Thanks Kirstie Marie for a great introduction for Matt Cohen.
Matt Cohen Rodeo Photography
Matt describes himself as a city boy. He didn’t really have any exposure to horses at all until he was sent by a local paper to cover a rodeo for one evening. He started his career as a photographer shooting high school sports for several local papers. On that first night at the rodeo, he decided to come back for all three days of the event and was hooked.
With high school sports you are just shooting one thing. For example with football, you have about 10 minutes of shooting time spread out over an hour. But, with rodeo you have constant action and there are 4-5 completely different events to shoot. Each event although it involves horses is completely different from the other. This is how Matt describes what intrigued him with rodeo shooting.
The other thing that makes it a whole lot more fun is that you can get right in there. Between events you can chat with the riders and you have access. With other professional sports you are nowhere near the participants. Even when you are on the side lines, you are 10 to 20 feet from the players. You certainly are not allowed on the field.
Everything has horses. Even with the bull riding there are the pick up riders that go in to rope the bulls and get them back in the pens.
Matt is on pretty much everything. When he started, he just figured he would put the best pictures out there and figure out how to make some money with it. Facebook seemed to be the key to that as riders were tagged, then their sponsors would see the images and I would make connections with them for additional work.
He has 56,000 followers on Instagram, but it does not lead to a lot of business for him. He tends to spend more time on Instagram because he likes the format better. You see more images on Instagram and less “other stuff”. But, Facebook has been the social media that has performed in terms of helping him make the connections.
Making money in Rodeo Photography
He does not use the old model of shooting with the hopes of the riders wanting images of their rides. He works directly with the rider sponsors and only does a very little bit of selling to riders. Sponsors are looking for outstanding images for promotional purposes. Autograph prints, trailer wraps, bill boards, and other promotional materials. He does nothing on spec. He won’t travel great distances to a rodeo unless he knows that he has several sponsored riders at that event and the pictures are already spoken for.
He questions whether the old model is very workable any more. The better riders have been there and done that already and they don’t buy 8 x 10s.
It took him a long time to get to where he is today. As editorial diminished, he moved more and more of his business to commercial. It used to be that Sport Illustrated, a cover for example or a two page spread, was a real payday. Now instead of a couple thousand dollars, you are looking at a couple hundred bucks. Now they have laid off all their photographers and they get whatever pictures they can find. Matt said he has seen covers that were out of focus. It’s sad, he said, when he first started there was more in editorial.
Why a great shot is important
Matt explains that in editorial, you are a cost to them. They look for the cheapest solution to their need that they can find. Advertisers, however, need the best possible images and are willing to pay to get those. Getting as close to the end-user, the people who are selling products, is where the you can make a living.
A sponsor might have 15 guys that ride for them. Another might have three. Each contract is tailored to their needs. He is basically on a retainer with these sponsors and this is what funds his income, his travels, his equipment, hotels and so on.
NO FREE PICTURES warning on his website
Before someone can click on the contact photographer form, they have to agree that they are NOT GOING TO CALL FOR A FREE IMAGE. This is a waste of time and spending 20 minutes explaining that he is a professional photographer and he gets paid for his work. If someone still calls him and asks for FREE IMAGES for their small publication or whatever they want it for, Matt will tweet out that such and such publication asked for free image and embarrass them. He has a bit of a reputation.
He explains that getting a tag line for free images does nothing for you as a photographer. Negotiating from FREE is very difficult to do.
He shoots rodeo March through September. In the winter he shoots other sports. He spends more time working on his rodeo image sales than he does on the other sports. There is much more action to shoot in rodeo so he spends more time on the images as well.
Big Lens Fast Shutter Podcast
Him and a partner help people learn sports photography. He has been working on that for about 5 years. He enjoys helping others to improve their work which is gratifying and there is some income stream from it.
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