Barn Aisle Chats is a new series where we will meet equestrians from all walks of life and disciplines. Today, we chat with Kaylee about equine photography.
I first met Kaylee when I was playing polo at the Houston Polo Club. I use the word met loosely, since we never actually shook hands or spoke to one another. She was always a lone figure, tucked away behind a gigantic lens on the opposite end of the field. But after every tournament I always admired her photos, “oohing” and “aahing” at how fantastic my horse and I looked when compared to the constant sweaty derp face that occurred when I tried to take a selfie with my phone. When I had the opportunity to ask Kaylee a few questions about her photography business, I jumped at the chance.
Amanda: Hi, Kaylee! Welcome to Horse Nation! Tell us about how you got started in photography?
Kaylee: I had a bit of an unconventional start with photography. The Calgary Polo Club needed a photographer for their season and asked if I would be interested. I had zero experience — ignorance is bliss. I borrowed a camera for the first month. I had no idea what any of the settings meant and I very clearly remember how those first images looked — completely blown out, missed focus.
I was also working a summer job for a university in downtown Calgary. I would ride the train an hour each way, editing photos on a borrowed laptop. Fortunately for me, one of the other university employees happened to have a photography habit. I remember having the “exposure triangle” conversation. It’s funny to look back now, humble beginnings for sure!
A: What is different about equine photography compared to other types of photography you’ve done personally or professionally?
K: That’s a good question. I would have to say the horse is what makes it different. They are as individual and unique as each person. You can plan right down to the last detail, but at the end of the day… I am at the mercy of that horse. If he’s not feeling it, I have to be able to adjust. It might be a little adjustment, like giving him a minute to relax and think. It might mean changing the whole plan on the fly.
A: You briefly mentioned that you borrowed your first camera. How has your equipment changed from when you started versus now. What have you learned are the must-haves for equine photography?
K: I started with a Canon 7D kit off of Amazon. If I could go back in time, it was a complete waste. I never used any of the trinkets that came with it. You are better off buying the body you like and one decent lens to get started. Those “kits” are junk.
For action I still use a 7D mii and a 100-400mm. For portraits I have a Canon 5D miv. My go-to lens is the 70-200 mii. It’s a beast and I rarely use anything else. The rule of thumb is generally 130mm-200mm for horses. It gives the proper proportions. If you use a short focal length, the part of the horse closest to your camera will look disproportionately large compared to the parts that are further from your camera. Too long a focal length and you could “squish” the horse with too much compression. That being said, I have seen photographers who embrace it. That’s their style — you do you!
Aside from equipment, having a good assistant, for me, is a must! There is a lot going on at a shoot. I am trying to manage a client and compose a shot, so I love having someone who can help manage the horse. They can reposition the horse if he moves or gets fidgety. They also get the ears up — this is one of the most important things — always get the ears! It will make or break your shot. It can be done without an assistant, not everyone uses them, but I find the whole experience smoother with one. If I can make that one part easier for myself, then I have more to pour into my client during the shoot.
A: What does a typical workday look like?
K: My husband and I train horses, so the first four to five hours of my day are spent riding. I am the horse-loving girl that my clients are, so I can easily relate to them! After that, I run through my email and begin client communications. Most of my clients text or call me whenever they have questions; usually emails are the more formal communications, i.e. scheduling consultations or image reveal appointments.
I live and work pretty seasonally, because not many people want to go out in a hot sweaty Houston summer and have their portraits taken! In the slow seasons, I work on the backend of the business — marketing, bookwork, education. During the busier seasons, I spend the bulk of my time dedicated to my clients. I do a consultation with each client where we discuss their style and what they want to do with their portraits. This is key because my clients all purchase wall art or an album — usually both. After their session, each client has an image reveal where we sort through their portraits and narrow down their favorites. After this I do the retouching, wall art design and album design based on what they have chosen.
A: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
K: Invest in yourself as much as if not more than your equipment. Having a good mentor will make you more money than you spent on hiring them! Life is too short to make all your own mistakes and a mentor is a shortcut. That being said, buy the best equipment you can. While it can’t make up for bad composition, it does make a difference. You will see this the most when you try to print.
A: And what’s the biggest challenge?
K: Again, the horse. They can have their own ideas about what the day will look like and sometimes you just have to go with it! You can plan and plan and plan, but the ability to be flexible and adapt on the fly is critical.
A: Thanks so much for joining us, Kaylee!
Kaylee’s Fast Five:
Coffee, tea or soda? Coffee. For sure coffee! I have two toddlers. It’s how I survive!
Sunrise or sunset? I love both. I can’t choose! I guess it depends on which is prettier that day.
Summer or winter? I grew up in Canada, so normally I would say summer. However, now I live in the land of perpetual heat, so I actually love winter. It’s a novelty to go home and play in the snow.
Cats or dogs? Again, I love both. Maybe cats edge dogs out by a nose. Cats are pretty independent. I appreciate that in a pet, though, our cat is more like a dog. He goes to the barn with us and gets in the bath tub.
Black Stallion or Black Beauty? Black Beauty. 100%
For more information or to schedule a consultation visit Kaylee Wroe Photography.
Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.