Thoughts on Show Photographers

Despite the fact that I have the best horse show husband who snaps literally hundreds of photos of me at every single show just so I can find ten I like (true story) I really want to support the good show photographers. They’re a dying breed and the good ones are worth every penny, even at the beginning levels.

Because here’s the thing, Eric is a good photographer but he’s an amateur. The actual show photographers have better equipment, better training, and they are allowed to go anywhere which means they often just have better access to a good shot. And you better believe I will pay for that.

The most recent schooling show at Poplar had a show photographer which doesn’t always happen at schooling shows. I was excited to see what she had gotten! Dressage was just your basics and I already had fabulous shots from Eric so I skipped them and unfortunately in stadium, Gus still looks a bit like a flying unicorn so no go there either. However, there was a great picture from XC! Not only did she have a great angle, Gus was actually jumping cute. I immediately bought a small digital copy for personal use for $25.

I thought that was reasonable and made sure I read over her use fee just so I knew what I could or couldn’t do with the photo but I honestly didn’t look too closely at the size of the photo. I don’t understand those things anyway, Eric just gives me photos and I put them on my blog/Facebook/Instagram and they look fabulous or not depending on how hard Gus and I are derping in a particular shot.

Plus, I’ve bought personal use photos from photographers before. In fact, here’s the one I bought of Dandy’s first run around Rebecca Farms.


It’s a wonderful photo. More artsy than I usually purchase but truthfully Dandy wasn’t really respecting the other novice fences that were photographed and this one was fun. I was pretty sure this photo had cost me the same amount until I actually looked it up for this post and found that it actually only cost me $15. Now to be fair, Shannon Brinkman is a very well known photographer around the big events and she probably gets a lot of orders and is able to price her stuff accordingly but gosh, this is a real deal! And the quality for personal media use is wonderful. I will definitely be willing to support Shannon in the future. I’m half tempted to go buy more photos of Dandy’s Rebecca Farms excursions.

The $25 small digital copy I purchased of Gus? Well, I should have listened when she said small. I’m not expecting to be able to blow it up and print 8x10s with it, I didn’t even want to do that. I just wanted to post that photo here and say “Look how amazing my boy is!” But I was shocked. I can’t even put it on Instagram with how blurry it is. Well I could but I don’t want to put low quality photos on my account.


And this is my problem with show photography. I understand you have to pay the bills. I understand that equipment is expensive and that you are shooting all day under a hot sun with no guarantee that you’re going to make any money at all. But when this is what I get for a $25 digital personal use photo? Well, it leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.

With prices like this, it’s no wonder that show photographers are a dying breed. Even people like me who are willing to support the good ones eventually get tired of feeling like we’re being cheated. As much as I want these special moment to be captured and as much as I love having the memories, I have no incentive to purchase. Actually, because of Eric I have less incentive than most people so why are show photographers making it even less enticing for people like me to purchase? I’m the kind of person you want to get on to your website because I’m a blog writing adult amateur who loves showing off. I will purchase all the photos if they’re good! Especially now that I have a good job and the money to do so.

I honestly don’t know what the answer is to the problems with show photography. And I’m not surprised that I see an official photographer at my shows less and less these days. As an adult amateur, even one with a good job and money to spend on show photos, I still need to be careful where I spend my money so I guess I just keep supporting the good photographers and stay away from those I’m not happy with. Money talks. But I do wish there was a way for us all to be satisfied with the experience.

15 thoughts on “Thoughts on Show Photographers

  1. Oh boy. I’m always so jealous of the pro photogs that seem to be at events- HITS has an exclusive contract with ESI photography, which does not have a website and has exorbitant prices. As in, you’ll pay $60 for a single 5″x7″ print (plus shipping and tax, so really closer to $70), and you have to decide THAT DAY in the photo trailer whether you want it or not. And there is no discount for buying a package. I understand they need to protect their business, but I would honestly rather live with blurry screenshots from the video a 13yo barn rat grabbed of my round than shell out $70 unless I think the photo is life-changing.

    1. This is interesting, because I hypothesized that creating photographer contracts would actually IMPROVE (i.e. decrease) prices. Photography suffers from a huge economy of scale problem. Say it takes you 8 hours to photograph a show and an additional 4 hours to edit the photographs. That’s 12 hours you need to be paid for. If 1 photo gets ordered, that photo needs to cost at least $120 to cover your pay at an absurdly low rate of $10/hour.

