Photographer Controversy

I have been watching the discussion on about the controversy over some Saddlebred shows restricting all photography, professional or family candids (think “proud moms”), to the actual “official” show ring photographer. While I think the intention was to keep other professional photographers from taking rail side pictures and then selling them, the rule at Lexington Junior League, (which is comparable in importance to our own New England Regional) makes it so that NO ONE can take candid pictures, or they will be banned from the grounds. I just thought that the Morgan community should be aware of this movement, and become informed as it will surely spill over to the Morgan World soon. The debate is quite controlled, with some very valid points offered from both sides. You can see it at with he thread being titled “Photographer Controversy.” I read it all, and found myself quite interested in how this all could play out either way. Take a look….

18 Responses to Photographer Controversy

  1. Black Eye Beth says:

    I have to admit this bothers me on SO MANY levels, some of which have nothing to do with this blog. I have not visited the site yet but plan on reading it over the next couple of days (I am on vacation right now so I will need to put down my beer first…). I hope others do so too, as this could have repercussions on other areas of showing as well. This is an important area of discussion and I do hope we generate some here on AboveLevel. I will be writing more later once I have read the full discussion on
    Thanks for the heads up!!

  2. Black Eye Beth says:

    For those of you that want to read this VERY informative discussion thread go to the following link Ban Of Freelance Photographers

  3. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this could affect websites like this one so heavily. It seems to me that, just like so many other thigns in the horse world, a lot of who gets what they want boils down to who knows who. Along those lines, Beth, if you could email me privately at, I have something else to run by you before I stick my neck out and post it. In the mean time, enjoy your vacation, and have one for me!! ~Alicia

  4. Mocha Mom says:

    I have read only two pages of the disussion on as I really can’t spend all day. (I’m NOT on vacation this week.) I have seen many excellent points made and can’t think of anything new to add to the discussion.

    In my opinion, the most important point is that show management needs to realize that “the exhibitor is king.” They should make an effort to find out what their exhibitors want and provide it.

  5. Leslie says:

    The Lexington rule rubs me the wrong way, too. I understand that official photographers have to make a living, and the inundation of railside photographers is having an impact on their bottom line. But I agree that the exhibitor is king, and so why are the official photographer’s desires being put ahead of the exhibitors’?

    It came up in the trot discussion that the official photographer at Lexington had to shell out a substantial amount of money to be the official photographer and get those exclusive rights. That seems really shady to me. Why not have the official photographer there for free and give him or her exclusive rights to sell at the show? Then let all the freelancers do their thing, but not allow them to sell during the show or on the grounds.

    Not surprisingly, the discussion of this topic on the Equine Photographers Network forums are almost exclusively in favor of banning all photography besides official at all shows. I understand where they pros are coming from, but their livelihood is dependent upon exhibitors wanting to go to the shows they work. If my dad comes to a show to cheer me on and gets harassed by management for taking photos of me with his digital SLR (he is not a pro, mind you) then you’d better believe I’m going to complain, and think twice about going to that show next year.

    Horse shows are supposed to be fun events for families and friends. It’s not like we’re all crashing someone’s private farm shoot and bringing our own freelancers with us, but to listen to some of the pros, that’s what you would think was happening.

  6. Mocha Mom says:

    Leslie, I would tweak your proposal slightly to have the “Official Show Photographer” be the only photographer allowed INSIDE the ring. We can’t have too many people there. Anyone outside the ring should be allowed to photograph or video anything they please. In reality, who has the manpower or legal authority to enforce such a ban anyway? It would be in the show management’s best interest to select a show photographer that is popular with their potential exhibitors.

    Anyone who wants to sell anything to the show’s exhibitors while on the grounds, should pay the show a vendor fee and let the marketplace decide. The more vendors there are of show photos, the lower the prices should be for the consumer, and what exhibitor doesn’t want that?

  7. downeastfarm says:

    I think it is important to clarify that the policy does not apply to family or friends just wanting to take pictures/video for personal use. You can reference page 26 of the Grand National prize list for the exact statement, but the policy applies to commercial photographers and says that only the official photographer/videographer will be able to “solicit as well as sell their proofs, pictures and video tapes on the Fairgrounds during the dates of the horse show.”

    Howie was the official photographer at Lexington Junior League and, of course, is the official photographer at OKC.

    I have also been following the thread on and can see both sides of the debate.

  8. Leslie says:

    The wording for the Lexington rule, as posted on, doesn’t distinguish between commercial photography, hobbyist photography, or my dad and his digital Rebel:

    “Schatzberg Photography is the Exclusive Photographer for the 2008 Lexington Junior League Horse Show. Any other photography, or advertisement thereof, taken of subjects within the confines of the show ring without prior written consent from show management is expressly forbidden. Violation of this rule will be grounds for removal from the show premises.”

    Howie himself may not care if friends and family shoot photos, but if you’re banning outside photographers, how do you police that? It seems the show management’s answer has been to just ban everyone.

