As a parent, I love the work of the horse show photographers. Photos of my daughter from age 3 to current grace the walls of my home from top to bottom (yes, even in one of the bathrooms – don’t judge me!). When I look at them, I am filled with pride and great memories of those winning rides.
It’s so much fun to see her growth as a rider. The photographers that take these amazing photos capture moments in time that, as parents, we are apt to miss due to our emotional involvement in the experience, or in my case, the endless pacing outside of the arena.
The photographer’s booth at any horse show is a popular spot at all times. It’s nearly instant gratification. Our horse show photographers put in countless hours in between sessions and late into the night to provide this high level of service. We have come to count on it, expect it, dare I say … demand it. We are a Wi-Fi world, a high-speed society. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, text. In this day and age, a photograph is available to the world with seconds of being taken and our photographers are feeling the pressure to meet this demand.
Photographers like Howie Schatzberg, Doug and Shane Shiflet, Sandra Hall, Terry Young and Sarah Bennett spend countless hours and travel endless miles to capture our memories in action. Consider the fact that these photographers are at the show for every single class. When we go to lunch or take a moment to breathe, their work begins in earnest. They are endlessly moving from first class to last, sometimes trying to capture shots in a very inhospitable and unpredictable environment also known as the show ring; a recent class at the ASAC Spring Classic in Clemson featured a championship class of 21 riders.
Sandra Hall has been using digital photos for shows since 2006. Asked what the process was like prior to this modern era, her description of processing proof sheets in a makeshift darkroom set up in a motel left me speechless. No 27-inch monitors here. You viewed your photos via lighted magnifiers to view a 2 ½ inch proof. If you ordered at that time, the proof would be printed to take home. Saturday night proofs were processed late into the night and could be viewed poolside or at the horse show grounds. If need be, photographers would provide you with a proof card to be filled out for your photos to be mailed. Even in the days prior to digital photos, expectations were fairly high, but today we expect to see the morning session photos by the afternoon. Talk about deadline pressure!
With so many great cameras and great digital editing available to us, are we supporting the efforts of these wonderful professionals or are we simply sharing their watermarked photos on social media and moving on? Everyone loves a candid shot; they capture the spirit of the show and the sense of community it provides. What a candid amateur photo cannot do is capture a horse and rider at their show ring best for the magazine ads. Advertising plays a very important role in showcasing a horse for upcoming shows and when advertising a horse for sale. No different than selling a house, when selling a horse “curb appeal” – no pun intended – is critical.
The use of a watermarked photo to advertise a horse shows a complete disregard for the photographer. Unfortunately most social media venues do not prevent the use of watermarked photos. Therefore we must hold ourselves accountable; we must delay gratification just a bit. While it is exciting when you or your child has had a great class, and the urge to share is strong, it is important to wait for the digital file or photo to arrive. If you have purchased a photo and want to share, ask the photographer if it is okay to share the watermarked image and give them credit in the post. The respect shown in a simple sentence such as “Watermarked image shared with permission of…” goes a long way.
I am not saying that everyone who posts a watermarked photo with the statement “Photos will be purchased” is not speaking truthfully. I am sure that in most cases this is true. But in full disclosure, I have posted a photo and forgotten to go back to purchase it. This was not with ill intent. In some cases I have simply moved on to the next moment in life, in others I may have selected a different photo to purchase. In some cases I decided that we didn’t really need a photo from that show. In all cases I should have purchased before posting.
We pay our trainer for horse shows, we pay our tailor for show clothes, and we pay for the hotels we stay in. We need to show the same respect to our photographers before posting. This is their passion and their profession. Let’s work together to respect and appreciate their work and compensate them for their efforts. It’s the only way to keep those gorgeous photos coming.