      No matter whether 10 photos or 400 photos are ordered, you spend the same amount of time taking and editing photographs. So you NEED lots of photos to be ordered. But if your photos cost $120 a piece fucking nobody will buy them, and if they cost $3 a piece you might not make enough to cover your costs even.

      Or you need a base pay rate. If the show pays you $100/day to be there, then you only need to make $20 to break even.

      So WTF is going on with the greedy mofos at HITS?! Printing photos is cheap af.

      I don’t know what the solution to this problem is either, honestly. One thing that worked at our one-day was to have people sign up to buy $30 or $35 CDs of their entire show day, which was a guaranteed 2-3 photos of each phase. Some people got more, some people got less. When you signed up in advance all your rounds were guaranteed, but when you signed up at the show you might get a missing phase. I think our photographer made the most she’s ever made doing that — somewhere around $500 for the weekend. Which is not fucking bad, honestly.

      But it will continue to be interesting to see what’s going on!

      1. That balance right there is exactly the problem I think they’re facing: they need to cover costs somehow, and they can do that by either charging a zillion dollars and selling very few pics, or lowering the price and hoping to sell in volume. Obviously I’m rooting for the latter, b/c $70 for a single print means I have only bought 3 pro pics ever. Sad face.

  2. Yep, I would be disappointed too. I have only been to one show where they had an official photographer, and then I had to chase her around for a month after the show trying to get proofs and then another month before I got a concrete price. By then I was kinda over it. I will stick to the photos my friends snap for me.

  3. Playing devil’s advocate here as someone who has worked in the equine photography business — that’s a standard size photo and a standard size rate. All the ones I have purchased from our local photographer are actually smaller than the one you listed (although slightly cheaper, closer to $15-$20).

    As you know, there is so much overhead with photography and less and less people are buying. Price matches demand, and with more and more official photographers quitting horse shows there are less quality pictures for us competitors to choose from. I can understand why you’re disappointed, but also see the photographer’s point of view. They have to make a living. If they gave you a bigger photo, you could blow it up for countless prints (even small 4×6’s times 100 takes away from the photog’s bottom line).

    1. Maybe I didn’t do a good job saying it but I do get the photographers side. However, this experience has hurt the photographers bottom line as well. When writing this post I found another cute photo but I was so disappointed that there was no way I’m going to purchase another photo from her. So now she gets only $25 instead of $50. More so, I show at Poplar a lot but I have no incentive to even look at her photos again. Shannon Brinkman on the other hand will get repeat business from me now that I have spare cash for this kind of thing. Like I said, I don’t know the answer but the current model isn’t working as evidence by less appearances at shows.

  4. I laughed out loud at the opening to this. I also have my BF/friends/parents take photos for me at shows. Even with a nice camera, I end up sifting through hundreds just to find the handful that I like!

  5. I did a schooling show at Poplar and was really excited for the photos. I didn’t purchase because I looked at the quality of the “social media” photos and realized I would hate it. The others were far too pricy for me to justify the purchase (despite it being his first show ever and I really really wanted a photo of it). If the quality had been slightly better or the prices slightly cheaper there were multiple people at my barn that would have purchased. Instead of getting $150-$200 out of us she got zero. I totally understand that the photographers have to pay their bills, but it seems like they are pricing themselves out of the market.

    1. And I think that’s what I was trying to get at earlier and didn’t do a good job of doing. It’s all well and good to say that they have to price photos in a way that they’re making money but, truthfully, it feels to me that they are pricing themselves out of anyone buying anything. Or maybe that’s just a few of us. Idk. But I agree. Had the quality been just a little bit better (I don’t think the one I got from Shannon Brinkman is super high quality but it doesn’t look blurry on a normal computer screen with no zooming) or had I been paying less money for that particular quality photo, I wouldn’t be feeling this way and would probably be willing to purchase from her again. So now the most this photographer will ever get from me is the price of this one low quality photo when it easily could have been two just good enough for a blog post photos and potentially more business at future events.

      I think there actually needs to be a paradigm shift for horse show photography. I really don’t know where that would start or what that would be but the current model is not working in these days of smart phones and amateur photographers. I don’t deny that those two things are part of the problem but that’s why I think a professional photographer has to find a way to work around that. Even with my ammy photographer husband, I am more than willing to pay for photos but I need to feel like I’m getting value from those photos.

  6. Maybe you can convert the file to vector format? I work with graphic art, not photos, so unsure as to whether you can convert or not

  7. So the last rated USDF show I was at two years ago had a photographer that was free. Like what?! She was just trying to build her portfolio. Holy smokes amazing pictures! I would have happily paid for them. I doubt I’ll be that lucky in the future though

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