Compared to a lot of photographers out there, I’m a newbie. I’m still young and I’ve only been doing this a few years. By no means do I consider myself an expert or am I saying that I know it all. I’m learning so much every single day.
But in the few years that I’ve been doing this job, I’ve seen rapid growth in enquiries and bookings, on my social media accounts, and just in general interest in what I do. And if I can help anyone else achieve their dream, whilst I continue to live mine, then I’m more than happy to share my learnings. And seeing as this question comes through on my emails and messages time and again, I thought I’d blog about it. I don’t know how other equine photographers made their way to where they are now, and we all have different journeys, as well as different destinations, but here’s how I did it.
I’d been working in event photography, with my dad, for four years, since I was nineteen, and swore if I had to photograph another boy playing football, I’d go nuts. I hate football! I felt like the reason that I’d wanted to become a photographer in the first place, the reason I’d ventured into this industry and chosen this as my career; the dreams of creating beautiful artwork, the desire to be creative and adventurous with my work; had been a distant, naive pipe-dream.
One day, I was sitting in the office, processing image after image of dancers from a recent talent festival we’d covered, and I turned around to my Dad and said ‘Dad, I want to photograph horses.’ Now, my parents aren’t horsey. At all! In fact, my Mum is truly terrified of their teeth and their feet and not all that keen on the bit in between. I don’t know where I got my equine addiction from, but from the moment my Mum put me on her friend’s Sheltand pony when I was just three years old, I was smitten. And I’ve been the only one in my family suffering from this life-long affliction ever since, riding and owning horses my entire life.
So, I tried to explain to my Dad what I had in my head. Girls in pretty dresses, with their ponies and a pretty sunset in the background. I showed him some other photographers, whose work I’d been obsessing over for months and tried to get him on board with the idea.
My Dad isn’t a photographer. He’s a business man. He dealt with the business side of our event photography franchise. So, he isn’t a photographer, and he isn’t into horses. He was so not getting it. He looked at me a little blankly, like I’d totally just invented this job that didn’t exist and he couldn’t fathom how I would imagine making a living from it. And looking back, I guess that’s fair enough. The amount of times I would tell people that I was an equine photographer, over the years that followed, and they’d just look confused and say ‘Is that even a thing?’ Yes. Yes, it is. Ta daaa!
‘I don’t think there’ll be a big enough market for you to do that full time, Sophie,’ my dad said. ‘I just can’t see there being that much call for it.’
I went away and thought on it for a while, carried on checking the blogs of the equine photographers I admired, every day. And eventually, because I’m stubborn like that, I decided, I was going to do it anyway. I had a camera, I had editing software and I was sure my horse-owning friends would be willing to pose for me. And I knew that my parents, if a little sceptical, would be supportive, if I really wanted to do it. I told Dad I was going to give this equine photography thing a go and just see how it went. If I did a few shoots and it never caught on, I’d stick to the event photography. If I got a few bookings and could combine the two, I’d be thrilled. I could make a living from event photography, but I’d have an outlet for my creative ideas, too. And I’d be making a bit of extra pocket money and getting to work with horses. I had nothing to loose.
In November 2011, I shot my first equestrian photoshoot, working with a friend of a friend, Devon, and her horse, Trigger. I created a Facebook page, had no idea what to call it, so just used my name. I threw a logo together and posted my first set of images. And I never looked back!
Within a year we’d sold the event photography franchise, because I just didn’t have the time, or motivation, for it any more. If I was going to make the equine photography work, I needed to give it my full attention and commitment. And now, three years later, I’m fully booked four months in advance in the summer months and have just had my best winter yet. It was the best decision I’ve ever made and I can’t imagine my life any other way, now. As clichéd as it sounds, I really do feel like I’ve found what I was born to do.
It’s certainly not been smooth sailing and I have so much still to learn. Amongst other things, I had a car accident a couple of summers back, which set me back hugely, and then last year my brother was on a pretty well known talent show. Some of you may have seen it 😉 (But that’s a different story, which you can read about here) And that just threw my entire family into total disarray and I pretty much dropped the ball altogether, for five months. And of course, there were the usual, mandatory start-up mountains that any young business has to climb.
I’m twenty-seven years old. I was twenty-four when I started and had very little idea about running a business by myself, so I’ve just learnt as I’ve gone along. Learnt from my own mistakes, learnt by asking for advice, learnt by being brave enough to try new things and experiment, learnt from some absolutely invaluable online communities that I’m a part of… I just try to soak it all up and put it all into practice. But because I love what I do, I absolutely love learning how to do it. I read up a lot, I research, I spend hours, late at night, scouring the internet; learning, creating, coming up with ideas and plans, filling my head with inspiration. And I learn something new every day. Every time I go to a new shoot, every time I check the resources I follow on the internet, every time I take notice of what the experts are doing.
So, that’s my story. Obviously every photographer you meet, no matter what kind of photography they do, will have a totally different story. But this is mine. There is definitely no definitive answer to ‘How to get into Equine Photography’. The closest answer there is, is to just go for it. Everybody has had to start somewhere. Dive in, head first and paddle as hard as you can. Set yourself goals, be determined, be brave, work bloody hard, be nice to people, be supportive of others, be approachable and be passionate about what you’re doing.
When I begun this journey, I was in a very fortunate position, living at home with my parents. So I was lucky enough to be able to try it out without worrying about paying too many bills and supporting a family. I understand that many aren’t so lucky and have responsibilities to think about and mouths to feed. In which case, if you don’t think you can afford to take such a risk, giving up your steady full time job to flounce about photographing pretty ponies, on the off chance that it makes enough money to make ends meet, my advice would be to do it as a hobby for now.
But if you do want to do it, get out there and go for it. Spend time honing your skills, learning your craft, building your portfolio. If, some time in the future, you feel like you’ve gathered enough momentum to start charging for your shoots, then you can start making an enjoyable part time wage from doing something you love. And then, maybe one day you might just be able to turn that part time job into a full time dream come true! Isn’t that at least worth a shot?
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