A recent link on a Facebook page highlighting the difficulties being faced by Equestrian Event photographers prompted me to put into words some thoughts and ideas I have been mulling over for a while.
First thing that came up was Uncle Bob and his camera. I'm not convinced that Uncle Bob and his camera are a huge problem. Definitely a problem but how much of a problem? Yes, it affects sales but if I or a one of the team cannot consistently get a better picture then we should not be out there. I use the word 'consistently' as we should be able to take 100 shots and have 97 at a print standard whilst Uncle Bob will probably carefully sift through his and select the best 10 out of his 100.
Does modern kit make it easier? The camera manufacturers are telling you 'buy our camera and produce pro quality images' so it must be true. If it was that simple then there would not be a profession of photography. So, yes, modern cameras do make our job easier but you still need the underlying skills of a photographer to get the best out of the equipment. As an example, if I was a reasonable rider (I'm not by the way) and you put me on a top jumper with a great saddle and gear would you expect me to perform like a pro jumper?
A good part of the difficulty for professional photographers is that we are in a recession and we are offering 'good' and 'great' images for a tenner a piece or you can have 'not quite as good' for a couple of quid or free. Money is tight and 'good enough' is winning the wallet/purse battle at the moment.
There are some basic costs associated with covering equestrian events professionally. Each photographer will be carrying anything from £1500 to £10k in kit, we may have to set up wireless networks (£1000 each) to get images back to the viewing stations, viewing stations are £250 to £300 each (minimum), print stations (usually a £1000 or more), software, printers, generators, petrol for the generators, marquee, insurance, kit maintenance, consumables stock, van etc. It is a serious investment of capital on our part.
A simple multi discipline event (eg. 3 rings and cross country) typically requires 4 photographers at a minimum of £60 each for the day and usually £80 to £120 with travelling expenses etc. Take it as £80 and with 4 photographer we have spent £320 before we have even taken a penny or taken a shot. Two sales assistants at £60 each and we add another £120 to the equation. So, before we start we need to take £440 to cover staffing and that is before we take into account the other costs already mentioned. Hmmm, maybe this is why we charge for a print or usage of an image.
This can be frustrating at times. An organiser will phone with a 300 entry event. Great we say, we ask some more questions and no matter what we ask it is still 300 riders. Turn up on the day and it is actually 80 riders with multiple entries per rider. At this point every single rider needs to buy an image for us to break even and then the organiser will be stretching out their hand at the end of the day looking for a donation to the club. A busy viewing station does not mean we have actually been busy taking money.
We will be out there in all sorts of weather. Wind, rain, sleet, snow, cold, very cold, brass monkey cold and warm and hot. We will shoot when the light is not ideal because we want to get a picture for you of your day. It is not unusual for a photographer covering cross country for example to set out from the marquee at 8am to walk the course and pick a spot and not get back to the marquee until 6pm. That is ten hours on his/her feet making do with a flask and a sandwich and hopefully finding a bush at some point and doing this even when it is lashing it down one minute and blowing a gale the next.
Ok, this is turning into a book But I hope you are seeing where I am coming from here. This is why we get upset when images we have spent a lot of time and money getting are 'lifted'. Talking of time the typical day for us at an event like this starts at 3 to 4 am packing (after preparing everything the day before) and finishes at about 8pm unpacking the van (for a local event). A long long day. Then we still have to get the images on the Internet and sort out the kits and respond to the emails wanting to know where the images are.
Now, a question for any of you that are riders. If a fee was charged which was part of the registration fee (like the fee for the sound system, ambulance coverage etc.) and Facebook size images were free to download but we could not guarantee that we would have an image of everybody would you pay the fee? We would make best efforts to get as many riders an image as possible and would put a camera at the marquee so we could do a natural light portrait if we have not managed to capture you on the course or in the ring. How would you feel about this and what would you see as a reasonable charge?
A bit like war and peace now in length for a post but I hope you have stuck through it and would really like and appreciate any feedback (positive or negative). Drop me an email and I will put a selection of views together and update this post with the results.
Update: 4th September 2013
Well, I had one response. The response was positive and agreed that paying a small fee at registration would be a nice way of getting Facebook sized images but that was the only response. I have decided not to cover equestrian events in the future as it is just too difficult to actually recover the costs of attending never mind pay myself a wage.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. John