the unsung plight of the show photographer

Saturday I did my first stint as a show photographer at a local event, trying to see if this is something I’d be interested in trying to make some money doing.  It was enlightening, let me tell you.  We all know that show photographers are facing all kinds of challenges these days — ammies shooting their friends with nice DSLRs, guilty! — but I feel like the public perception of those challenges has to do with photo sales, not the actual difficulty of the job.  And boy, is that job difficult.

Making cranky horses look good

As a photographer, I want you to look good. I want you to see your pictures and be inspired to pay me for one or more of them because you are your horse look fantastic.  I painstakingly select the best angle for the light, to make sure the background is pleasing and free of clutter, and time my shutter bursts so you and your horse look elegant and athletic.  You know what can ruin this every time?  A cranky horse.  Some horses don’t like dressage.  Some horses have a wicked game face.  Some horses pin their ears when they see the camera.  Some horses put karate kicks into the middle of their canter.  All of these things ruin a picture, and make me want to cry because I can’t control it.  And it’s nobody’s fault, except your horse who wants nothing to do with my photography.  He’s probably trying to save your money for use on him!

IMG_3747Excuse me, but no.

The dark horse/pale skin conundrum

Exposing correctly for dark horses is really hard in almost all lighting.  I love me some black or dark bay, but the details of a dark horse’s body get lost in the shadows very easily.  They also get these super bright shiny spots and highlights that sometimes look lovely and sometimes make them look terrible.  Without specialized editing, to get the details in a dark horse’s body exposed right, I usually have to blow out the background, which really sucks.  You know what sucks more?  Pale peoples’ faces get blown out even more than the background.  I can either see your gorgeous, smiling face or your horse’s — you pick.  I almost always pick the horse.  (Coincidentally, this is the exact same problem that people have shooting Jane Goodall with chimps!)  On the upside, your dark horse will make your whites look strikingly white, so you can get away with dirtier breeches!!

SAS_5323This picture can be edited to fix it, but I’m guessing this rider isn’t actually the colour of a porcelain doll.

High quality cameras are heavy

My DSLR setup weighs close to eight pounds with my heaviest lens on it, but even with my smaller lenses on it it’s close to five pounds.  And you know what humans are not evolved to do?  Stand in the same place all day long holding eight pounds up to their face.  The pain started in my lower back and throughout the day moved down to my upper butt and my feet.  At one point, my back cramped up — like when your calf cramps but in my entire back.  You know what you can do when your back cramps?  NOTHING. THERE IS NO POSITION THE HUMAN BODY CAN TAKE THAT DOESN’T USE THE BACK.  And honestly, no wonder I collapse my right side when I’m riding, I’m always holding the damn camera with that hand and resting my elbow on my hip for postural support!

SAS_7051A nice one because not all went poorly.

Squeezing one eye shut all day makes your vision go blurry

I don’t know if you’ve ever done it before, probably not, but you should try spending eight hours with your left eye squeezed shut.  You can open it intermittently, but you need to keep it shut for at least a minute at a time out of every two minutes.  After a while, your left eye will probably kinda forget how to function.  When you open it, you’ll have that weird, blurry, schmutz caused possibly by tears or dryness — it could go either way.  And then your right eye might start objecting too.  You can trade eyes looking through the viewfinder, of course, but somehow I’m way worse at everything with my left eye.

IMG_8346This is kinda what you see when you open that squinty eye…

Other riders, spectators, the show venue, garbage, dogs, people, horses, the sun, and even plants are all conspiring against you

A well timed photo is a beautiful thing, that is so, so often ruined by a random rider coming out of your horse’s back like some kind of two-bodied centaurian creature.  Fo rillz.  Somehow all the jumps and angles that are best to shoot are always ruined by random piles of poles, a trailer full of jump standards, or a weirdly overflowing garbage can.  Your best pictures of every competitor will be plagued by dogs running through, people picking their noses in the background, some rider falling off in the warm up, or a flashy paint horse taking a pee facing your camera.  Murphy’s law, man.

SAS_7429Get out of my picture random paint horse!!

12 thoughts on “the unsung plight of the show photographer”

    1. Yeah you know, I did this just to see and we’ll see if it’s worth it. For some things (local shows where I’d happily waste a day playing with my friends and don’t have to be at the utmost of my professionality), if I just make a little money it’s worth it. But we will see!


  1. I gave up trying to get paid long, long ago. All of these things you mentioned are 100% true, and then there’s the ‘actually making money’ part. The official photog approached me at the show this weekend since she thought I was poaching, but we ended up talking about what a hard job it is and all the troubles that are out there today. Support your photogs!


    1. There are SO MANY things to consider! You’re so right. I spent at least another full day sorting and doing the most basic of editing to get photos into proofs, and so if I do make any money what I make will have to be divided by two days, not one. We will soon see if it was more worth it than just coming out for my friends and having them buy me a meal in return! I am one hundred percent into supporting photogs, especially after this!


  2. This is a funny and enlightening post. I never thought about the back pain and closing one eye all day. I’ve often been bummed that it’s so hard to take a nice picture of my black Doberman. I no pretty much zero about real photography. But I think you have some nice pics and entertaining ones. Bravo!


    1. Susan, with your black Doberman try shooting him in lower light (in the shade with a shaded background) or flat light sometime. That way if you increase the exposure (either with a longer shutter length, smaller F-stop, etc.) you won’t blow out the background but you will get more detail on your pup!


  3. haha or you could just do like me, and take videos of everything, then get stills from said video – then enjoy all the glory of grainy blurry nothingness that you can proudly show to all your friends – “look how be-yootiful mah poneh is!!!!”

    lol seriously tho – hope you at least had fun despite the back cramps and blurred vision 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful photos!! It always so impressive how photographers can catch those great moments. 🙂 I should hire you to come take some nice photos of Spot!


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