Sports photography is a genre that ignites a lot of interest from photographers because, no matter what the sport, it can provide a rich source of material for any photographer wanting to capture action or human interest images. I travel the world with the FIA World Endurance Championship capturing the action happening during the nine race global sports car series that includes the world famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. However in 2017 I have photographed two different sports that also feature plenty of horse power – eventing and horse racing.
Eventing is unique in equestrian sport by combining dressage, cross country jumping over fixed fences and show jumping in one day of activity. Each of the three disciplines is designed to test the horses ability. The different disciplines are combined into one competition and is run on a cumulative penalty basis. The competitor with the least penalties at the end is the winner.
The sport is very photogenic and access is very open at almost all of the levels. Obviously the restrictions at international events are higher than lower levels but even at the top class meetings, photographers of all abilities will find something to shoot.
The action is quite easy to follow in each of the disciplines. The Dressage is slow moving and takes place in a relatively small area. The competitors taking part in the Show Jumping and Cross Country follow a set course so once you know where the horse and rider will be heading it is easy to find a suitable position to shoot from.
Horse Racing is a very photogenic sport with bright colours and plenty of action. The summer months are known as the flat season and, as the name suggests, the races are held without any jumps. November marks the start of the jump season in the UK, with races over fences or hurdles, which adds an additional element for the photographer to capture.
Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world with records showing events occurred in Ancient Greece, Babylon and Egypt, with horse racing even included in the Olympic Games by 648BC. In more modern times horse racing became popular with royalty all around Europe, earning the sport the nickname ‘The Sport of Kings’.
There are three main elements to consider at a race meeting. There is the paddock, where the jockeys and horse prepare for the race in the parade ring. There is also the grandstand area where the main focus is the betting ring where the ‘bookies’ are located. The third area is the race course itself, where the action takes place.
Catching the Action
Unlike motorsport, for both eventing and horse racing you are allowed to get close to the action without any special access and with no high fences to get between you and the subject.
The X-T2’s AF system is superb and will track the competitors in either sport easily. I always set the X-T2 to ‘boost’ to improve the reaction time. The AF-C custom setting is set to ignore obstacles (set 2) so the AF doesn’t get confused by objects such as fences that come between me and the competitor as I follow them.
I have found single point AF to be the most useful setting, using the focus point on the rider’s upper body.
To freeze the action a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 is needed. With the 100-400mm zoom I would increase the ISO to compensate for the slower f5.6 aperture to maintain a shutter speed of at least 1/1000. With the 50-140mm f2.8 it was easier because of the wider aperture enabling me to select a lower ISO setting for the same fast shutter speed.
I also shot both sports with slower shutter speeds down as low as 1/50 to give a lot of movement in the final image. Because the subject is moving across the frame, but is also moving up and down as well, the use of a slower shutter speed was very hit and miss but when it did work the effect was quite dramatic.
Behind the Scenes
There is plenty to shoot away from the action in both eventing and horse racing. Close up images of the horses being prepared for competition and the tension in the faces of the riders as they head out to compete are all there to be captured.
At a horse racing event you also have the parade ring and the bookmakers ring where spectators see the horses before the race and where they place their bets. This is where street photography skills come in very useful and you could spend an entire day in this area alone.
Sports involving horses are great to photograph and allow the photographer great access with out the need for a special pass. There are, of course, other sports involving horses, such as rodeo, carriage driving and polo, so check out your local sports websites, grab your camera and get shooting.