How not to be a good horse show photographer

We’ve all seen a lot lately about the demise of the horse show photographer. I understand their plight and I sympathize… I really do. Even in the days where everyone has a friend with a nice camera, there’s nothing quite like a really nice, gorgeous professional photo. I have lots of them floating around, two of which are in my office at work

Another of which hangs in the hallway in my house

one of which would hang somewhere if I would ever frame it

and a bunch more scattered around random places, plus obviously all over my facebook. Mostly I buy digital images for social media use, but occasionally I’ll get a print. I’ve had a lot of pro photographer interactions by now.

However, a recent one with a shall-remain-nameless photographer really left me a little dumbstruck.

First, a week or so before the event an email was sent out letting us know that this certain photographer would be there and provided a link to their website. The site was very hard to read – gray background with white font, obviously homemade from a very rudimentary template, difficult to navigate, etc. However, I can live with that part. What really struck me was this paragraph:

For now, we shall not be charging for proofs from the other Horse Trials we photograph.  But shall take that step if sales drop.  The all images package sales for those shows still cover our expenses – but not by much.

Our early bird and on-site all images packages are less than the $155 charged by another Area V photographer and our non-discounted full price is far less than the Premium Package ($325 or onsite price of $275) of yet another eventing photographer.  Consider yourselves lucky you do not compete at quarterhorse shows.  At a recent one in Waco, the show photographer was charging $179 for ONE IMAGE with a commercial release.  And people were buying!”

Uhhh. Wha? Consider myself lucky??? I’ve never seen any professional website that so willingly tossed out the prices of competitors (especially in a not-directly-comparable circumstance) or essentially threatened to charge for proofs if sales dropped. This is why I did not opt for the early bird package. The lack of professionalism displayed there was a real turn-off for me. That and I couldn’t find enough pictures to tell how good their work actually was anyway.

I miss the Shawn McMillen days

Fast forward to after the event, and they post that proofs are available on a first come first serve basis if you email them. Well that’s kinda weird, but ok, curiousity killed the cat. I had to see what they got. A few days later I got an email back that was just a zip file attachment. The only text was “please open the attached zip folder”. No information on ordering, no hello, no nothing. Okie dokie then, no time wasted on pleasantries…

So I open the zip file to find lots of proofs. Yay, right? Wrong. They are all thumbnail size with the word PROOF written across them in bright opaque yellow. In most of the pictures I can’t really even tell if it’s me and my horse, much less if I want to actually buy the picture. I can’t see his face, I can’t see my face, I can’t see my position, I can’t see how his legs/body look. That’s frustrating, and kind of a waste of time for everyone involved, especially the person who put together all those proofs. How am I supposed to buy a picture when I can’t actually see it? I understand the need to prevent people from stealing proofs, but there are ways to do that while still allowing people to see the actual picture underneath.

Terri Cage – also lovely and super easy to work with

I could see enough of one picture to think I wanted it, so I emailed back asking how to order, since remember there was no information sent with the pictures nor was their any information on the website. I was told I’d get an email invoice the next morning. Two days pass and nada, then I get an email asking if I’d gotten the Paypal notice. I said no, and that if it’s going to be via Paypal it needed to go to X address. Later that day I got an invoice, I paid it, and the next day I had the picture in my inbox. That part went fairly smoothly. Ready to be puzzled?

After all of that… all the effort going into protecting their images and making the proofs impossible to steal (or even view), the photo didn’t even have a mark on it. No signature, no watermark, nothing. There’s no way for anyone looking at it to know whose work that is. Social media is free advertising, people! When you go to such great lengths to complain about the industry in general on your website and prevent image stealing, then not even mark your work… it’s baffling.

1stshowpro2
more pretty Monica Adams

Here’s the deal, photographers: I am more than willing to buy your work, and pay you fairly for it. But a) it has to be good b) make it easy for me to view the proofs c) make it easy for me to pay you d) try to be at least somewhat professional and not make yourself sound borderline crazy. By helping me, you help yourself. I would have probably bought 4 or 5 more pictures if it hadn’t been so difficult and the proofs had been reasonably viewable.

I’d like to say this was the first negative photographer experience I’ve had but it’s definitely not. Between badly timed/poorly exposed pictures, or pictures that took SIX MONTHS to show up after payment, I can understand why this business can be so tough for some people. All the talent in the world does not help you if you’re a poor businessman, and conversely being a good businessman does not help you if you lack talent. To the ones who do it well: thank you! Please come to my events and take my money.

32 thoughts on “How not to be a good horse show photographer

  1. Yeah….just the onset of that, the threat if sales drop…very alienating. And unprofessional and tacky to bring another photog in to it…

    When I showed a lot, the photogs were still using film (I’m going to assume) and the lighting is so bad in the proofs I never really bought any. I have a few from when I lived on the East Coast and could get better work, but I do miss that the show photog is going away.

    Great photos btw!

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  2. There’s a big time Area II photographer that now charges $20 just to look at your proofs. I’d bought prints off of her before, but there’s no way I’m willing to shell out $20 when there might not even be a picture in there I’m willing to buy.

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    1. I miiiight be willing to pay for proofs, if I knew how many there were and if I had an idea of what kind of quality to expect. I’d grumble about it, but for a few good pictures I’d probably do it. I totally get that the photographers are kind of stuck, between all the people out there now that just have friends take pics, and people stealing proofs, and all that. But I don’t know what the real solution is.

