What is a picture worth? A Thousand Words? Well, when it comes to marketing your horse, it could be worth thousands of dollars! I had the opportunity to interview professional photographer and accomplished horsewoman, Heidi Schlenker with Heidi Schlenker Photography. We talked about photo usage rights, copyrights, and what to look for in hiring a photographer.

Even though you may think you know…you could be missing some valuable information that has the potential to save you thousands of dollars! We have it all outlined here!


“I’m a 3rd generation horsewoman and got my start in the industry at the ripe age of 2! I started off in open shows and 4-H and worked my way up into AQHA and APHA breed shows. I thoroughly enjoy fitting horses and showing in halter and reining. I also enjoy breeding. In 2010 I got heavily involved in the halter industry but wanted to make a change with a horse that would halter and ride competitively.

I purchased FG Totally A Charmer as suckling off the recip mare’s side, and brought him home at weaning. From there, we won 6 World Titles and a Congress Reserve title across three breed associations, and just three years later he made me a multiple world champion breeder as well. Afterwards, the breeding demand was high but I didn’t have enough of a marketing budget to hire photographers and ad designers to promote my horse and his foals.

I took my hobbyist photography pro and taught myself graphic design so that I could promote my stallion with proper professionalism on a budget. However, there was still a piece of the puzzle missing. I needed to know more about marketing to do it right, so I went back to school and obtained my MBA with a Specialization in Marketing so that I could properly run my business, and help other equine businesses obtain their marketing and advertising goals as well. What started as a side business to market my own horses has now turned into a global marketing business in the equine industry!

I live and breathe the horse industry, and stallions are my specialty! I love stallions, always have. I get just as excited to go photograph and create marketing material for client stallions as I do my own. I get just as much thrill laying down in the middle of a pasture with a stallion running at me full speed to capture those amazing, draw-dropping shots as I do during my rundowns in reining. It’s an adrenaline rush, it’s art, and I strive every day to keep creating unique art that people are proud to use in their marketing and promotion programs.”


“Oh boy, this is a controversial topic in the horse industry for sure! There seems to be a rather large misconception in the equine industry that if you pay money to have your photos taken, you can use them however you want to. However, this is not the case. You need to pay special attention to the photography contract, or regulations of your photographer. United States law protects original works.

The moment someone snaps that shutter, or creates a graphic design, that image is copyright protected. A photographer or graphic designer can further protect themselves by filing the images or graphic work with the U.S copyright office for a small fee. However, filing with the U.S. copyright office is NOT a necessity to protect a photographer or designer’s work.

Unless your photography contract explicitly states that the copyright of the photos is transferred to the client, the copyright owner of those photos is the photographer, not the client.

Instead, photographers offer usage licenses to clients. For example, some portrait photographers may only offer a printing release, giving the client permission to have the photos printed in an unlimited fashion for personal use, such as displaying in the home, or office.

Commercial Release – A commercial release in the equine industry is generally a full release that allows the clients to use the high-resolution photos in an advertising capacity, printing, digitally, and on social media.

One-Time Ad Use – A One-Time Ad Use Release is when a high-resolution image is to be used in an ad, ONE TIME, and is generally released to the ad designer rather than the client. This usage restricts the client from printing or sharing the high-resolution image on social media as it can only be used one time in an ad design.

Social Media Release – Social media releases are generally for low-resolution images that are allowed to be displayed on websites and social media, but NOT in an advertising capacity. For example, you can’t use a social media released image to advertise your horse for sale, but you can use commercially released photos to advertise your horse for sale. Generally, social media use images are not allowed to be printed either.

It is important to note that all photographers are different, and each may offer different types of releases to allow their photos to be used in a specific capacity. It is always best to verify with your photographer if you are unsure how you will be allowed to use the photos taken.

Proofs- This is a big one. Routinely we see people share screenshots of photography proofs and even use them to advertise horses for sale. This is illegal and is considered theft, as well as copyright infringement. When proofs are used in an advertising capacity, it falls under willful infringement which can carry a fine of up to $150,000 for EACH work infringed. Willful infringement is defined by the intent to make a profit with the use of the work. So, if you’re using stolen photos to sell a horse; that is copyright infringement and you can be sued for that. It’s much cheaper, in the long run, to pay for the photos that you want to use, and even cheaper in the long run to just purchase the commercial release.

Copyright Infringement – “Anyone found to have infringed a copyrighted work may be liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 for each work infringed and, if willful infringement is proven by the copyright owner, that amount may be increased up to $150,000 for each work infringed. In addition, an infringer of a work may also be liable for the attorney’s fees incurred by the copyright owner to enforce his or her rights” (Office, U.S. (n.d.). Fair use (FAQ): U.S. Copyright Office. Retrieved February 11, 2021, from https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html”


– DO –


DO purchase the proper release for the images you want to use from your photographer

DO ensure you are using the images according to your release.


– DO NOT –


DO NOT use image “proofs” that have not been purchased in ANY capacity.

DO NOT use social media released images for advertising purposes.

DO NOT give other people permission to use the photos in any capacity without first getting written permission from the photographer.

DO NOT copy another graphic designer’s work, this is copyright infringement.

DO NOT edit or alter ANY image without obtaining written permission from the photographer.


“Find a reputable photographer with a contract. The contract is important for both the client and the photographer as it outlines the rules and expectations for the session and use of the photos.

1. Shop around. Great photography isn’t cheap and cheap photography usually isn’t great. Photography is an investment. If you want your horses and other stock to be presented in a professional manner, you need a photographer that knows the industry, knows how to properly set up a horse, and a photographer that can get the proper angles for the photos. A bad angle can make a million-dollar horse look like a sea donkey. As both a marketing professional and photographer, I can assure you good, professional photos will ALWAYS have more of an impact in advertising than anything you will get from your cell phone, or an amateur.

2. Find a photographer with excellent editing skills. This is a HUGE one. Cameras these days are digital. The image off the back of the camera is a digital negative, just like a film negative. Therefore, it still has to be processed and color corrected. Most photographers possess those basic skills (one would hope) but a talented photographer can turn a meh photo into a powerhouse photo with some lighting changes, accurate color enhancements, the right bokeh, and other editing techniques. We aren’t talking about changing the conformation of the horse in any capacity, we are strictly speaking about the processing of the photo. If your photographer is giving you digital images off the back of the camera with no editing at all, BEWARE. You aren’t getting what you should be getting when you pay for good photography.

A final tip: Do NOT ask your photographer for unedited images for a cheaper price. Not only is this rude, but those images are a reflection of that photographer’s work. As professional breeders, trainers, and exhibitors, you wouldn’t present a horse at a show with 10 inches of hair, completely untrained, and with crappy fitting and dirty tack. Instead, you’d make sure the horse is clipped, the coat groomed and shiny, the horse trained, and clean, proper fitting tack. The post-processing of photos is the equivalent to a proper show ring turnout, so please don’t ask us to give you, or provide a discount for unprocessed images as those images are not a true reflection of our work.”

Knowing the legalities of photo usage rights and copyrights is so important when advertising and marketing! We appreciate Heidi sharing her knowledge about the legalities of photo usage rights and copyrights…  also, some tips on what to look for in hiring a photographer! Thank you, Heidi, for sharing your wisdom and experience on this topic!

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