“So You Think You Can…” is a new series that highlights jobs in the horse industry. We’ll speak to professionals and figure out what it takes if you’re interested in a career change. This week we discuss equine photography.
Are you qualified?
Fine art degrees aside, the first qualifications to be a horse photographer generally are a passion for photography and horses.
In her article, How Do I Become an Equine Photographer, Cassidy from The Equine Photography Academy writes, “I grew up always loving photography, but not truly realizing it. I have also loved horses since (I’m pretty sure) the day I came out of the womb.”
Kaylee from Kaylee Wroe Photography remarks, “I am the horse-loving girl that my clients are. I can easily relate to them.”
Prior horse experience is not required, though, as Duane from TD Pro Photography tells us.
“Before our exposure to the world of polo, we were shooting head shots for corporations, senior photos, family portraits, some auto racing and enduro mountain bike races. We were looking for other opportunities to shoot and be in the outdoors. A good friend of ours suggested that we shoot polo. The more she described it to us the more interested we became. The feeling you get when horses are racing past and you’re only a few feet away with the ground pounding cannot be fully expressed in words. The sheer power and speed is nothing short of amazing.”
All agree that education is the key to turning that passion into a career.
“I had a bit of an unconventional start with photography at the Calgary Polo Club. 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,” laughs Kaylee.
She adds, “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. A mentor is a shortcut.”
Cassidy writes, “Take as many pictures as you can. Watch all the videos you can on how to improve. Practice any chance you get, even if it means shooting for free. This is a long process. You aren’t going to become the world’s greatest equine photographer overnight. Keep going. If you love it, like truly love it, then you will get better and better. You will be able to make money doing this, but it takes time to build up your skill level and your clientele.”
Can you handle the initial investment?
Kaylee comments, “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. 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.”
Duane says, “We started with a Nikon D710 (Crop Sensor) and a 70-200 lens. We soon learned we needed some big glass, fast focusing and fast frames per second to capture the action in polo. We now have a Nikon D5 (DSLR) and Z9 (Mirrorless) with (2) 200-500mm zoom lenses. We rarely have a photo that’s out of focus. You also need a fast computer. We usually have thousands of photos to parse through before posting them the morning after an event. Other than that, invest in comfortable shoes and a hat with a brim.”
Cassidy writes, “When I first started out, I had a $400 DSLR, no additional lenses. Looking back, it would’ve been a good investment to have this lens, instead of the zoom that came with the kit. I edited on my iPad using an app called Photofox. I didn’t even own a computer, let alone have all the Adobe products I use now. No matter what anyone tells you, the equipment does affect your final product.”
She adds not to be discouraged, though.
“Don’t give up because you’re using a $200 camera and only have one lens. Please don’t wait until you have a $2,500 camera and lens set up in order to start taking photos. Start where you are with exactly what you have. Focus on improving your own work, but not trying to make your work look like anyone else’s.”
Are you prepared to work overtime?
Planning on working 9 to 5? Nope, it’s more like 5 to 9 for most successful entrepreneurs. According to Gallup, 62% of business owners work over 50 hours a week. A poll of readers of the New York Enterprise Report claims that 70% of business owners also work regularly on at least one day of the weekend.
Cassidy explains, “I took pictures for free, a lot. I offered to do photoshoots of friend’s horses for free. I took pictures of my horse. I bothered people at my barn and convinced them to let me photograph them. Once I felt somewhat confident photographing horses and people I knew, I put out ‘model calls’ or basically an offer for free photoshoots services in order to build up my portfolio.”
Once your business grows, you’ll only get busier.
Duane comments, “Shooting the photos, seeing your friends every week, having some great food, and experiencing the sheer power and speed are all super fun. When you’re in front of your computer blurry eyed at midnight, trying to meet deadlines, that’s the challenge.”
And don’t forget you have to spend time making social connections and marketing as well.
Kaylee asserts, “Connections are everything in the horse world. They are what open the doors for you. Make friends with the people you want to work with, but be genuine about it. People can sniff out fake from a mile away. And do the right thing for the industry too. Undercutting other photographers won’t make you many friends.”
Cassidy adds, “Social media: the key to my success. I created a Facebook page and Instagram account for my photography. These became so essential to my growth. I posted any and all my favorite images from each session I did. I tagged people. I used hashtags and geolocations to attract more clients. I didn’t get discouraged when I would only get five likes (or zero likes) on a post. I kept going. I kept posting and I kept learning about how to use social media effectively.”
Are you ready for the business side of the business?
“Things I wish I would have done sooner: Had a legitimate client agreement form. I now use Jotform and it makes life so much easier than trying to use paper forms when you show up to a session. It also looks more professional and weeds out clients who aren’t serious,” writes Cassidy.
Basic invoicing skills, accounting and tax prep are also handy, especially since you’ll be filing as self-employed, which can be daunting.
Last but not least…
You need to be prepared to politely fend off questions like, “Why do I need to hire a photographer when I have a camera on my phone?”
Kaylee says you need to find your niche and value your work.
“Everyone has a camera. Everyone is a photographer. Offer a high quality product. Personally, I sell artwork — giant statement pieces and luxurious, high quality albums. Their iPhones can’t do that!”
Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.