Why Private Client Photography for Equine Shows?

Private Client Photography is still something that is relatively new to the equine photography world. As far as I know it only became a regular offering within the last five years or so. It is most commonly offered in the english disciplines, particularly show jumping and has taken off at many of the larger venues, including WEF, Tryon, Retired Racehorse Project Makeover. As this approach to horse show photography begins to trickle down to the smaller shows and other disciplines, I think it’s important to have a conversation about what it looks like to offer this service and how to do so respectfully.

Before we jump into it further, we should chat about what exactly private client photography is and how it differs from what has been the normal for horse show photography.

I’ve been showing and attending horse shows for many years. Even at the smaller horse shows I attended, there was always an official photographer (from now on I’ll be referring to them as the OP). This individual, or team of photographers is tasked with photographing the entire horse show, capturing action shots of every single rider (or at least that should be the goal) and then selling the digital copies and print products after the show. I myself am an OP for a few smaller shows every summer and let me tell you, it is gruelling work and exhausting days. As OP’s we are responsible for arriving before the show starts and staying until it ends, sitting outside in whatever the weather, carrying around heavy equipment all day and barely finding time to eat. We are not paid to be there, generally have to cover all our own expenses and have to hope that we are going to make enough sales after the show to break even. It is a hard job.

Private Client Photographers differ in that they secure clients at a show before hand and show up to photograph these clients and these clients only. Obviously not every photographer offers an identical service but generally they will photograph their clients day from start to finish, capturing getting ready, warming up, in the ring and candid moments. It is a tailored and personal service, and one that is priced at a pretty penny. This also means that Private Photographers have their income guaranteed before they even set foot on the show grounds.

Understandably, there is a friction between OP’s and Private Photographers. Private Photographers can actively be taking income away from OP’s who are exhausted and often struggling to break even from their shows, where as Private Photographers can be making a sizeable profit, with very little expenses. Having been on both sides of the coin, I think there is very much a need for OP’s and Private Photographers and I believe they can and should co-exist. However as more and more Private Photographers enter the ring, it is very important that we foster a relationship of respect on both sides and learn to value one another.

Always ask first!

Before I even consider taking on private clients at a new venue, I will reach out to both the Show Organizers and the OP (if there is one) and inquire about offering my services. I always offer to pay a media fee and set very clear limits on the service I’ll be providing (won’t be entering the ring, will not advertise, will provide a client list etc.) and am very clear that the OP has the right to refuse me offering this service. There are venues where I am not allowed to offer private client photography and while I wish this were not the case, I will never question this decision or attempt to photograph there out of respect for the OP and wanting to maintain a good reputation for myself within the industry.

Have a client list

Providing the OP with a client list or as some refer to it as a show list (rider names and numbers) before the show begins does 2 things. First, it lets them know that you won’t be going around taking pictures of all the riders at the show, and allows them to remove your privileges of being on the show grounds if they see you photographing riders outside of this list. Second, it lets them know which riders not to photograph so that they can take a break during their rounds (trust me, breaks are hard to come by as an OP). It also limits you from advertising on the grounds and taking on more clients during the show, which actively undermines the OP.

Pay your fees!

My personal belief is that if OP’s and Private Photographers are to coexist, fees need to be part of the equation. Many of the larger venues (WEF, Tryon, Kentucky Horse Park, WEC, etc) charge a media fee to private photographers. This cost can then be built into the prices they charge their clients, and hopefully some of this fee is going back to the OP to offset for the loss of sales due to the presence of Private Photographers. As someone who has been both an OP and Private Photographer, I believe this option provides a win-win for everyone.

Do not advertise!

As a Private Photographer I do not wear my branded merch to the show grounds, I don’t take my business cards and if anyone approaches me, I will refer them to the OP. I am not there to actively try and take business away from them. While being an OP is grueling, it does provide excellent face to face marketing opportunities and Private Photographers should not be taking advantage of these opportunities if they want to maintain a good relationship with the OP. My clients usually refer me to their friends for further clientele, but I personally will not advertise myself at shows that I am not there to photograph as the OP.

As a whole, I believe our industry is still learning how to adjust to the onset of private photography. Show management is figuring out how to handle these requests, OP’s are having to adjust their strategies and most importantly competitors are choosing what is important to them and where they want their dollars to go. But, it is up to photographers who choose to offer Private Client services to do so respectfully, and with the OP in mind.