So Don't be a Horse Show Photographer ...

June 29, 2017

Well now that I've got your attention.

It's always on my mind to do a blog post on how "I" feel about being a Horse Show Photographer. And I believe, while there's good reason to point out what's wrong with the profession, I'd like to shine a little light on what's right about the profession. So with that, I hope you'll stay and enjoy the read.

It seems every time I read a post about Horse Show Photography it's littered with complaints about Poachers (or perceived Poachers), poor income, how hard we work and I just go away from those articles feeling sad about the entire thing. But really, and I mean this, it's got to be good or those of us doing it wouldn't do it. Right?

I learned about horse photography and being a Horse Show Photographer back in 1993 from Don Trout. So while I shoot a variety of horse breeds and disciplines, my foundation is that of the Stock Horse world.

The Don Trout School of Horse Photography, Class of '93
(copied with permission)

Armed with my new found knowledge I returned home to photograph our little mare; photograph some other breeds and sports (because I wanted to be good at shooting horses and not just specific breeds or sports) and eventually I worked my share of horse shows. And, like a lot of people who want to do horse show photography but we can't figure out the big picture; I didn't have a clue about how to staff help so I worked way too hard and got fussy about the industry and left for magazine work.

Me shooting my set up at a Dressage Show.
I always had visitors.
And I still tilt my horizon.

And an overview of me,
that Mistry Pony,
and some of the terrific people
I have worked with and for at horse shows.

Digital photography came along and changed the world we knew forever in good and not so good ways. Magazine work was on the decline and horse shows were now swamped with everyone shooting. In some areas it hurt business and in others there was virtually no affect. Somewhere down the line I stated to shoot a little Western Trail for Don Trout Photography (where Deb had brought me on to help with sales) and that blossomed into full bore Horse Show Photography for the Trouts. And this is where I think a few things need to be said.

  1. Be or Don't Be a Horse Show Photographer.
  2. Be Happy with your Deal or Don't do it.
  3. Think of Us as a Group and not just as Individuals.
  4. Pick a Show that Supports You and if not, Move On.

There's something so wonderful about people who come to a horse show and literally set up a 'studio' (in some cases) to photograph these large animals and their people. I've always felt this was so amazing! Then there's props and signage; grooming supplies, computers, lights, office sales help, mirrors, candy, things that make noise and things that look pretty; and all of this creates the world of the Horse Show Photographer. It's the laughter over dinners, the moments when you realize your boss has slipped into the backdrop shot; the dogs and their antics; the kids and how they love their horses; the prizes, and time standing still for a few days so you can enjoy fine horses and the kindness of people who love animals surrounding you. It's so amazingly wonderful. And this is why I think so many of us are Horse Show Photographers. And why this keeps drawing me back.

The Studio set up for the Medford Oregon Summer Classic show.
Don and Deb have been the Horse Show Photographer there for 31 years!

The other thing to consider, and this is aimed at those of you who aspire to photograph horses, is that the Horse Show Photographer shows up with a trailer/car load of gear; insurance; staff, and not one thing to sell until they shoot. So when other people come to a show and shoot & share it does hurt the Horse Show Photographer. And I'm not saying don't shoot. I'm saying, pick a show that has no Show Photographer working it to shoot at. Or just shoot for your close friends and not the entire class. The flip side of this is that people who love photography and buy images will always buy good images. It's part of who they are and poachers won't change that. It's the people who don't spend money on photography who want free. These people are not your customers. 

And Pro Shooters, don't show up and say, 'oh it's my client and they asked me to come' and then shoot. Your client couldn't show up at a Professional Football game and ask another team to come and play. Let the client embrace the resources of the show that they are at and they will probably find out that it's fun to see how other photographers photograph them. And you can photograph them someplace that does't have a Horse Show Photographer working.

Let's work on being a group of people who try to make our world better. It's about 'us'. Those shows 'back in the day' that one person could work now have more classes; more rings; more coverage and now more technology is needed and we as working staff need to figure out how to do our job efficiently and still make a profit. Profit = Living and so this is where we need to change with the times.

And if you really want to be a Horse Show Photographer, then make connections with the shooters you admire and see if you can work for them. Hone your craft and then savor the moments in a world that only we can experience.

Deb Trout and I selfie'ing while we are taking down the backdrop area.
Like the song says, we're the first to arrive and the last to leave.

Thank you for taking time out to read this post. I tried to keep it short and to the point. I really love the horse world but I also know that it takes a Village. If you're in this alone, you're gonna get angry. You're not alone. We're all here for each other (or so I'd like to think).

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