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      1. Paying for proofs isn’t a bad idea if that fee is later discounted from any purchase made…or rather that is prob the only way they are getting my money.
        That way you look at the proofs but don’t buy anything photog still gets something. If you look at the proofs and do buy something, photog gets more moolah for a sale & both parties leave happy as purchaser feels like they got a discount.
        Perhaps I am showing how twisted my mind is lol as either way I’d be spending the money ☺

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  3. I share a lot of your feelings with the photography situation around here. Unfortunately, it seems that only the rated shows get the Terri Cages and Shawn McMillens which is frustrating as a consumer to be left with ‘person who is half hobbyist half pro with no business skills’ (Sometimes! Sometimes local photogs are great, but there is certainly a range).

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    1. Mine was a recognized event, which is equivalent to h/j’s rated shows, sooo I guess I had higher expectations for professionalism. The picture that I got is nice so the quality seems to be there, just everything else was so awful it was kinda pointless! That makes me really glad I DID have a friend there taking pictures, and makes me a lot more likely to arrange that again versus buying an early bird photo package from a pro. So essentially, he lost a potential client.

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  4. I love the lady who does our rated shows, she has a nice show setup and since most of my classes are in the A.M. by the afternoon I’m posted. I always leave a show with 1 picture ordered and get it acouple weeks later. She even sent me every proof of Carlos at his last show in April 2013 and I bought them all even though some weren’t that great, because come on Carlos.

    It’s sad that this is the way things have gone. But maybe it will weed out the mediocre peopl who charge too much and keep the really amazing people who are worth the price.

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  5. Yeeeep. Mainly I hate it when photographers are terrible. Please don’t try to get me to buy your photos when you’re only offering me photos of all the worst parts of my dressage ride. I don’t want to buy a photo of my horse above the bit, or pinning his ears, or that sloppy ass simple change we did. I already know what was terrible, and I don’t want to pay to be reminded of it. Where are the photos of the gorgeous medium canter? Or the square halt? Or the balanced shoulder in? I’m not a pro, and I can often capture a better moment with my cell phone. The quality isn’t as good, but the moment is better. Learn to shoot moments, or don’t call yourself a horse photographer. Capturing the right moment is the whole point.

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      1. I’d rather no pictures than bad ones as at least that way the disappointment is upfront and we can deal with it straight away.
        Of we know there is a photog & are looking forward to looking at then splurging on photos – but then find only awful ones, I think that disappointment can sometimes be worse as we had our hopes up and then the got dashed

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  6. We have a great photographer that does almost all the horse trials in the area, thank goodness! Of course the one rated show I did this year, I had an experience like yours. Not only was almost every photo out of focus/bad timing, but the photos took almost 2 months after the show to make it to their already terrible website. Out of sight, out of mind, out of business. Ugh.

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  7. What a bizarre experience. I get the bind that show photographers are now in, and if I show, I definitely buy from the professional photographer, but your experience with this particular photographer is absolutely insane!

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  8. I just don’t understand how someone trying to run a business can be that unprofessional. Seriously, it just baffles me.

    I used to do a lot of dog agility and my family often ordered prints. There’s still a whole wall full of agility pics at their house. I don’t know if it’s just ‘the way things used to be’ cause this was like 10 years ago now or maybe I’m not remembering it correctly because my dad did most of the ordering, but I remember always being able to see proofs and the websites were always very professional looking and well organized.

    Now I haven’t done any recognized events (yet) but I used to go and watch one near me all the time. I would bring my little digital point and shoot too and take loads of pictures myself. I think the main photographers for recognized events around here (area 1) are Flatlands Photo and Hoofpix. Hoofpix used to do dog agility shows as well and was always great to work with – I even interviewed her for a school project once!

    Now I’ve only done smaller schooling shows with my pony so far, and I understand that going to get local photogs for those, and that’s fine, but I really haven’t been impressed with what I’ve seen at all. Maybe I’m being picky about certain things, but I don’t really think so…

    1. I took my pony to her first actual 3 phase back in July and was really hoping to get a good pic of XC. Turns out there were no XC pics of anyone inu my division at all because the photog was up at stadium. I understand that one person can’t be everywhere, but at a 3 phase wouldn’t you prioritize getting XC for all the riders? I would think those would be the money shots.

    2. The second 3 phase I did with my pony I was once again hoping for some good XC pics…and XC pics did at least exist, but the pics were so poorly timed that I didn’t want any of them. Seriously, I could time jumping pics better when I was 13 and taking pics with a point and shoot.

    3. At other recent shows I’ve been a fence judge or whatever at the photogs were doing the thing where they would charge $15 for you to just see your proofs. Sometimes in buying the proofs you could also pick a photo for a free digital download – which I think is a god enticement, though I still think proofs should just be posted on the website. I can understand this approach…it saves a lot of time and effort for the photogs to get all the pics up on the site and whatnot, but I kind of think to would take some of the business away actually? It certainly turns me off.

    And then yes, there are the many shitty websites out there. Bad layouts, unreadable text, broken links, you name it. I don’t think having no web skills is an excuse at all anymore for not having a decent looking website. There are numerous companies like weebly, wix, square space, etc where all you have to do is drag and drop element to create a pretty website.

    Holy crap I just typed a lot and basically just wrote a whole ones blog post on your blog. In summary…I agree with you and feel your pain!!! It’s good to know there are still people out there who appreciate a good photog.

    Ok I’m done now…*walks away sheepishly…*

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  9. Times are so different. Gone are the days that you had to buy the professional photos, because no one but the photographers had cameras that took high quality photos. Now, young kids walk around with huge cameras with sharp lenses, and take pictures for their friends. I have a friend who is now trying to branch out into the world of equine photography, and she repeatedly tells me she makes almost nothing at horse shows, and mostly makes money from private bookings. She takes lovely photos, but I know I don’t want to pay that much, when I can just get someone to take videos on my phone for me that are more informative. Of course, I will at some point when I’m showing more consistently, but right now, its just too expensive.

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