Rantings Of An Equine Competition Photographer

IMG_0230“That’s an awesome picture!  That must be a really nice camera you have?”  If you’re a photographer, either professional or non pro, I’m sure you’ve heard it or at least read it and laughed.  This comment is similar to, “Since cameras went digital I bet that sure made your work easier.”  It seems like technology improved therefore the skill set to accomplish what we do has become much less important.

I specialize in cutting, reining, working cowhorse and rodeo events but have photographed them all at one time.  These events I “specialize” in because I’ve shown these horses and to be honest I might spend some of my weekends watching these events even if I weren’t photographing them.  I love the horses and the talent I find at these shows that much.  My days at these shows are easy; I’m on my feet all day, I log thousands of footsteps on my Fitbit, I seldom get lunch and I can’t remember when the last time was I got to pee.  I get there before the show starts and I don’t leave till the last horse goes and I drive anywhere from an hour plus, one way.  Since 90% of our shows here in Colorado are indoors it’s easy to remember things like checking the white balance, changing the ISO, checking the shutter speed and keeping the F-Stop at 2.8.  One arena has light coming in at one end and dark on the other and another arena has windows at the top of the building so all I have to do is remember to change my settings when the horse goes from one end of the arena to the other or when the sun goes from sunrise to sunset.  The horses are only loping when all this is going on, so it’s fairly simple.  And all of this was self-taught!  I have yet to take any photography classes even online – mostly because I don’t have time.

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After a 2 to 5 day horse show, the work is done.  Well, all but going through the thousands of images, getting rid of the bad ones, organizing the good ones, getting them up online so that competitors can see them, editing and posting the best of the best onto a website and then keeping up on Facebook.  The easiest part of this is probably filling orders.  Did I mention I have a 45 hour, plus a week, full-time job for a nationwide company?  That I also have 3.25 horses, 4 dogs and a pig?  One of the horses I’m wanting to show this year and riding him after work?

So then, why do I  do this?  Again, I love the horses, the talent, the sport.  I love the people I get to meet, some of who become friends that I cherish.  I love sitting and laughing with them at the horse shows.  I’ve been asked if I can change the color of a shirt, open their eyes or the horse’s eyes, and my favorites; can you fix my turkey waddle or make me lose about 30 pounds.  I’m a photographer, not a miracle worker.  But of course I’ll do my best at whatever I’m asked.

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Equine competition photography is no longer about the “traditional shots.”  The photographers who are making it now are those who have had their foot in the door for years and not given up or those who are busting our butts to get in and be better than the best.  We go the extra mile, risk shooting at different angles from different locations, look for something that stands out and look for something nobody else has.  It’s no longer a full frame image of a sliding horse, but maybe just the horse itself or a rear shot of the slide.  It’s more of an art now than simply holding a camera.  It’s trying to find that one image that takes a person’s breath away, something that captures a special moment, something they can’t walk away from.

Other than that, equine competition is a piece of cake!

So the next time you feel like it’s okay not to pay for an order or “borrow” an image without permission (which most the time is completely done innocently), please keep in mind, to photographers like myself this is a job.  A full-time job I take to heart, that I put my heart and soul into and it isn’t easy.

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