So you want to take photos of horses and more specifically you want to get into the business of taking photos at horse shows and selling your work. Being a show photographer is a two-sided process. On one side is the process of taking photos, on the other is running the business.
I won't give advice on the business side except to point you in the direction of where to get some tips. Check out the web site Creativelive.com. This site if full of ideas on running a photography business. Don't be turned off if you are seeing a lot of info on running a wedding photography business or shooting woman to create beauty shots. There is a lot of good information that you can carry over to your own business. I also recommend that you listen to Sue Bryce who has some wonderful videos on not only running a successful business but also on over coming fear and doubt. You can find Sue Bryce videos at Creativelive.com as well as on YouTube.
I think the most important aspect of becoming a horse photographer, or a photographer in general, is to shoot, review, then shoot again. I tell people that if they can look at a photo they took six months ago and not like it then they are on the right track. I look at my own early show photos and wince in pain. They are not that good, but at the time when I took them I was thrilled with how they came out. The point here is if you look at your photos from six months ago and you are not happy with them it means you are growing as an artist. This does not mean that you will not have some photos that are great and able to hold their own over time. Don't get frustrated if you are not happy with your work, it means you are growing and your skills are improving. When you start taking thousands of photos you are working like an artist, practicing your craft. Remember that, “good enough,” is the death knell of creativity. Never settle for good enough. You need to strike a balance between being your own worst critic while not beating yourself up. Believe in yourself and remember all successful people fail from time to time. Failure is the foundation of success as long as you learn from it.
Communicate with other photographers. I am always willing to share my knowledge. Last week at a show, I taught one of the moms how to set up her camera to get good photos of her daughter. You might say I am taking food out of my mouth by teaching her to take her own photos, but I stand firm on my mission to educate. Most of my skills with a camera have been developed after talking with another photographer and being told how to approach a process. Facebook is a great place to connect with some awesome photographers.
Now we come to how to start. I believe in a past blog that I wrote about my first show. I called Sharon Oaks Stables in Hillsborough, North Carolina and asked if I could come out and shoot. I didn't even know what equitation was and had never heard the term “on the rail at a walk.” I had experience around horses and had done some riding so I was comfortable around horses. I had taken many photos where my daughter kept her horses and I had taken lots of photos at barrel races, but I had never been to a show to take photos of horses in flat classes. My point is to find some place that will let you take photos and then go there and shoot.
If you are something of an equine novice take the time to talk to people. Ask what they like to see in a photo. Read books on different breeds. Not all horses are created equal and the more breeds you see the more you will realize this. There are horses that make the process easy, horses with more suspension than a monster truck, while others will hardly get their feet off the ground at a cantor. This may make for a good ride for the rider but it makes it tricky for the photographer to get a good shot of the horse in motion.
Study the work of other photographers. There is no shortage of websites where you can do this. Hunters and jumpers are the easiest to photograph while flat classes and dressage are the most difficult. In short, study, study and study some more. Work on your timing because much of capturing a good image with a horse is about hitting the shutter button at the right time and there is little room for error. Resign yourself to the fact that you will get a lot of bad shots, but you will also get good ones and if you apply your brain to the process you will develop muscle memory and the process will become almost automatic. For flat classes, I watch the legs. For jumping, it is all about getting into rhythm with the horse.
If you feel your camera isn't good enough that is not an excuse. You may not be able to sell photos taken with a point and shoot camera, but you can still hone your skills while you are saving for a better camera. Use the equipment that you have. Having written that, I do need to point out that my old Nikon point and shoot took high quality photos. It had an amazing lens and for what it was, it was a good camera. A skilled photographer can get a good shot with any camera, it is all in how close you can get to your subject. When you get the money for a single lens reflex camera put as much money into the lens as you can. A good lens is the key. Your camera will eventually break but a good lens will last you for years and years. Invest in the glass. Again I recommend that you communicate with other professionals concerning what to get for equipment. You don't need a lot of equipment to start. One good lens will take you a long way.
Get out there and shoot some horses. Find a barn where you can hang out and take photos. This is also a great way to get contact with horses. After a while you will find yourself understanding their unspoken language. You will meet some wonderful people in your travels and you may be amazed by where your journey will take you. Be confident in what you do but don't be arrogant. Take the time to talk with people at shows. Be approachable. I hear horror stories about photographers who are not friendly. I think maybe they are more shy than not friendly. Don't use your camera as a wall between you and your customers, invite them to talk with you. You will meet some amazing horses and you will find that people love to talk about their horses. If you are shy and don't know what to say just ask what breed of horse they have and ask them to tell you about the horse. You will find that you won't need to talk very much. A wonderful journey awaits you but it is up to you to take the first step.
Photo by Tanja Hemric