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How does a guy who’s obsessed with sports racing photography get up-close and behind-the-scenes access to the nation’s top horse race events like The Carolina Cup and Iroquois Steeplechase? Well, what if he was actually a jockey himself? That’s where sports photojournalist Jamey Price steps into the picture.
Life as a jockey
Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jamey has been around horses his entire life. The classic horse “showing” – where a rider might trot around in a ring or go over a few jumps – wasn’t for him, he decided as an adolescent (“Too boring!” he says with a laugh). So Jamey went a different route and got involved in steeplechasing. If you’re not familiar, steeplechasing is a unique take on horse racing where jockeys ride thoroughbred race horses at 30 miles per hour, jumping a total of twelve to fourteen 4ft-hurdles along the way. And since the races generally take place in the countryside, you can almost always guarantee a vista of high hills and sweeping fields of green grass. It’s fast, colorful, and dangerous.
To date, Jamey has competed in over 40 steeplechase races and taken home 11 wins. Photography was often an afterthought – that is until he received his first SLR camera, the Nikon D80. “From that point on,” says Jamey, “I would ride a race, jump off my horse and start photographing the other riders while still in all my riding gear, shoot the next 2-3 races, and then run back to the jockey’s room to saddle up for the next race I was riding in. It’s exhausting.”
The uniqueness of photographing horse races
What makes photographing horse races different from other sporting events is that photographers must know how to deal with live animals. “No way in hell can you use a flash around horses,” says Jamey, “so it’s all about finding the best available lighting conditions and background. You also have to be willing to move – if the shot’s not working in one place, you have to go to another spot.”
Of course, Jamey has an advantage in knowing where to expect the horses to land or how they might move over a jump. “All the spectators fill the infields,” he explains, “where anyone, not just press, can be close enough to get good photos. But you have to keep your wits about you because the horses are literally running right in front of your face as they go by, and sadly, accidents happen.”
Can you make a living in this niche?
Jamey would take thousands of photos for any given race, and eventually started getting onboard with wire services geared toward horse racing. “But there’s a very limited market for it,” says Jamey, explaining that steeplechasing is huge in the UK, but less known in the U.S. “I might get 20 images sold per year into the press, and the rest I sell to jockeys and their trainers who are my friends and fellow competitors.”
As Jamey got more and more into photography, he started getting serious about attending other sporting events to supplement his income and diversify his portfolio. That’s where being a die-hard Formula 1 fan came in handy. “I’ve pushed myself to be a car racing photographer,” he says. “I’m almost too close to steeplechasing in that I’d rather be riding than shooting.”
For Jamey, it’s literally the thrill of the race that keeps him coming back. “There’s just so much noise and action in motor racing, and even though these races can be 10 hours long or more, there’s always something to shoot. It sounds boring as sin, but it actually allows me to be more creative because I’m not rushed – I get 10 hours to tell the whole story of the race.”
When it comes to gear and technique, Jamey is a Nikon two-body kind of man. “It’s all about the lenses,” he says on photographing races. “That’s why I carry two bodies – one for telephoto and one for a wide lens.”
Sports racing photography is king
“Everything that any sports photographer would want to shoot is wrapped up in racing,” Jamey boldly states. To give him a chance to support his claim, we asked Jamey to walk us through 5 of his best race photos, and explain what makes them so fun and special to shoot.
1. Optimal shutter speed
“The wonderful thing about car racing is that you get several opportunities to figure out how to pair your shutter speed with the car’s speed,” says Jamey. “For this one, I started out at 1/15 shutter speed and wasn’t getting anything good, so I went up to 1/100 and that was too fast. I kept working through it to slow the shutter speed, but still keep the car in focus. Also keep in mind that I’m really far away from the car, probably 100 yards or more. So I continued playing with it, panning the car as it moves in front of me, and settled on 1/60 where I got it in focus but still showed the speed as much as possible.”
2. Great back-lighting
“This was taken at the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, which is a race that goes around downtown Baltimore’s inner harbor. I made a point of walking around the track to a place where nobody else was standing. I love a good back-lit shot like this – it gets all the glimmer off the paint job and I even under-exposed a bit to make it contrast with the background. The sun was pretty much directly behind the car, poking through Baltimore’s skyscrapers.”
“The cool thing about street circuit races is that you stand right in the thick of it, not 100 yards away like at a proper race circuit. It can be deafening (and scary) to be that close, but you get such an adrenaline rush. I want to take that feeling of euphoria and capture it in my pictures. If I can make car racing interesting to someone who doesn’t think they care about it, then I’ve done the job well.”
3. Tons of action
“There’s so much action going on in this shot. This is how my eye would see the scene on its own, and it’s how I saw the picture unfolding before me. I think one of the key skills in sports photography is to actually put your camera down for a second and use your eyes. Your eyes are the most advanced camera that you’ll ever own. I just try to find a beautiful scene and think about how I can make that into a beautiful sports photograph.”
4. The perfect moment
“This is one of my images that ran in Sports Illustrated. The scene took place at early dawn at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. I just saw it happening as I walked by, and sat underneath the rail and took the picture really quickly. It was perfect.”
5. A personal connection
“This is one of my all-time favorite photos. It means a lot to me as a rider because this is how I envision my life – just me and the horse. This was taken at a steeplechase training facility outside of Cheltenham, England, and there were probably 30 or more horses behind him. But I happened to be standing down the hill and get this one by himself with a stunning sunrise to boot.”
As a dual athlete-photographer, we asked Jamey if he has any advice for sports photographers. “As an athlete, I feel fortunate enough to share my passion with others through my lens, and for having been given the opportunity to try to do that. But if you’re going to be treated as a professional photographer, you need to act and shoot like one, and at least try to view things differently from everyone else.”