Unofficial Photographers

I’m a big proponent of the “pics or it didn’t happen” philosophy. Even before the age of digital media I LOVED getting those little proofs in the mail and deciding which ones to get, filling out the order form, and then waiting a few months for the photos to arrive. Now that everything is digital (and so much easier – praise) and social media is so huge, pictures are even more important. I love having the memories and I love looking at other people’s pictures on social media. Not to mention that it’s pretty hard to be a blogger if you don’t have pictures. Boring.

photo from the official show photographer

These days, it seems like just about everyone has a fancy digital camera. Except for me, of course, because I’m not a very good photographer and don’t have the patience for it. Maybe that’s why I value good pictures so much? But I like that so many people are into it now, because the more people there are taking pictures of my horses, the happier I am.

To be clear, I will support the official photographer of a show every single time, 110%. If there’s someone on site taking pictures, standing out there all day, organizing and editing all that crap, you can bet I’ll buy at least one or two, guaranteed. Or literally all of them, like I did for both weeks of Chatt. #noregrets

But I always see other people, non-professionals usually, out there taking pictures too. Whether they’re just having fun with their camera, or practicing, or waiting for their wife/daughter/whatever to go by, there are cameras everywhere at shows. Sometimes the people shooting pics are teenagers that I know, and can seek out on Instagram. Sometimes it’s a show dad with nice equipment and a great eye (shoutout to Dusty!). Other times I have no idea who they are, and may or may not ever find out.

Photo from Dusty, who is a photographer in his own right, but not the official show photographer.

I’ve gotten several pictures from such photographers just because they happened to post a picture of me and someone who knew me happened to tag me in it (for real, how do y’all find these people? Tell me your secrets!). If it’s a good picture, I’ll buy that one too. No joke, I will buy every single picture that anyone takes of me, if it’s a good picture. I do not discriminate.

Granted, I know that this isn’t true of everyone, and this is why official photographers are generally none too pleased to have other people snapping pictures nearby. It’s a sticky situation, and I see both sides of things. Anything that threatens their livelihood is ultimately bad for anyone who doesn’t have their own personal paparazzi following them around. But the more pictures I have, the happier I am. Especially if the official photographers didn’t make the best choices about which jumps to stand by, or didn’t have the staff to cover very much of the course.

My favorite pic from the whole 2 weeks, from another unofficial photographer. I only found it because a friend tagged me in the photo on Insta.

I’m always kind of torn on this, because on one hand I feel a duty to support and protect the official photographers, a dying breed. On the other hand, I want more pictures. Always more pictures. Sometimes they’re actually better pictures, too. I can’t help but feel kinda guilty about it though, despite the fact that I’m still giving money to the official photographers.

How do you guys feel about this? Will you buy All The Pictures, or do you limit yourself to just one or two? What are your feelings on unofficial photographers at events?

31 thoughts on “Unofficial Photographers

  1. interesting topic. i sometimes help out a local show photographer I’m friends with, and I’ll be honest if I see someone running after a rider taking pics of them I won’t fuss myself over getting pics of that particular rider. Because probably they won’t buy any, as they brought their own photographer to the show 😛


      1. thats very true! and i still do take pictures, but sometimes im in a spot where I accidentally have to choose between 2 riders and that ‘helps’ me choose…


  2. I have yet to attend an event with a photographer, but there was always one at the endurance races and I bought every single picture they had of me. I figured if they were passionate enough to go trek through the woods to find that perfect spot and then wait for hours in rain/sun/heat/cold to snap that pic of me, I darn well better buy it.


    1. Same. I have a GREAT photo of my human child from an endurance ride because the photographer was in camp taking photos at the hold and she was being worn by my husband who was waiting for me to come in. I bought every single photo.


  3. Hmmm I guess I hadn’t thought much about it. I have had friends who are photographers grab a few pics of me at a couple of events, but they typically can only get 2 or 3 XC jumps, while an official photographer typically gets a lot more. At the same time, I have seen some events where there are no photographers for SJ or Dressage. So if I want media from that, I have to get it from “unofficial” sources.

    As for paying someone I don’t personally know for photos they took alongside the official photographer… I have such mixed feelings about it. Photographers need to practice and network before they should really be selected as an official horse show photographer, so I want to encourage the next generation of photographers, especially as so many are giving up the game! BUT I also want to be sure I am supporting the official photographers as a first priority.


  4. At Royals last event, there was an official photographer taking photos, and also an unofficial one who had been an official photographer at previous events (so we knew each other). I prepaid $85 for all the official photos, but the unofficial said she’d be happy to take photos of me. The official photos were awful: washed out colors, no editing, super awkward moments, and I really felt I’d wasted my money. The unofficial ones were all beautiful, so those are the ones I cherished, as we haven’t competed since then, due to my horses health.

