We sat down with Birgit Berghofer, a photographer who specializes in capturing the majesty and power of our local horses. Her rise from mucking stalls, to a talented equine photographer, is highly recommended reading for all of you horse lovers. She speaks frankly about some of the challenges that technology, phones, and social media pose for upcoming photographers and candidly talks about how she has had to overcome those challenges in her work.
Her story is a testament to the idea of working hard to achieve your dreams and we left the interview feeling deeply inspired by her grit and enthusiasm. Birgit has built a life for herself doing exactly what she loves.
How did you get started in photography? 🎨🖍️
I’ve always been an artist. Even when I was little I would always be drawing or painting as much as possible. On my sixth birthday, I received my first camera (which I still have) and became enamoured with capturing moments as they happen. There’s something amazing about being able to capture a moment in time.
I was lucky enough to be enrolled in the Langley Fine Arts School (LFAS) and continued to develop my artistic passions there. Some years and a few detours later, I decided to take the plunge and enroll in the professional photography program at Langara. This is a 2-year intensive program, where the instructors teach you not only the basics but a combination of the aesthetic and business aspects of photography, with a solid technical background.
I started the program in 2016 and graduated last year. Now that the program is over, I have been able to get super serious about my business, and devote all my time to it!
What inspires you?
I grew up watching pro photographers as they worked, and was mesmerized with how they were able to capture important moments forever. I sound like a canon ad. Specifically for equine photography, I’ve always loved a horses’ individuality. I believe that people are drawn to horses because of their beauty, and spirit, and I love being able to see the relationship between a rider and their horse. It’s inspirational to see how they work together as a team.
What is the process behind an equine photo shoot? 🐴☀️🎉
It all depends on what type of shoot you’re going to do. The first step is communicating with the client and finding out what their needs are. From there, I scout the location, make sure the background is not cluttered, and also that the overall scene looks nice. I try to use features such as leading lines, (something that leads you towards the subject of the photo) like fences or paths. I like to find interesting colours or patterns to make the image come alive. A general rule that I follow with photography is that if it’s an overcast day, I’m able to shoot with the horse and rider the whole day. If it happens to be a fairly sunny day, however, I prefer to shoot at sunrise or sunset, so that there are no harsh shadows on the subjects.
Finally, I communicate with the client to make sure the horse is brushed and that their eyes and nose are clean prior to the shoot.
How do you get the horses to cooperate?
Well, that’s pretty easy, food! Most horses are trained to have good ground manners, but sometimes they get antsy, so we bring treats as a reward. So far the horses I’ve worked with have been pretty cooperative. During the shoot, if the horse gets fussy, I get the client to circle them around or we move to a different location to keep them interested. It’s definitely hard sometimes to get a thousand pounds of horse to stay still. Regardless, my first priority for the client and horse is always their safety.
How do you know when you have the perfect shot?
It’s a gut feeling – when I look at a photo I get excited about it. Maybe it’s all the training in the back of my head when it comes to lighting, composition, background – I guess when all those elements come together, that, for me, amounts to the perfect shot. When I get really excited about a specific photo during a shoot, I think that translates over to the client, it makes them feel more confident. I know it can be daunting to be in front of the camera, but having that positivity helps them forget about the camera and be more in the moment.
Is photography a full-time job for you? 📸💪
Definitely full time. I’m in the process of building my business and finding new and interesting ways to market myself and get my name out there. The photography industry is fairly saturated, so I try to find ways to stand out from the crowd.
I’ve had to learn how to work for myself. I love being my own boss and having the creative freedom to decide which clients I work with, as well as the photos I capture.
Do you feel that being from Langley has shaped your photography/opportunities in any way? 🏟️💵
I think so! Since Langley is considered the horse capital of BC, it has influenced my love of horses. When I was 15, I was able to work at Thunderbird Show Park, which is now one of Canada’s best equine sports centres.
When I started working there, it was just a four-horse stable. Diane Tidball, one of the founders of Tbird, was the first person to give me my first paycheque! Now, I do a fair bit of my photography there, because of the many summer events they host. This work, along with having my own horse, helped me feel comfortable around horses, as well as get a better understanding of the industry as a whole. This, in turn, helps my clients feel comfortable since I have a long history of being around horses.
How does the community of Langley support you?
It certainly helps that there are a lot of horses to be photographed! There are always many world-class events happening, and since I’ve been a part of the community, I’m able to get access to these events more easily than others. Growing up in Langley and saying that I’m a Langley original also makes me more relatable to my clients. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to watch riders get their start and slowly grow up to be leading riders in the industry. It’s all about creating relationships and trust. Once you have that, it’s a lot easier to navigate in the industry.
What is one of the biggest challenges of being a photographer? 📱🐎❤️
In my experience, one of the biggest challenges is, that even though I spent two years training, and I have really expensive, professional quality gear – people in general (not everyone), don’t value the services of a professional photographer as much as they used to. With the explosion of smartphones and the sheer quantity of amateur photos being taken and shared daily, it makes it more difficult for the average person to realize that professional photos are being created with explicit intent and vision and in more demanding conditions. Professional photos are also more expensive to produce – the cost of training, purchasing the gear, wear and tear on the gear – it all adds up.
What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve been able to overcome?
Starting my own business has definitely been a learning curve. We are taught business practices in school, but once you get out into the real world it’s different for everyone. Getting your name out there happens through word of mouth and social media, and meeting the right people. It’s been a bit of a challenge since I’ve only been doing this full time for a year, but I know eventually it will get easier. I think people notice how much love you put into your work. I am very fortunate to be able to love what I do – not everyone can get up out of bed and say that they’re excited to go to work. I’m lucky enough to have a job where I get to play with horses all day.
Was there ever a point where people doubted your ability to become a successful photographer?
I don’t know about others, but I’m definitely my own worst enemy. I tend to compare myself to other photographers and pick apart my work. It can be disheartening to see a blurry iPhone photo on Instagram with 10,000 likes.
Where can people find your photography? 🤩📷
They can contact me through my website, as well as Facebook and Instagram. I do have prints available for those interested, they’re just not listed on my website currently. The best way to ask for prints is to contact me via social media.
We would like to thank Birgit Berghofer for taking the time to sit down with us. It was amazing to learn more about how the behind the scenes of a photo shoot work, and how much love goes into equine photography! If you know someone who should be featured in our next Langley Profile, send us a note about who they are and why you feel they should be featured to firstname.lastname@example.org.