To You With a Camera at a Horse Show

Sara Shier Photography | Southern California | Equestrian Horse Show

Hey sweet friend,

I’ve been wanting to write to you for a while. The thing is, our paths only seem to cross at horse shows and I think of the words I’d love to deliver you, I tend to be running from ring to ring and fail to reach you… until now. Here’s the thing, I have so much to say to you, but I’m never quite sure how to deliver it, because I see you and I know your intentions are pure. 

So first, just listen to my side, maybe you’ll rethink packing your DSLR for your next time you're getting ready for that next show. As our generation becomes the most photographed generation on the planet, we have become obsessed with documenting everything: from the minute we wake up to what we eat for dinner, our lives are shared with the world and while it’s a joy – it’s also become a big problem.

You might not know it, but I’m always looking for you at shows. You blend in so well, try to appear inconspicuous in your breeches and a hat, but as I’m spending 10+ hours at your show, I have learned to pinpoint your whereabouts and plan how I can work around you. Wait, you didn’t realize that what you do impacts me? It does. So while you’re positioning yourself on the side of the ring where show office has asked only me to work on or hiding in the bleachers waiting for the horse to take a stride so I lift up my camera, I am coming up with action plans in my head. Here’s what you don’t realize: as the professional photographer, we are given guidelines. We can’t use flash, we need to stay put and out of the way, and we must remain discreet while delivering the BEST photos to our potential clients. 

The key word there is potential, I’m sure this can shock you but we aren’t actually paid to be there. We were invited as an honored guest to document press photos and potential photos for their sponsors to have. Photos that are used for advertising and commercial work, which can be the bread and butter to a photographers paycheck. Show management is investing in me and trusting me to capture these main events such as the Grand Prix’s and the Derby’s, but we have no obligation to capture ANY OTHER CLASS. So why are there from 7:30 in the morning when the show starts at 7:30 at night when it ends? We do it for you.

I’ve heard everything from “there was no one there to cover the ring” to “the photographer was awful” as well as “I’m here by myself and would love any photo you capture” As horse photographers, there' a high probability that I’ve been riding my whole life and been to enough shows to know the disappointment in not having a single photo of a great run or a flawless round. So we plan on being there all day for you. So you don’t look on the website and can’t find a single photo of the best jump off of your life (even if you didn’t win, it was YOUR best round). 

I don’t know everything, but here’s a few things I do know: not everyone is as privileged as you to hold a DSLR camera in their hand and have 10,000 friends on Instagram who want photos from you. 

You my friend were there to be a rider, to give your horse attention and love, and be the best team you can be. You are there to support your true friends; the ones who need an extra hand and want you in the winner’s picture (that I’m in the arena documenting) after they win the classic. The ones that didn’t just ask for you to take photos but that genuinely wanted your presence that day. 

So while you’re doing your best to document that fence or take 20 frames for that perfect stride, their professional photos (the ones they would probably hang in their homes) will go unnoticed and all you received was the satisfaction that you “nailed” a Facebook-worthy photo.

Now friend I’m sure you’re saying that I’m upset because I lost the sale, which truthfully I am. I just spent $1000 dollars to hire photographers so all rings could be covered over the 4 days of your show and have a booth so you can learn how to see your photos, I spent $700 on the insurance and license that are required for me to be there, I spent 12-13 hours a day photographing on my feet with gear that I’ve spent the last 2 years paying for (cause we all know professional gear cost about the same as a horse these days) and then would be up until 2 am posting the photos for everyone to see. Not to mention this is my business that required everything to come to a halt so I could document YOUR show. 

So when you give photos away and I’m unable to bring work to my business, I’m going to make the business decision to not document your show. Although your Instagram friends might not care too much there are riders, parents, and the people who run the horse show who are quite upset that the professionals do not want to be there for you anymore or are forced to charge an arm and a leg for photos. Believe me, we want you to feel like you are getting your monies worth! But when you take away our ability to sell commercial photos because you wanted a shoutout from your favorite boot company on Instagram or feel noticed from riders, we lose the ability to keep prices affordable, because we have to make sure to pay rent at the end of the month.  

That being said, I think there is a time and place for your documentation (and it probably is still documenting horses)! Every day at the barn there is a story being told of hard work, partnership and trust.  When the love story of a horse and rider come to an end they are going to want to see the fun times they had at the barn, on trail, and in the practice ring working hard to accomplish a goal. Odds are I can’t be there every day like you can, so help them relive those moments you were a part of for years to come.

So next time you’re inching towards the ring or your point and shoot is ready to fire, I dare you to just sit back and relax. I was hired to document the day and I take that position seriously, so seriously, I might smile at you and give you some pointers for the future (but deep down I am willing you to simply enjoy being a rider at a horse show!) Show management will thank you, I will thank you, and the professional photos your friends will receive will be part of their legacy long after your blurry iPhone photos have been buried in the feeds of Facebook! 


The Professional Horse Photographer invited to Photograph your show