    I think if I go back to that event (definitely thinking about it for next year as my horses health has done a complete 180 and he’s healthy and sassy), I’ll see if any of the official photos are worth it, and I’ll beg my friend to take as many photos as possible.


  5. I’ll buy all the photos if I like enough of them to make it a better deal than buying 3 or 4, and it usually is. I do some photography on the side and I know how exhausting and expensive it is so if I can afford it, I try to buy some whenever they’re available.


  6. Just came back from an event a couple weeks ago. The professional photographer took 6 pictures of me. I bought all 6! The photographer was amazing – of course me and my pony didn’t look to shabby either – but she really had a great eye. I always buy at least one professional picture, but this was the first time I really loved every single picture the photographer took. I am always going to support the professional because I want them to continue to show up. I’ve never bought or received a picture from an amateur photographer, not that I wouldn’t but the opportunity has never presented itself.


  7. I’ll buy a picture from anyone if I like the photo. I’m a firm believer in free market competition. With technological advancements, it’s much easier for the average Joe to have access to equipment and technology that was previously a barrier to entering the market. While I would love to support having official photographers at shows, but like Renee above said, I’m not paying for a crappy product. It’s kind of like Uber and Lyft taking over the taxi industry. In a free market society, you have to be adaptable and set yourself apart from the competition, or your business will not make it. Maybe show photographers can offer something that amateurs can’t, like package deals for all your pics, or good editing, or videos in addition to stills. My money and resources are limited, so I’m going to spend it where I see the best quality/value for my dollar.


  8. I’m with you 100% on all of this. Right down to not knowing how to feel about the unofficial photogs. I’ve found though, at a lot of shows, the official photographers don’t always have coverage in every ring all the time. And if that’s the case, there certainly is room for the unofficial people to grab some photos. I know a lot of kids in high school and/or college looking to become photographers and I think it’s a great way to get started. They’re not really stealing work from the pros as there really is a difference between a great pro shot and one from a non pro. Plus, like you, I’ll buy from everyone. GIMME ALL THE PHOTOS!


  9. I’m with you. I want all the pics. Lots of the hunter/jumper kids have fancy cameras and post photos. A couple at my barn do this, but mostly they take pics of each other and not us old folks. I try to make it a point to buy at least one photo from the official photographer. I (or my parents) hardly bought any pics of me showing from the official photog when I was a kid and I desperately regret it. I showed Jaguar at the World Championship show and I don’t have a single photo from that event. Tragic. Now I have my own office and I’ve covered the walls and my desks with show and hunting photos. 🙂


  10. There are very rarely official photographers down here. At the VPHA show last fall I was annoyed bc the only pictures were in front of a background in the warm up and the cheapest package was $100. Nawww. And after seeing them after the fact I’m so glad I didn’t go for that.


  11. i know a lot of people who get their own photographers to take photos at shows(Emily’s husband Mark does AMAZING PHOTOS) but she also buys from the official too…..

    My beef is when you think there is going to be a photographer and they dont show up. That has happened a few times to me at events.

    But i do try to buy something from any official photographer (Hence me buying the ones at Blue Goose in the RAIN the other year, that woman GOT SOAKED taking photos and took amazing photos, they were pricey but worth it!).

    Great topic!


  12. I agree that I want my own personal photographer to follow me around. Lol. I love getting pictures and I want to support our professional photographer but they can be SO expensive! Last show I purchased one 8×10 and one low-resolution web photo and it cost me $142! I LOVED the pictures (so much so I got tears in my eyes but that had more to do with the difficulty we had at the show to get such great pictures was like a miracle lol) so I was happy to pay for them but I at that price I can’t get ALL the pictures that I wanted. We had one photographer at a show that not only did the show pictures but he got such great outside the ring candid photos! TREASURES!


    1. Holy crap! $142 for one picture and a digital! At those prices there is no way I would buy a photo. I don’t think I’ve paid more than $20 a print and $25 for print and digital.


  13. At an event like the ones you go to, I’m down 100% just as you said to support the official photographer when at shows. They would have the equipment to get those great shots, and I’m the person that will get the “bad” shots just because I want it ALL haha. (I may or may not get the bad ones because I can pull apart what didn’t go so well there and link it to the ride lol). I love pictures, but my phone camera actually takes pretty decent photos/video, so I’m okay with handing my phone to my mom or a friend to snap a few of me. For the small shows that I frequent around the Vegas area, we unfortunately do not have many photographers come – there isn’t usually a huge turnout, and people tend to be cheap and don’t want to pay the price for photos. I will admit that some of the pricing was a bit steep for me. My sister and I have very similar taste in pictures, so if I REALLY want media I’ll ask her to come photograph and I’ll pay her (with either money or massage therapy lol). It’s nice because I can ask her to do one type of photo, or just a few of us messing around, and my favs are always the ones that are unplanned photos but turn out the best. At bigger shows tho, I’m going to be more likely to purchase their photos and support them.


