my own work not getting stolen.

    It more than bothers me to see someone steal someone’s work. Or use an image they haven’t paid for. Part of it’s selfish. Do you know how much easier my job would be if I could just use photos all willy nilly? Omg. So much simpler. I wouldn’t spend so much time setting up my own damn photoshoots!! Stop being stupid cheaters, people!

    On the consumer side, I wish horse show photographers made it easier to see the photos they take. Ones in my area lose my business because they hide their proofs behind a wall and make me pay a fee to even BROWSE the photos they take. Or they charge me a fee ($25? Omg no.) just to take photos of me in the first place. What is this nonsense? I understand they have to make a buck, but I don’t even know if they’re capable of taking a decent shot of my horse and I and I’m not a gambling person!!

  14. i think most people are ignorant of the rules and rights of a photographer. that said, it is not by any means an excuse to steal artistic property. i think your proposed solution above where providing a citation of the owner/photographer and how to get in contact with them would be fair. but most certainly not a cut and dry way of going about things in all circumstances.

  15. I will add to the mix that there is a grey area for some who allow watermarked photos. I have tons of photos from my pageant events, as the photographer said prior to shooting we can post them to Facebook and the like, as he doesn’t social media often we become his PR. But this is think feels like a more rodeo specific trend.

  16. I get tagged in pictures on the photographer’s Facebook sights and leave it at that and I always try to link it back. I even ask Kate permission to use pictures of me that she’s taken, to the point that she’s said, “DON’T ASK!” But I still always tag her or mention her and give her credit. It’s the right thing to do!

  17. thanks for writing this! it’s been ages since i’ve been in a situation where there were even pro photos to be had (and you better believe i bought a bunch!)… so my knowledge is pretty limited

  18. Last year I attended one of the WordPress boot camps and they had an attorney give a presentation about copyright and using pictures, names, even referencing people correctly (as in “be careful for how you refer to people lest you be slapped with a libel lawsuit). She cited specific lawsuits and I have to say that is why my blog has mostly pretty amateur cell phone pics on it because I was horrified thinking I would mess up and be in legal hot water.

    This is a very useful post. Well said.

  19. Nothing drives me crazier than seeing people with their profile pictures of FB or whatever with a show picture that says PROOF right across it in big ole letters. How much more blatantly obvious can you be about stealing?!

  20. The internet and smartphones definitely leave a lot of grey area! I always buy several photos from our ride photographer. When she had a chance to go to the WEG as their photographer this year, I even mailed her a donation to help with travel to make her dream come true. But I do tend to always take a picture of the picture I bought and post to Facebook to share with friends. Is that no bueno? I don’t know that she offers anything other than the hi-res digital and I just don’t need $30+ worth of one photo when I could have the 4×6!

  21. There a local kid who attends my shows and always posts stolen photos fromy show in Instagram. I’m always commenting that she should purchase the rights since she is stealing. I hope it’s becoming more common knowledge.

  22. You have reinvigorated me! I am going to make sure I don’t let people posting proofs slide through and will try to politely comment whenever I see them. But I’m not so polite…. so if you wanted to give an example of a polite comment I could make, that would be wonderful!

  23. I think that this is a great article.

    I am currently in University studying Commercial Photography with the intention of photographing horse shows on the weekend and getting an advertising job for horses working with a catalogue of some form. This is something i’d been wondering how I’d deal with as a photographer and found this really interesting.

  24. I’ll admit to posting proofs of win pictures from the track (obviously). I and the owners also usually buy anywhere from three to eight of the printed vetsion and they didn’t offer a digital version until very recently. I know, still not okay. I should have contacted them. I’ve never done that with a horse show picture and never would.

  25. This is why I don’t try to do photography professionally, because I just don’t want to deal with the headache of it. People stealing photos really makes me angry. It’s so wrong and most people who do it even know what they are doing is wrong, but they don’t care! I’ve done a bit of photography for friends, who have never paid me and one of the things I never knew for sure… do I put my copyright on them even though I’m “giving” them to them? How else do you advertise since nobody gives credit? I’ve gotten to where now I don’t even take photos for anyone because they never give me any credit at all even when I do it for free for them!

  26. Agreed!
    Another thought- some photographers put their proofs up on FB and are quite happy for you to share their album. All your friends can ooo and aaaah over your pony, and the photographer gets free publicity.

  27. I get a lot of photos of my pony and I in the ring from our driving club president. He takes the photos when he can, between announcing and the multitude of other things going on. I ALWAYS appreciate it, thank him profusely for doing it, sending them in email and when posting them on my blog, Give him credit. It’s the least I can do. Otherwise, I post a link to the photographers website and where to find the pictures of us. Many times they have pictures from other events that are worth looking at too.

  28. Great post/topic!!

    Though i do wish that photographers around here made it more affordable to purchase the pictures. I typically just go without because of the cost.

    Thankfully I have a barn friend whos hubby take some pics of us when he can 🙂

  29. Great stuff! Of course I’m with you and it’s a terrible cycle that if photos keep getting stolen photographers have to keep up charging to stay in business! I used to volunteer for Heaven’s Horse Photography and know how much it hits pros like her. Even I (who takes her own photos with a very nice camera and have a photographer father) purchase photos when I like them. I am also from an age were I enjoy holding photos.

  30. Just found this by chance on Google and I have to say that I agree 100% with what you say here. The photography company I work for have very very low tolerance of this and it’s very understandable; reposting watermarked images puts photography companies out of business.

    I was just talking to someone on instagram who claimed that re-posting images from shows with watermarks is a form of ‘ free promotion’ and that the companies ‘do not care’. To be perfectly honest I was shocked that people think that and think it’s okay to steal images and then call it free promotion. If nothing else this kind of outlook is sad and it’s such a shame that people do not have the common courtesy to respect the work of photographers at an event.

    I just really hope that some people start to realise and respect these things. It would be such a shame all round if horse event photographers were shoved out of business because of things like this.

  31. The best part about it is when people post that they’ve bought it, after the fact… Well then post the picture you have the rights to, not the stolen proof.

  32. I am so happy I have stumbled across your blog. You are the cutest!!
    I am new to the equine and blogging world. I am also new to photography and I’m currently creating a portfolio to start my business.
    Now I have a question.. Lets say I love one of your articles, quotes, paragraph, etc. & I post on my blog the text and link your blog/website stating where I got it from.. Is that frowned upon??

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