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Tamara Didenko

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An Open Letter to My Fellow Horse Show Photographers

Photo by Tamara Didenko. Photo by Tamara Didenko.

As a horse photographer and a horse rider I have a mix of both horse photographers and horse riders as my Facebook friends. And both of the groups seem to be unhappy with each other.

Photographers are really loud and viral about their frustrations: low sales, no respect from organizers/competitors, stealing photos and posting them on social media … all of those are pretty sad instances. And as a horse photographer, I totally understand those!

Don’t get me wrong, I get just as worked up about stolen photos and low sales as you do, my photographer friend. But since I started riding and competing again, I realised that riders are not the only ones to blame for it, actually. There are plenty of instances when riders don’t buy photos just because those photos are really bad photos! Or when photographer is so overwhelmed with the number of riders that my lower level arena doesn’t get any attention at all.

So before you get upset with yet another low sales weekend and start complaining about all the friends/parents/partners that showed up with their own cameras and started shooting next to you, please read this letter. Chances are, it’s going to make you pretty angry but it only means that there’s some truth in these words. It’s not a magic guide to enormous sales but I hope that implementing these things in your business will get you more respect from riders and will make you happier with your job.

Photo by Tamara Didenko.

1. Know your camera/know what you’re doing.

It seems obvious enough yet so many show photographers lack this very crucial skill! It is NOT OKAY to try and sell blurry/not in focus images. Just not. Let’s stop doing it today. Same goes for too dark/too bright photos. It IS a technical flaw and should not be allowed anywhere near professional photography. Yes, most of the riders will still want to see a great jump of their horse even if it’s blurry but don’t expect them to buy it, especially as a large print that we all want to sell. I’d say if the jump is really spectacular, just show it to the rider privately, don’t put ialongside with other shots.

2. Know horses.

Again, pretty obvious, ha? But if you don’t know which phase of the trot I’m looking for on my photos, I don’t think you’re going to get my money. Same goes for the jumps — although jumps seem to be easier to comprehend, even by non-horse people, there are still a huge amount of really awkward jump photos posted all over the internet. (I blame it on overuse of burst mode.)

Unless you have Canon 1DX with 14 frames per second, you have a better chance of catching the best phase with just one frame (and a little practice). Sit down with your friend jumper/hunter/eventer and look through entire competition shoot and let him explain to you which phases he/she likes or not and why (he/she will probably ask for some free photos for that but it’s a really small price to pay for personal advancement, don’t you think?). Make selects and notes; compare different riders/horses. It’ll pay off tremendously.

3. Use professional equipment.

This is another known issue. I just paid about $1,000 in different fees for just this weekend (which was the short one by the way) — you really think I can’t afford a Canon Rebel T3i or Nikon D3200, just like yours with a kit lens? Business requires investments and professional equipment is called professional for a reason. Besides, the entry cost for this business is extremely low these days. Canon 7D ($1,799.00) and 70-200 f/4 lens ($1,199.00) will do. Amazon has amazing financing options (0% APR for first six months) and so do all major photo equipment stores. But quality of the photos and comfort and control you’ll get from this equipment will make a huge difference to how you are perceived by riders.

Consistent shooting = less work in editing = faster turnaround times. Photo by Tamara Didenko.

4. Be efficient.

No, I don’t want to see my photos a month after the show. Most likely I’ve forgotten about them by then. It is YOUR JOB to figure out how to deliver the best product in the fastest turnaround time. And there are plenty of tools around — here’s an amazing course on Lightroom. There’s a newer version for LR 5 if you want a top notch. I watched this one and it reduced my processing time from three weeks to three days. Oh, and don’t forget about naming and tagging your photos. I don’t have time to go through thousands of other people’s photos to find mine. Make it simple for me. Just name my photo.

5. Be different!

The biggest problem with most horse photographers is that their product doesn’t look that different from what my husband/mom/friend would do (add to this a lack of professional equipment). And by being different I don’t mean stupid “effects” like vignetting, sepia or black and white; my mom is actually very efficient with those (thank you Instagram!). I mean, give me a sharp photo on a clean background, in the best possible light and phase with real yet beautiful colors and you have me.

6. Don’t be lazy.

No, just sitting in one spot probably will not do you any good in photography. Nine times out of 10 you’ll have to move around to get as many good angles as you possibly can. If it’s too hot, too hard, too cold or your camera is too heavy, you’re in a wrong business.

7. Lower your expectations.

So many people think that photography is some kind of miracle profession where you get in and people just throw money at you. That is extremely incorrect. It’s a hard work and it doesn’t pay enough for a really long time. Don’t get angry at me that I didn’t buy all three of the photos you posted on your website. In fact, I probably didn’t buy any of them, because one was out of focus, the second had a clumsy jump phase and I don’t like my makeup on the third one. I’m a client, I can buy it or not buy it, it’s my makeup after all. But you can give me 10 photos as an options and chances are I’ll find something I like. Don’t give me too many, because then I’ll just get tired of trying to make a decision.

But all 10 of those that I want to see need to be done to the best of your abilities and different enough from each other so that I’m choosing between a good shot and a great one. The closer you get to perfection on this point, the more photos I’ll buy but it will never be all of them. Just because I like to choose.

Don’t expect teens not to post screengrabs on their social media. Your outrage on their page is not going to stop them either. Chances are, if their parents didn’t teach them not to steal, there’s very little you can do. Besides, maybe, making your copyright into something funny and educational (I have mine set up as “I stole this photo from www.horse-photo.net and I’m a very bad person”). At least you’ll get your moral satisfaction from the fact that they post this statement on their own web page at their own will, admitting every word. Just let it go at that point.

Not every rider is your client. Not everyone is interested or has money. Sometimes those who don’t have money spend on photos more than those who have. So just be nice to everyone and do your job at the highest level.

8. Be a nice person! Please!

Ugh, so many photographers are just too grumpy. I don’t even want to explain any further. Come down to earth and talk to your potential clients. You’ll be surprised what a simple conversation can do.

Also, let the amateurs/parents/friends around you shoot whatever they want with their cameras. If you followed my advice above, your photos are different enough from whatever they can possibly shoot. Be nice to them. They are actually already interested in good photography so your work of selling photos is halfway done.

There are so many more things I want to share with you my friend but I have to stop myself now.

And although this letter will probably make you angry, I hope you’ll still find it helpful and learn your lesson from it. And you’ll find that making me (your client!) happy about all those things will actually help you achieve your goals of increasing sales and being happier.

I’m a professional horse photographer and an adult amateur eventer from California. I was born and raised in Russia where I was doing some show jumping. Shortly after moving to U.S. I got into eventing and can’t stop doing it since! You can find more info about me and some more of my photos on my website www.horse-photo.net