Pricing for Horse Show Photography


TPF Noob!
Jul 29, 2013
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Upstate NY
Can others edit my Photos
Photos NOT OK to edit
So, I'm new to this forum but I thought I would give it a try. I operate a graphic design business which inadvertently became a photography business, and which is now transforming into a graphic design and photography business JUST for horse related businesses.

First off, I have no idea how that happened. What the heck?

Secondly, my company has made a name for itself up here in upstate NY, but people are consistently telling us our prices are too low. I understand this, however, I am terrible with pricing and I have no concept of how to hit the happy medium between too low and too high.

My business consists of driving to local (or not) horse shows, standing in the arena taking pictures of every competitor in the various classes for the entire course of the show, and then offering prints and CDs thereafter. We also set up with our computers and TVs so that exhibitors can scroll through their photos and get a feel for what we have taken. They can order prints fulfilled at the show for an extra fee ($5 per print at this point), or they can order online through our galleries. They can also order CDs which take on average about 3 weeks to fulfill due to the volume of photos we take and the fact that we both work part time jobs as well.

We also offer edits on any photos for an additional $15 per photo (i.e. the "ears forward" option).

Currently we are priced at: $75 for a CD of all the pictures we took at the show of a single horse or a single competitor (SH/SC), $40 for a CD of up to 3 classes from the show SH/SC, $10 to add an additional class (usually about 2 extra photos) to that CD, and for our week long show we adjusted the prices so that the full show CD was $100 and $75 only covered up to 3 days of showing. For prints, we charge $35 for an 11x14, $25 for an 8x10, $20 for 2 5x7s since they can go on the same 8.5x11" sheet of paper, and $15 for 3 4x6s (we rarely sell these).

Obviously at this point we are not making enough--we ARE making money, but we are putting in far too many hours for it to be worthwhile. Our cameras and equipment have paid for themselves several times over at this point, however, we would like to upgrade at some point, and we need to up our prices to get that extra income. My concern is that, particularly with the next show we are going to, the indoor arena is one of THE worst we've ever shot in, and the pictures are going to look horrible, to be blunt. HOWEVER, people still want them, and they buy them anyway. I just have a hard time charging more than $25 for a photo that looks like this: $934084_508724599193350_480745588_n.jpg as opposed to our outdoor photography: $992904_526970090702134_175928258_n.jpg.

One of the most commonly received comments we get from customers is, "Wow, we can actually afford to buy photos this year!" Suggestions?
CODB? Best place to start!
The first thing to remember is that horse people are like boat people. They both have insanely expensive hobbies of which they are overtly proud, and usually reasonably deep pockets. I see nothing wrong with putting my hand in that pocket as far as possible. That said, as Charlie mentioned, pricing should always be based on your cost of doing business, in other words, accounting for ALL factors from the cost of the gas to get there to the cost of your website for that day, HOW MUCH did it cost you to MAKE the images? Knowing that, you add a suitable margin for salary and *presto* you have your cost of doing business (CODB). Divide that by the average number of shoots per year, and you now know how much to charger per shoot.

If I might offer some unsolicited critique however, having looked at your website and the example images, you really need to work on your techique. Many of the images appear to the equine equivalent of passport photos. For instance, the second in the set you posted here (the first IMO should go straight to the cutting room floor) you've shot from behind the horse. People like to see themselves, and horse people like to see themselves AND their horse. Get in front, capture both coming toward you. Shoot with a longer lens and larger aperture so that you don't have so much depth of field. We don't care about the trees in the background, we want to see the horse isolated on a nice soft background. This, and the right light, and things will really pop! It doesn't cost any more to do this, but it will increase your quality and sales. A LOT!

Looking at this gallery, again, I see excessive DoF, deep shadow caused by the rider's hat and the horse appears to be eating or at least is totally bored. Have an assistant with a reflector in there to kill that shadow and get the horses attention. He/she should have a pocked full of carrots and horse cubes.

Not trying to rain on your parade, just offering some advice for improvement. Good luck!
You will make far more money if you get a dye sub printer and print on site we used to print 8x6 mounted for £10 print and mount costs about £0.70
I only looked at a few photos and costomers at shows i shot would not buy them, you need to carry a packet of Tic Tacks to shake to get horses attention
Thanks for the advice--I looked up dye sub printers and right now they are definitely out of my price range, but at least I have a starting point.

As for the photos themselves--I would love to be able to shoot at a lower aperture, or with a longer lens and a full frame camera, and to be able to use a flash and have my camera's noise not so pronounced--however, these are the limitations of the equipment we are working with at present, and indoor arena lighting is typically terrible. Background is VERY important, and people absolutely will not buy something with a crappy background. Therefore we will usually pick a spot on the rail, and snap the photos as the horses go by. We typically have about five minutes to capture a photo of about twenty+ horses in the correct position from the correct angle with the rider also in the correct position, eyes open, on an acceptable background (ears SHOULD be back in under saddle classes, as this shows they are listening to the rider--flattened ears is another matter!). Also, many of the people purchasing photos are using them for ads, so the horse is the only thing they are concerned with. We shoot directly from the side to show the proper form, and then we shoot at an angle from the front to show horse form and rider face in case they do want one of those. Many horses just absolutely will not put their ears up in halter shots--myself and my associate have both grown up with horses, so believe me when I say I understand how to get horses' attention! The images we upload are also bulk uploaded to save time, so if we happen to miss that someone's ears are back in one picture and not in another, the ears back photo may be uploaded along with the rest. We carry a mirror to get horses' attention, and on occasion a lighter. Unfortunately we can't be shaking tic tac containers or carrying reflectors around during a pointed show (as nice as that would be). Many of the higher caliber shows also request we not use flash photography, since any sort of incident where the horse spooks, is distracted and trips, etc. opens the hosting organization up for complaints if someone had a bad round and blames their missing points on our interference. At this point it is a matter of what do you sacrifice with the photo, and primarily, horse form is what matters, and ears can always be edited up in halter shots.

Anyway, that about sums up why we currently shoot the way we do. BUT, if we can get our pricing worked out and get a few upgrades, then we can focus on bringing down that aperture like I would absolutely love to say I could do. Right now we are doing the best with what we have available to us.
The way pro sports shooters handle indoor flash is by putting the flash units (studio strobes) up in the rafters.

Apparently, you have no business/marketing plan.
You are selling a luxury item to a demographic that has substantial disposable income.

In other words, it boils down to presentation, marketing, and salesmanship.

Your prices are no where close to being insufficient to support the business.

A 5x7, unframed print should be $30 or more each.

A viable print pricing strategy is to charge by the square inch.
A 5x7 is 35 sq in, so @ $1.00 per sq in - is $35.
An 11x14 is 154 sq in and would be $154.

Others markup desktop size prints a lot more than they mark up wall size prints.
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I may be reading this incorrectly, but it looks like you're doing a lot of the leg work in-house. In this day and age, who wants to wait 3 weeks for a cd? Why not provide a download? Also, it looks like you are going thru and finding all the images of a particular horse and ordering/printing the prints. It seems like quite a bit of manual work. What about simplifying and letting the customer have access directly via SmugMug or something similar? You would need to add this to your CODB, but it would drastically reduce your time commitment. You then might be able to spend a little more time editing your photos prior to uploading if you don't need to worry about orders (more editing = better photos = more sales).

You will make far more money if you get a dye sub printer and print on site we used to print 8x6 mounted for £10 print and mount costs about £0.70
This is a great idea - instant gratification is good. :) I know you said it was too expensive, but it's something to work for.

I didn't look at your images, these are just some thoughts on the business side.

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