I have to admit, I’m a little nervous about putting this out there. This is such a controversial topic within the equine photography industry and before we go on, I want to stress that I don’t think there is any right or wrong answer here. It’s a grey area and I think it’s going to remain grey. But, I thought it might be an interesting topic to discuss with the show season looming, because it’s something that causes me a fair amount of angst.
Naturally, us horsey folk attend a lot of horse shows. And many of us will take a camera and take photos.
As someone who loves horses, has friends who compete in showing up to RIHS and HOYS level, generally enjoys photography as an art and loves to tell stories, about horses, through the use of images, I love photographing at shows. There’s just so much going on, everywhere you look.
And I don’t mean that I want to work as an event photographer. In fact, quite the opposite. I worked in event photography for a number of years before choosing to do what I do now, and in all honesty, whilst I understand why some people love being in the thick of the action, I wouldn’t trade back to event photography for the anything. I love what I do now.
What I love is the details, at events. I love snapping a mother as she fastens her small child’s riding hat. I love documenting a whole collection of rosettes hung proudly on a rider’s number elastic. I love spotting an abandoned basket of grooming products by the side of the ring, or the cloud of chalk dust blowing from a coloured pony’s feathers. The things that, to me, represent everything about competing that the official photographer might not have the time, man power or need to capture. So, when we go to shows, I often take my camera. For my own enjoyment.
Whilst I’m there, I’ll photograph some of the horses going round in the ring. Some I know, some I just think are pretty… I really don’t do this for any reason other than the fact I love to do it. If I don’t have my camera there, it’s like I get withdrawal and a twitchy shutter finger. I constantly notice moments that I wish I could photograph.
And then I often blog about the show, about the results my friends achieved, about the show itself, etc. Because, well… I blog about most things. I blogged about my dog getting a grass seed. I blog about my family’s birthdays. And part of the love of photography is the enjoyment of sharing your images.
I think one of the issues here is that, with what I do, there is no real separation between work and my personal life. Horses are not only my job, but they are my enjoyment, too. Also, I include a lot of myself, my personality and my own life in my work, because it helps build brand, allows my readers to get an idea of who I am, etc. so the line between professional and personal is incredibly blurry.
Now, I need to put this out there before I go on, because it is so important to me that this is clear; I do not, and nor would I ever, ever, ever, sell an image that I have taken from an event that I was not working at. I have been asked to, hundreds of times. And every time, I say no!! Lots of people can vouch for that.
I have even been asked, by competitors, to attend events (RIHS and Windsor, for example) to do a ‘mini photoshoot’ with a competitor and their horse, on the showground. It might be that they live a long way from me and are coming to a show that I’m attending, so see the opportunity for us to get a shoot done and not have to worry about travel. In theory, great idea! But,again, I would never do this, either! I will never take any money for photographs taken at an event that has an official photographer covering it, or where I am not the official photographer, even if we work in totally different genres of photography. Never! Because, I’ve been that ‘official photographer’, not just at horse shows, but at all kinds of events, and I’ve had people do exactly this to me. I’m not into stepping on anybodies toes.
So, with that cleared up, where are the boundaries? I don’t think anybody knows.
I’ve been shouted at by official photographers, threatened by show societies, spoken to politely by organisers, etc. all telling me some variation on the fact that I can’t take photographs at their event.
I’ve even been told I’d have to pay a fee to photograph my friends, even when I’m not making a penny from the images. When I agreed I would only photograph people I knew, I was told by one photographer ‘Your problem is, you have too many friends.’ In the end, I was allowed to take photographs of my closest friend and her pony, and that was all. They actually stopped me from photographing the other people I came to the show with!
So, I often can’t take photos at events. Despite not making a penny from the images. But you can. You, as the ordinary members of the public. Even if you have a spectacular camera. However, there is rarely an exclusivity contracts at these events.
If there is a contract or rule of some kind, eg. at Horse of the Year Show, then that’s a totally different story and I respect that entirely. I will admit, when I took photos ‘backstage’ at HOYS in 2014, I had no idea I was breaching any rules and when the press lady phoned to verbally slap my wrist, she soon realised that it had been an honest mistake, she was very polite and understanding, and I immediately removed the images.
But for the most part, they are public events and supposedly anyone is allowed to take pictures. There are no laws against it. So, considering the fact that I was a horse owner, lover and competitor before I was ever a photographer and very often accompany my friends who compete, when I’m at a show, as a groom, a friend, a member of the general public, should I be forbidden from taking photographs?
Because I make my living from photography, even though I won’t be making a single penny off of those particular photographs from that show, there is a mahoosive, frustrating grey area when it comes to me (and I assume this applies to any other professional photographer, although this is written from my own personal experiences) taking pictures.
Another way to view this is to think that there is also a caterer at most events, also making a living by providing a service to the people attending. How much uproar would there be if show societies were to suggest that attendants were no longer allowed to bring food for themselves or make bacon rolls for their friends. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But is it not a similar thing?
I also want to add that I am a great advocate of my friends buying images from the event photographers covering whichever event we are at. I love to go with them and help choose photos, often resulting in them spending a small fortune with the photographer. I think it’s part of the excitement of the day. Firstly, because I wholeheartedly agree with supporting the photography industry and secondly, because I just love photographs and truly believe that you can never have too many.
Also, I’m not standing in the ring taking photographs, with the best vantage point. I’m standing the other side of the fence, or sitting in the stands. Or I’m grooming, so can’t get photos of the class at all. I’m usually not able to get a great angle on them winning their rosette or them trotting down the long side… but the official photographer is. So I think it’s important for people to purchase prints from the official photographer.
I know, for a fact, because I watch my friends hand over money at each event we go to and actively encourage them to do so, that me taking my own photos at shows has no impact on the people I am with buying images. I don’t sell them. I don’t discourage friends from buying prints. And if you follow me online, you’ll know that I’m a supporter of other photographers work (Unless you happen to have been totally and utterly, unnecessarily rude to me. Which has happened in the past. In which case, you can stick my support somewhere uncomfortable!) and of other equine businesses!
So, why the hostility? Why do I feel like so many event photographers are so behind the times when it comes to encouraging other photographers, supporting one another and just generally being friends. I won’t steal their business. I don’t want their business! I just enjoy taking pretty pictures.
Why do people get so irate about people like me taking pictures at events? And do you think they are unreasonable? Or, on the flip side, do you think I should leave my camera at home, accept that I can’t capture the action at events and just suck it up?
Or maybe the event photographers need to up their game and start mixing it up a little?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Whether you’re a photographer, a competitor or a show organiser, why not leave a message in the comments below to let me know your point of view…