    The Arab nationals has a rule against anyone taking photos at the show with a camera with a detachable lens. If you’re caught violating that rule you can be fined a thousand bucks and escorted from the show ground. That seems insane to me. It’s a horse show, not a secret meeting in the Pentagon.

    I am not a good photographer, but I enjoy it and I want to get better, which is why I take classes and participate in the Equine Photographers Network. I also like to go to shows and shoot for practice. I’ve never sold a photo, don’t really plan to, and even the ones I’ve given away have been as Christmas presents…long after the photographer had his chance to make a sale.

    I’m also a nice person and I’d rather not get escorted out of a horse show by security. This trend of banning photography has me pretty worried.

  9. ErikaRose says:

    To me it seems to be a money issue. I know I have been known to think a little backwards but if the photographers were still making good money would they be stirring up these issues? Which they are completely entitled to. It’s just a matter of sorting out the “offcial” things. Maybe they should look at other things that are hurting sales and use this as an economical wake up call….

    We actually rarely buy photos anymore (used to get 2-3 every show) because $55 for an 8×10 doesn’t make sense when we can take a good picture and print it out for $2.00 at Walmart. Add in that it’s normally one photographer so if they don’t get you or it is the same old normal side shot time and time again well its too bad unless you want to dish out more money for a private shoot. These people have so much skill but being confined inside the ring doesn’t give them much of an option. We also have a friend who enjoys taking photos so he takes tons at a show, and if the official photog doesn’t get any good ones we use our friend’s.

    I was discussing this with my mother, and the only thing she could say was “Maybe if the photographers lowered their prices we would have the option of buying multiple photos, and they might actually increase sales in a bulk amount. Then all this controversy wouldn’t be necessary because we could keep everyone’s business alive.” Maybe it isn’t other vendors that are the only culprit hurting their income, it’s low sales because of the high prices.

    I can’t tell you how many shows I have been to (including Mason Dixon this year) where they didn’t get a single photo of me in the class. Now I understand things happen, but when there are 2 horses in the class and it’s a beautiful day is there really a reason to not a get a single photo?

    I’m the first to admit I love Howie’s work, he takes beautiful photos, but we as a whole are spending less and less money because of the economy, why not drop prices to try to up sales?

    I can’t even really pretend to know what I’m talking about on this topic, I am no business expert by any means…but it’s a thought.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I think this might be a great Poll Question (if not too controversial) for AboveLevel – How often do you purchase photographs from the show photographer and if you don’t, why not? expense, no good photo? or along those lines.

  11. Black Eye Beth says:

    I think that is a great Poll idea. I will have it up either today or tomorrow!!

  12. downeastfarm says:

    Pg. 41 of the Junior League prize list says:
    “NOTICE. Schatzberg Photography is the Exclusive Photographer for the 2008 Junior League Horse Show. Any other photography taken for commercial purposes, or advertisement thereof, taken of subjects within the confines of the show ring without prior written consent from show management is expressly forbidden. Violation of this rule will be grounds for removal from the show premises.”

    Notice that is says “commercial”. I think that was one of the things that bothered me about the discussion on, was the misunderstanding about what the rule/policy/whatever you want to call it actually said.

    As I said, I can see both sides of the issues. I also have been to many shows where I have not had a good picture from the official photographer but had a great picture from an outside the rail commercial photographer.

  13. Big Agnes says:

    I agree with many of the points made here. Downeastfarm makes a good point that the ban at the Junior League show seems only to relate to commercial photos taken of people or horses within the show ring.

    How is commercial defined, though? If the official photographer doesn’t take a good picture of me, but my friend on the rail does, and I use it for an ad in the Connection, is that commercial use?

    The times, they are a changing. It used to be that the only high quality photos that could be obtained at a show came from the official photographer. They also had to develop and print their proofs, then send you, or the Connection, a hard copy. Now, it’s all digital. Amateurs can get high quality equipment for a reasonable price and not have to build a darkroom in their basement to compete.

    Many people seem to be stuck applying old rules to new technology. Last month, the Associated Press tried to restrain internet sites like blogs from using as little as 5 words of their articles. Copyright laws allow for such “fair use”, however.

    The AP, like the equine commercial photographers, must adapt their business to the new technology. Photographers need to consider passing on some of the savings from moving to digital to their customers. They need to consider selling the digital file with the copyright to their customers, so that a photo can be used commercially, without a print. They need to consider what value-added services they can offer.

    I’m sure this opinion will not be popular amongst the commercial photographers. Show committee’s may continue to support banning of other photographers in the short term (I do agree, though, that currently it appears to apply only to commercial photography). However, I predict that this controversy won’t last long, and everyone will continue to take their own digital photo’s from the rail.