  14. For $55+ for a single 4″x6″ photo from the official photographers around here, I simply can’t afford to support the official photographers. One of the barn moms has a great camera and a great eye, so that’s what I usually rely on! I used to buy a lot more, but now I’m pretty picky and will only buy one if it makes me go WOW out loud.


  15. I 100% will support a show photographer- if they get a good pic. If all the pics of me are unflattering or poor timing then…. what can you do? Even though show photographers at h/j shows can be super pricey, I will still buy at least one if it’s good- just to support them. If a jr with a good camera is around takes pics of me, and they are good, I will gladly throw money at him/her for more pics. Like you, I always like more pics!


  16. None of the shows I used to go to ever had a professional photographer. A friend snapped photos at the one show I do have pictures of.

    Local to me now, there is usually the same photographer – whom I would not buy pictures from. For several reasons, biggest one being is that lots of them are generally not good and to have to pay the fortune they are asking – no thanks. The screen shots that can be had from the video are of the same quality so the choice is pretty clear.

    However, our most local event has an AWESOME photographer – although I am biased because she was our wedding photographer. But she finds great spots and she takes the time to edit them ALL instead of just dumping everything online like previously mentioned photographer.

    I am all about supporting local photographers at shows vs. friends etc…..if the quality is there.


  17. Not horses BUT a bit of discussion re professionals vs casual photographers –
    I play football and we have a team photographer who also photographs the professional hockey/football/lacrosse teams here. My husband also loves taking sports photos and is pretty great. She has been incredibly helpful and supportive and lets him on the field with her. She has brought up excellent points – but it is a bit different of a perspective because we pay her for the photos, she doesn’t sell them individually. Other teams often provide her photos to outlets for articles and use them in social media/advertising. Even though she can crack down on that incorrect usage, amateur photographers often don’t which devalues their own work, which in turn devalues the professionals (if that makes sense?). The solution for us was providing photos privately and stating for personal use only. If people are putting up great quality photos
    I know it’s a bit different as people pay for horse show photos, but maybe a bit of perspective from the photogs pov.


  18. I love supporting local photographers! The few times I haven’t I either didn’t know who they were (seriously, guys, it’s not hard to help me find and pay you) or was showing on a serious shoe string. Many times my friends take photos, and so I am lucky enough to have both. As a person who takes unofficial photos often, I always try to cover places the official photographer isn’t covering. Either in angle or jump.


  19. I did this.

    I bought a camera because I just loved being involved even when I wasn’t riding, and I knew how much it meant to me when I had photos that I thought others may feel the same.

    I made them free to use because it was for my enjoyment and I wasn’t a professional (although I do understand why professionals found this frustrating).

    By the same token, I was always the rider that couldn’t afford to buy a photo for $30 or whatever it was they were charging, but definitely too expensive for a teenager with no income.

    This means I have barely any photos of my number one girl back competing in the day. I kind of love social media has prevented that from being the case for other people.


  20. There are not a lot of official photographers around here, but at the one or two local shows I have attended where someone did in fact stay and take photos all day, I went to their website and bought a couple of photos to show support for their time (plus I also just really like pictures). Right now, I have stepped into the role of unofficial show photographer lately. I haven’t began charging for photos, because honestly I do not think I am good enough to charge for them yet, but I am continuing to keep taking the photos in order to try and improve my skills and become more “official”. I am torn between loving and hating unofficial show photographers. They (myself included) have made official show photographers more and more of a dying breed, but at the same time, I just love media! And I love being the photographer that gives my photos to someone for free because there is no better feeling than having the round of your life on your favorite horse and someone giving you a fantastic photo to commemorate that for the rest of time.


  21. For me, it just depends on the situation. My friend has a really nice camera and we take pictures of each other at shows, which is great for my blog — however, I still usually buy one or two from the official photographer because theirs are usually a little bit better. I mean, there’s really no comparing a $250 lens to a $10k lens…


  22. As someone who is an amateur photographer I will mostly only go to shows and events that friends of mine are competing at. There are a couple venues (Spruce Meadows for one) that obviously will have their own team of professionals. So in places like that I try to stick to ONLY getting people I know so that if someone asks me about purchasing pictures I can just direct them to the official photographer. At one of the venues the photographer is also a friend of mine so I know she doesn’t mind but I also try to be respectful to her and her team. On the flip-side, there are smaller schooling shows we will go to and I won’t discriminate as much there as usually they just have the partners or parents taking pictures on their phones. So if I can snap some good shots and make someone happy then I think it’s worth it. When shooting cross country I will also look to see if there’s other people around with cameras, no point in everyone having the exact same picture (even if the angle or timing are slightly different). Due to my (forever) amateur status I do charge for my digitals but I keep it low. I’ve discussed with a few pro photographer friends about if I’m undermining them by doing it but as I’m not advertising or actively trying to “steal” potential customers they all have no problems with having another person who is interested in being out there getting the pictures.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s