My Life as a Horse Racing Photographer – Shamela Hanley

January 24, 2020

Shamela Hanley is now a well-known name in the UAE for the beautiful images she takes on their courses; and she was just 13 years old when she discovered her passion and talent for equine photography. Both of her parents have always been involved with horses, her father being a jockey, so she was exposed to racing from a young age and grew up with a natural love for horses. 

“Since childhood I’ve always been intrigued by photography and at 13 years old I managed to save up and buy my first camera to take pictures at my local track in Abu Dhabi. After posting my pictures on social media, I was noticed by the racecourse and the equine manager to HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan who then contracted me to take pictures of their horses and winners. 8 years on and I am now the official photographer to Al Ain Racecourse, retained UAE photographer to Shadwell and HH Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi.”

Shamela doesn’t spend all of her time taking pictures either – She also works for Satish Seemar at Zabeel Stables as well, meaning her day actually starts long before the first race is under starters orders.

“An average day for me begins with working at a yard from 5:30am-11:30am, as I ride out a few horses and have to complete my racing secretary duties. The time I finish depends on which races I am attending for that day and how far I need to drive – it’s never just as simple as rocking up to the races after having a quiet morning!

Before leaving for the races, I would then get myself and all of my photography equipment ready and get to the racetrack for the day being there around an hour and a half before the first race of the day to set up my equipment and prepare. I don’t get to just stand around relaxing either, as being the retained photographer for Shadwell, I also have to make sure I  get good shots of all their horses and winners for them.

The part I love most about my job is how close I can get to the action. Being in the parade ring and right on the rail just gives you a different type of experience, even when you’re working and concentrating on getting specific shots you feel like you’re part of the action and immerse yourself in the moment. It almost feels like you see the winner before anyone else does.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to travel and take pictures at multiple international racing events from Santa Anita to Glorious Goodwood, most recently being the Arc in Paris before the UAE season kicked off. But my favourite meeting was the Ebor at York in August, it was such a welcoming racecourse, there were many vantage points for great shots and plenty of freedom to move around – and seeing Enable in the flesh for the first time was a dream come true!”

“The best advice I could give anyone wanting to be a racing photographer is to choose your battles. It’s not always easy, no matter how good your photographs are. You might be declined accreditation to some races but just keep working hard and be pleasant to everyone you come across in the industry. So many people try to undervalue photography and expect pictures for nothing, so I think most importantly, never give your pictures away for free!”

You can follow Shamela and her career on Social Media

Twitter – @simmy_hanley

Instagram – @shamelahanleyphotos





Contributing Authors

Abbeigh Harris

Abbeigh is a writer from Worcestershire in England, not far from the picturesque Cotswolds. Having stumbled upon horse racing just a few years ago, Abbeigh...

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