Young Photographer Making Name on UAE Racetracks

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Sixteen year old photographer, Shamela (SHAM-ella) Hanley, is somewhat of a phenom* on the UAE racetracks. As official photographer for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Godolphin racing in the UAE, she is on the scene to take photos of some of the top race horses in the world, a dream job that many photographers might wish to have.

*Phenom: noun, Slang – a phenomenon, especially a young prodigy. asked Shamela to share some of her experiences. This is her story.

SH: For the past three seasons I have been taking photographs at the races in the UAE with the help of the Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival. Director Lara Sawaya has supported my photography from day one, constantly encouraging me to take my photography to the next level.

I am the Official Photographer at Al Ain Racecourse due to the support of Neil Abrahams, Laura King and Faisal Al Rahmani. Being able to see top class racehorses as well as rubbing shoulders with some of the best people in the racing industry on a regular basis is amazing and keeps me motivated to do what I love to do.

I have now been taking pictures for only three years, but it has become a major part of my life. My main focus in photography is horses and I prioritize flat racing, however I try to squeeze in a few show jumping and polo events to shoot as well. My favorite event(s) of the season is definitely the Dubai World Cup Carnival meetings that start from the first of January and run every Thursday, including Super Saturday and Dubai World Cup Day as numerous Group-winning international and local horses emerge.

HR: How did you learn your skills? Anyone or ones that have been special in your photography life that has encouraged/helped you?

SH: I started off with only a small camera going around teaching myself all the settings and reading multiple books on different camera functions until I got the hang of it. I did however receive kind help from many of the other racing photographers I have met who would give me tips and strategies to further improve my skills.

HR: You have a great start as a photographer but tell us that your goal is to work with racehorses.

SH: I am very passionate about photography and racing so being able to combine the two is perfect for me. I hope in the near future I am able to photograph at other international tracks and events. My main career goal is to work directly with racehorses but I will always still have my photography. My father was a jockey and my mother trains horses so I have been around horses since the day I was born – being influenced and inspired by two of the most important people in my life.

HR: At first you said you were not taken seriously as a race track photographer, but your connections have allowed you to watch and learn from some of the best. Congratulations on now being a fully accredited Meydan photographer.

SH: Yes, I am very excited about finally being accredited to take pictures at Meydan from the domestic meetings to carnival meetings through to Dubai World Cup Day. It has been fabulous as it hosts most of the international Thoroughbred action as well as Group 1 level Arabian races which have been great to capture. On World Cup Day I hope to take some great shots of some of the best horses in racing and further experience the crowds of photographers that flock to Meydan during this prestigious day.

HR: Do you have a favorite horse to photograph?

SH: Recently I have taken pictures of Frosted trained by Kieren McLaughlin, and owned by Godolphin. He is based in Marmoon where Charlie Appleby’s horses are also based. I now officially take pictures for Godolphin and I was given permission along with Dubai Racing Channel to get exclusive captures of Frosted. I was at the races in Meydan when he won under William Buick. He’s become one of my favorite horses to photograph this season as he has a charisma about himself and carries himself with confidence, which is always great to shoot and portray through my pictures.

HR: Each year the HH Sheikh Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Racing Festival selects a woman photographer for the International Photographers’ Darley Award. Is this award a goal of yours?

SH: Yes, I have set winning the International Photographers Darley Award as a goal for myself to someday achieve, but it is difficult due to he fact that there are so many other talented photographers in the racing industry.

HR: I’m sure all photographers want to know – what is in your camera bag and do you use a smart phone to take photos?

SH: Usually in my camera bag I take two camera bodies – my Canon 5D Mark III (which is my main camera) and 5D Mark II, 3-4 lenses a meeting including my 70-200 (which is recently my favorite lens), 100-400 (used in day race meetings in Jebel Ali and Sharjah), 24-105 (wide-angle so good for group pictures at Abu Dhabi and Al Ain racecourse) and my 50 mm for closer detail and more creative photographs. I also bring my laptop to upload pictures and edit them between races. My camera bag usually gets a bit heavy but I drag it around to every racecourse anyway as they are all my essentials. I very rarely take photos with my iPhone, even if it is something simple that you could shoot easily on a smart phone. but I prefer to always use my cameras.

HR: What advice might you give to other budding race track photographers?

SH: My advice to any other young aspiring race track photographers would be to not be shy at the races and talk to as many people as possible making connections and getting yourself out there in the industry if you want your photography to be recognized. Also getting business cards to give out is also very helpful which I’ve learnt this season.

HR: Thank you Shamela. We are certain that we will see more of your work in the future.

California Chrome early workout Photo: Shamela Hanley

California Chrome early am workout
Photo: Shamela Hanley

Madjanthis File photo Shamela Hanley

File photo: Shamela Hanley