Horse Careers Lifestyle

Horse Careers: Equine Photographer

Chances are if there is a horse in your life and you have access to a smartphone, the camera roll is filled with images of your best equine friend! They may be candid pictures, a trail ride in the fall, a pose with that show ribbon you worked so hard for, or a post-ride silly selfie. Whatever the case, who doesn’t love a good horse photo?

Believe it or not, there are photographers who make their living focusing on their love for horses and picture-taking—here, you will meet three, who each focus on a slightly different type of equine photography business.

Equine photographer Amanda Tonagel
Amanda Tonagel

My name is Amanda Tonagel, and I am based in Indiana. I love my small horse community! Most of my photography clients come from the 4-H, Interscholastic Equestrian Association, and Youth Equestrian Development Association programs. One of my favorite things is to see clients treat their horses as part of the family and want them in their yearly photos.

Equine photographer Kirstie Marie
Kirstie Marie

Kirstie Marie Jones is an equine portrait photographer based out of Texas. Kirstie’s main clients are horse-crazy high school seniors who want to include their best horse friend in their pictures.

Equine photographer Shelley Paulson
Shelley Paulson

Shelley Paulson resides in Minnesota. Shelley’s client base includes major brands and smaller equine-related companies. Her stock photo library is used by many businesses on a regular basis.

For all three of us, the same rings true. A career as an equine photographer has allowed us to spend time doing two things we love: taking pictures and being surrounded by other equestrians and horses. This may mean traveling the country to some of the largest barns or visiting a family at their small farm.

Speaking for myself, equine photography reminded me of the love I had for my first pony, Chip. I found my niche in my local area with equine photography. No one else was doing this around me, so it was the perfect fit.

What Does It Take?

Despite what most people probably think, only a small portion of a photographer’s time is spent with a camera in their hand. There are many other tasks that have to be done when running a photography business.

“At the end of the day, this is a service industry where you need the highest care in customer service,” says Kirstie.

“You have to be brave enough to find your own voice in your work and set yourself apart from other photographers,” adds Shelley.

As wonderful as this job is, there are stressors that come with being an equine photographer. For Kirstie and I, the time commitments and working around a lot of schedules can be hard!

“The slow seasons (winter and summer) can be very slow, and the busy seasons (spring and fall) can get overwhelming,” says Kirstie.

A portrait of a western pleasure horse and equestrian
Kirstie’s main clients are horse-crazy girls who want senior portraits with their favorite equine. Photo by Kirstie Marie

Since I have four children, it can be a juggling act to find time frames that work with my schedule and my clients. One thing I have learned is to find balance with my family and work life to avoid burnout. Kirstie is a mom too, so she schedules time off each week. I like to take the winter off so I can enjoy my kids’ winter sports seasons.

For Shelley, the stress comes with Minnesota’s uncooperative weather.

“The horse, I can generally work with, but the rain and clouds make it hard to create the kind of dynamic photos that are the hallmark of my work,” she says.

Advice for Aspiring Equine Photographers

Here are some tips if you think you may be interested in a career as an equine photographer. Kirstie’s degree in finance has helped her with the business side of her job.

“I’m less of a photographer than I am a small business owner who has to manage marketing, accounting, contracts, payroll, outsourcing contractors, client communications, booking travel, et cetera,” she says.

Shelley points out that purchasing quality photography equipment is always money well spent.

“Don’t cheap out on camera gear,” she advises. “[And] find a mentor that can help you learn and grow.”

A horse standing in a beautiful sunbeam among the trees
Though Shelley has to contend with Minnesota’s challenging winters, she has grown a huge equine stock photo library used by many major horse brands and businesses. Photo by Shelley Paulson

My advice: Always remember safety! This comes in several forms. Use a contract for your sessions that covers liability for yourself, your client, and the horses. Make sure you take an assistant with you to your sessions. They are invaluable! Finally, remember you are working with a large animal. Horses can be unpredictable and dangerous, and you should always keep this in mind when working around them.

A silhouette of a horse and kid
Amanda loves photographing horses with their family members as part of yearly photos. Photo by Amanda Tonagel

Both Kirstie and Shelley are known in the industry for providing education to other photographers. Education is important at any stage of your career! Invest in learning from others when you are starting out, and then continue your education through workshops, mentorships or online courses. There is always room to grow and better yourself and your business!

Learn more:
◆ Amanda’s website:
◆ Amanda’s Facebook:
◆ Shelley’s website:
◆ Shelley’s education website:
◆ Kirstie’s website:
◆ Kirstie’s education website:

This article about the equine photographer career appeared in the March 2022 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Amanda Tonagel


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