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I contacted Jon because I saw some of his farm call images. As I explored his website, I found out that his main gig is Saddle Horse Shows from all over the country. I’ve been wanting to have some interviews with show photographers, so I was delighted when Jon was willing to come on the podcast and tell us about his history with horses and his equine photography business.

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What makes a great horse show photographer?

How do you learn to run a horse show business?

These are some of the questions that we answered in today’s podcast with Jon McCarthy of Jon McCarthy Photography.



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John started college as a pre-med major, then discovered horses. Shortly he transferred to William Woods University for an Equine education. It was there that he started to experiment with photography.

Jon got the photography bug in College after getting the horse bug

He had lots of subject available to photography. Then he started shooting some of the lessons, people working with their horses, etc. This started him on the path toward horse show photography.

Learning what was expected from various breeds and disciplines is important

This is also when he was able to learn about various breeds and what was needed and expected for “best images” for the breed or discipline.

He graduated with a degree in equestrian science with the intention of being a trainer. He got a job at a large Morgan operation.

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Finding a mentor in the show world

He went to show and introduced himself to the top name in Morgan horse show photography. In talking to him, it became clear that this is the direction that he wanted to go in. He was invited to help out with an upcoming show. He was able to work for him on some shows and still to this day he is Jon’s go to person for learning and building his business. Jon started booking some larger shows that were coming in from this mentor when he was unable to take them due to prior bookings etc.,  he would pass them along to Jon.

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Jon does about 26 shows a year at this time. Ideal shows are 100 head or more. Shows used to be huge, but now many shows are multi-breed formats in order to bring in enough horses. Where before there might be hundreds of Morgans, now there might be 60 head Morgans, 30 Saddlebred, and then additional horses of various other breeds.

Reflecting back, his first year he didn’t feel the quality of his images (getting the right shots and timing) was very good. After working with his mentor and shooting at those shows and getting trained and feedback from this great mentor, he improved greatly and was able to get out on his own much better. He still has shows that he does with this mentor every year. They talk business and images and work together to get the best possible products (best images out there) for their show participants.

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Jon McCarthy Photography is set up for people to make selections at the shows, but he does not do actual printing at most of the shows he works. There is just too much work getting the images and preparing them so people can make selections. He does all the printing and culling and post production himself. His trailer has selection stations (computers) and he has someone there to help in the process of placing orders while he is out shooting. Between classes, they upload and prepare the images for viewing.

Why does Jon LOVE doing horse show photography?

What makes horse show photography a fun business for you , Jon?  He loves the relationships he develops with people all over the country. He loves traveling across the country and exploring. He gets to see so much of the country because of his business and they go on excursions to beautiful places when they have time.

He discusses what it takes to make a living at horse show photography. We talk about his prices and what consumers are purchasing. We discussed publications and dealing with deadlines which is a major part of Saddle horse show photography. Recent changes with the popularity of Facebook were discussed along with meeting the needs and desires of his customers. Digital files for ad requests are uploaded directly to the advertising department of the publications in most cases. We are constantly battling the clock to get adjust and upload the images needed for promotional advertising from these shows, he explains.


Jon McCarthy Photography has print packages, digital uploads for advertising, and Facebook image digital low resolution web files which are very popular right now. He tries to maintain a 4 week turn around on print production and people who want the Facebook files, of course want them ASAP. Jon also works with his customers who have quick turn-around deadlines that have to be met to satisfy their urgent needs. He does not like to send things off for printing or sub things out and because he wants to see everything before it goes out and he likes having the control. He mentioned that in some cases he may print an image two or three times before it is perfect for his customer and it can be shipped out. The print packages include Facebook files, but many now just buy the Facebook prepped digital files because the love to SHARE from their recent show participation. Social media is substantial and is a significant part of his mix of services and products.

We had a discussion about the people shooting over the rail and how it affects the OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHER at shows these days. How do you tell a parent they cannot take pictures of their kid riding in a show? He explained that although he knows some show photographers who have been hit hard with lower sales and they attribute this to over the rail shooters, in his business with publication deadlines and other quick turn needs, he still does well with his shows.

Prints account for 30% of what he sells at the shows. 45% of the sales are high res files for publications and commercial use and the rest are low resolution digital files for sharing on social media.

Farm Call Sessions

Jon tells us about his farm call sessions. He puts out his schedule and people will call and fill in his schedule from time to time with farm sessions in transit or between show commitments. He has a six-horse minimum, but if he is in the area there is no trip charge and travel expenses associated with the farm session.

What would you tell someone who wants to do horse show photography?

Jon recommends that you go out and find someone to who will allow you to work for them. Learn your timing and the ins and outs of the business from someone who is successfully doing the business. Learn the specifics of shooting various breeds and disciplines . It’s important to meet or beat your customer expectations and each breed and discipline has different expectations.

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