  14. bks015 says:

    I always purchase the in-ring show photos (at least one from every horse show). However, I think if the over-the-rail show photo were to be disallowed, we would lose a great artistic view of our rides (these shots are always my favorite). Also, I think allowing any/all over-the-rail photographers to take pictures as they please breeds a certain level of competition. I know some have proposed the official potographer’s hiring of an official OTR photographer and the banning of all others as a solution to this problem, but we have all been to a show (usually the smaller ones) where the official photographer hired just didn’t do the trick for anybody. I think it is a difficult subject to tackle, especially considering all the emotional participants in the debate. It also leads me to wonder: if all unofficial OTR photographers are banned, does this create a gateway for shows to start banning family, friends, and other “non-commercial” photographers? I myself have a very nice digital SLR camera and will really be disappointed if one day I am not allowed to practice my photography skills or take pictures of my friends for personal use.

  15. Black Eye Beth says:

    So I have read everybody’s comments and now that I put my vacation beer down, I want to put in my 2 pennies.

    I have to say I do understand the points everyone has made. Commercial photographers are at a very critical time in their professions. For so many years, they have had a monopoly on show photography and have made good money. I feel for their plight, as I am sure they are very comfortable in how things have run for all these years. Altering the way they do things must be very scary to them, especially if they see their profits starting to decline. However, as Big Agnes has pointed out…”Times, they are a changin’” and everybody has to adapt.

    There are many points that I see particularly troublesome and many of which have been brought up in this discussion. How does a show police this rule? If I am sitting on the rail taking photos or video to post on the blog for other’s enjoyment (as many of you know I don’t make any profit doing this) is someone going to come and harass me? How do they know I am not a commercial photographer or videographer? Will they take my word for it? Do I have to carry some sort of proof with me?

    I admit, sometimes I worry that I am going to tick off the “powers that be” because someone might not be making money due to something the blog does for free. I feel we all pay enough money to have our horses involved in this pastime and if I want to help others get extra enjoyment for free that is a good thing. Others may not agree, however, and who is “right”?

    Big Agnes brought up another point – how does one define “commercial”? If I use a photo from a show for advertising that the official photography didn’t take, does that constitute some sort of infraction? And how is that handled? Does the photographer sue me? Does the publication ban me because I didn’t use the “correct” photo? Am I going to get in hot water if I let someone use an advertising photo on the blog that wasn’t taken by the official photographer? Am I going to get sued or blacklisted somehow?

    My point is that this is a very slippery slope. It can lead to confusion and hurt feelings, and have repercussions on the show industry overall. (Who’s to say that next we can’t bring our own food onto the grounds and that we can only purchase food from the “official” food stand – sounds ridiculous – but it is similar!)

    The photographers need to roll with the times and work with the exhibitors to find a happy medium, not force them into using their services. If they are worried about their profits then they need to come up with some way to become more affordable and exhibitor friendly. Most of us have a general understanding of supply and demand. Price fixing and monopolies just don’t work in the long run.

    So the question is…Can’t we all just get along????

  16. I agree, Black Eyed Beth.
    I think thats the horse industry, in particular, holds on to old traditions and “the way it’s always been” with all of its might, resisting change and not always welcoming new ideas. I am a trainer, so I am one of the very lucky few who actually does make money at this sport. But, even as affordable as I try to be to the average Joe, I will be the first one to recognize that this is an incredibly expensive sport, and issues such as this one are the reason why.

    I guess a big factor for me would be whether or not the “Official Photographer” pays for those rights. If the photog has to pay, than outside commercial vendors should be restricted, or have to pay a fee as well. With that said, I don’t believe that is the case at most shows, in which case the official photo is at a huge advantage anyway. 95%+ of the photos I have my customers purchase are taken by the official photog in the ring. They are simply the best and most accurate pictures for advertising and sales purposes. I don’t know that it matters if there are 100 commercial vendors, the guy in the middle of the ring is going to get the most sales.

    Also, very valid point from Big Agnes that the prices of photos haven’t changed (lowered) to reflect the much more affordable digital technology. If we had more competition, I bet prices would start to drop.

    All in all, my point is this: Anyone is business has to know that when competition comes knocking, you have to be ready to answer. Doesn’t mean you have to like it, but it is a fact of the business world, regardless of how exclusive an industry may be. I can’t prevent another training barn from moving in next door.
    I have to trust that I am creating happy customers who choose to stay because they are happy with my services, not because they have no alternatives.

  17. JK says:

    I agree with Alicia and BlackEyeBeth…

    I definitely think times are changing. I am just getting back to showing after about an 8 year break, and when I was showing photos were not digital IIRC.

    I am just thinking out loud, but it would be very interesting if they opened up photography at shows to a “free market” so to say. The show committee could select an official in-ring photographer, and anyone else would need to buy/apply for a vendor license or pass for the show. I agree that the in-ring photographer would probably get more sales, but I am curious to see how this would affect prices, and how much the sales of the official photographer would go up/down.

    I love the candid OTR photos, and I’d be sad to see them outlawed. I hope they can come to an agreement.

  18. Leslie says:

    Thanks for clarifying that, downeastfarm. I still think the rule is excessive, but having the word “commercial” in there at least makes it so it isn’t totally outlandish.

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