Dressage Show Photography: Image Copyright License Questions Answered

Thursday, December 19, 2013
Posted by Betsy LaBelle


Edward Gal and Totilas at the 2010 World Equestrian Games Photo: SusanJStickle
Edward Gal and Totilas at the 2010 World Equestrian Games Photo: SusanJStickle
Dressage riders and horse owners often wonder what is acceptable and not acceptable with photography at horse shows, what the rules consist of for taking photos off the internet, and generally how it all works. We caught up with Susan Stickle of dressagephotos.com to answer all your questions. For years, Susan has covered the top dressage competitions in the United States, including all the Global Dressage Festival competitions, and the competitions in the North Eastern United States such as Dressage at Devon, Saugerties, NY, Lexington, KY and more. As well as traveling to photograph competitors at shows, she has an advanced education in photo editing from advanced programs like Photoshop, plus international experience at World Equestrian Games and Olympics. Sound business practices are of utmost importance or the photographer will not be able to continue photographing professionally. Stickle works in the business because she is passionate about making pictures; she really loves the sport. Sue shares her practices at all the horse shows but also her motivation, “I enjoy watching the horses and riders evolve through their training, it’s an amazing experience!"Often confused, riders and owners hope that asking forgiveness after the fact may be the best policy in learning, but that strategy may really hurt. The rider or owner may think giving credit to the photographer is all it takes to share photos of themselves or their horses on the internet. Here are the different types of image copyright licenses you need to know.

The Four different copyright licenses for images:

There are so many different copyright licenses to images it's hard to explain them all for all photographers. Each photographer has their own pricing on each photo but here are the rules many photographers typically live by. Photographers use the word copyright license to mean:

  1. Print Purchase: When you buy a print that's all you are doing, buying a print. It doesn't come with any licensing, so buying a print and then scanning it or taking a picture of it to use on your Facebook page or website is a copyright violation.
  2. Editorial Copyright License for PR (promotional) articles: This license is good for one editorial usage only and cannot be used for other advertising. This can be for print magazines, newspapers, web or other formats.
  3. Web(site) Purchase: a Personal Web Copyright License is for the rider and/or horse owner to use on their websites, Facebook & other social media. It also covers personal advertising. Good for selling a horse, or giving a clinic, etc.
  4. Full Advertising is the all of the above but also comes with print rights.

Images are the intellectual property of the creator, but for the photos to generate income, the photographer has to know their production costs, the value of their work, and the value of the usage for their client in copyright licensing.

What is not okay?

Sue Stickle answered, “A very important factor is that copyrights are not transferable. Too many people think because they bought a copyright license they can give the image to whomever they want; that’s not true, a copyright violation. Here’s an analogy that we use to try to explain: If you give a lesson on a horse in the morning and then use the same horse in the afternoon, do you charge for that lesson? Yes. Or, if you buy a breeding and you get four straws to use, do you give three away to someone else to breed?"

Photographers make their living selling images and copyright licenses. It’s not okay to take photos from the internet and use them, or taking photos off other people's websites to use them. Most people have paid to use those images, so taking them and using them is stealing from both the website owner and the photographer who took them. 

Do you mind if competitors take photos at the shows?

"No, there is no problem. Of course we would love it if you use us as the photographers. Many riders we know are amateur photographers, or their dad, husbands or kids. We've answered many questions and are happy to help where we can. Where we have trouble is with the "Professional" or "Media" or "Press" photographers (they "work" under the guise of a media photographer, or the ones who want to be professionals, wannabes), that come to the show and shoot the riders, post their images all over Facebook and tag the riders, that is 'poaching'". 

Susan Stickle and Charles Mann at the 2009 Festival of Champions
Susan Stickle and Charles Mann at the 2009 Festival of Champions
What is entailed in Show Photography?

Being a show photographer means getting up at the crack of dawn so the photographer can get to the show before it starts to get day sheets, check out the facility, make up the schedule, shooting the riders that have requested photos, downloading  and organizing all the images. "We are at the show every day of the event," added Stickle. "We arrive before the show starts, and we leave after the show is finished. When we've done all the work that needs to be done, we get up and do it all again the next day."

"I chose to photograph horses because I have a deep rooted love of them, I chose dressage because it's an exacting sport, one I used to compete in when I had time, and I really enjoy watching the horses and riders evolve through their training. It’s an amazing experience." 

"I recently had the opportunity to photograph a horse and rider I've been watching since they started competing at 1st level, now showing Grand Prix for the first time. It was a very emotional experience for me. I've seen it many times, but every time it's always amazing to watch."

"I like the aspect of action photography, I love catching the movement and the emotion. And I love chatting with the riders, many have become friends, and I've been watching them in the competition arena for years." Stickle also enjoys landscape and underwater photography. "They are also a passion."

What would you hope a competitor would do?

Courtney King-Dye and Mythilus at the 2008 Olympics  Photo: SusanJStickle
Courtney King-Dye and Mythilus at the 2008 Olympics Photo: SusanJStickle
"Come and meet us and sign up for photos!"

"I would hope everyone would sign up for photos, to be taken at the show, or their own farm. I hope they like the images enough to buy some, for print, for advertising, for Facebook, etc. I would hope that all are inspired by what they see and continue their journey of competition. Most of all, I hope everyone goes into the arena and does their best and has fun! After all, we are all doing something we love. Most competitors eat, breathe, live horses. I eat breath live photography of horses.”

Mary Phelps of Horses Daily Inc shared, "As the owner of a website, I do a little of both photography and journalism. I was a show photographer for many years, and know how tough it can be. I work with Sue Stickle on a regular basis as well as other photographers, but like having my own photos to use and have in stock. I can honestly tell you, the amount of people requesting an image or series on images I did for them at a show is surprisingly small. Please consider how hard the show photographers work each day." 

It's important to work with the show photographers. Get to know them, understand their photocopy licenses and be sure to respect the internet photographed images from the show photographers.

It's really important for the rider to be educated in the area of photo copyright licenses. 

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