Hannah Cole is an incredible photographer and we have had the pleasure of working with her on numerous projects and events. You’ve probably seen her images in lots of publications and on social media, but if you haven’t met Hannah before we highly recommend you have a read of this blog to find out a little more about her and how she started her journey to where she is now!
How did you get into photography?
“Having spent all my childhood in rural North Warwickshire nestled between several farms, I was often found admiring the Point to Point Racehorses at the neighbouring farm. Fascinated by the beautiful silhouettes that Thoroughbred’s create at full flight, I was soon taken with capturing this on film.
And so there it started, with my trusty white Minolta compact camera I’d set off up and down the country with family. Or even in the farmer’s old DAF horsebox following the point to point race meetings and capturing images of my favourite steeds. Years were spent gathered countless photos of jumping horses, from point to point racing, National Hunt Jump Racing and then getting the bug for Eventing.
I’ve always headed to Burghley for as long as I can remember, and September 2015 was no exception. Burghley, in my eyes, is the best five-star challenge in the world. The result of this is huge crowds come to watch the best athletes tackle its iconic cross country course. With crowds many deep approaching the Lion Bridge I tried my best to get a good spot. But whilst good photographers make the most of conditions, I’ll always be eternally grateful to the kind American, who on hearing that one of the last competitors had left the start box, he turned towards his wife but caught glance of me and my woefully inadequate height standing behind him and said hey little lady come stand in front of me. The approaching horse and rider was Oliver Townend riding Armada.
I’d been lucky enough to come runner up in Horse and Hound’s Eventing Photography competition in 2015, not bad for my first attempt, but I was thrilled to get a call to say my Armada photo had won the 2016 competition – and my prize was to attend Badminton 2017 as an accredited photographer! This started me on my ‘official’ photo journey.
As a result of this win, I found the courage to apply for an advert from an Eventing publication. Resulting in getting invited to photograph for them, covering events up and down the UK capturing photos for their weekly Event Reports. Having spent three seasons with them, gaining valuable experience, I have now ventured into the Freelance Sports Photographer world, working for great publications such as Horse and Hound, Insights Magazine, BE Life and Horse and Rider, whilst building up an exciting portfolio of commercial clients too. I have also been honoured to work as Press Photographer for Bicton 4* and 5*, Festival of British Eventing as well as Hickstead Derby & RIHS meetings”.
What do you like most about being a photographer
“I still and always will describe myself as the luckiest person in the world. I love horses and I love photography, so to get to do what I do is just a dream come true. Being an accredited photographer means lots of hard work, but also access that money can’t buy to front row seats on some of the biggest sporting events in the world. To get up close to 5* winners, pat the European Champion then just casually meet the World Number One is surreal and a privilege that will never get taken for granted.
My photography allows me to capture moments, often split seconds in time which can be cherished forever. And yes some of these moments are of incredible sporting achievements, like Piggy punching the air after winning Burghley on Vanir Kamira or Nicola dancing on the podium at the Europeans in Avenches – they are also the tears of the hard-working grooms, the quite moments of reflection back at the lorry or the snuggles with the riders favourite mount when they think no ones looking.
I was recently at an owners yard and after the long journey down there, I politely asked to visit the bathroom. The rider smiled and pointed me in the right direction. I opened the door to be met with four walls covered in photos, floor to ceiling on each wall. It was amazing, you could see these photos had been gathered over many years and meant so much. (Massively excited there was one of mine in the collection) To know that I am helping to capture not only photos, but memories to cherish for a long time definitely makes all the long hours and miles travelled worthwhile for me.
And talking of travelling, my photography has taken me to some amazing places which I will always be grateful for. From the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands, the foothills of the French Pyrenees, the serenity of the Polish countryside and just about everywhere in between!
But for me personally, the most special thing has been the connections it has gifted me. I get to work with some of the best riders in the world and my photos have introduced me to my favourite horses. Regular readers of my blog and socials will know my affection for Cilnabradden Evo – a chance meeting with his owner’s husband who asked about my photos has led me on an incredible journey of following this special horse, getting to know his owner and family, as well as follow him around the European circuit. (And him mugging me for every polo going!).”
Who inspires you?
“So many people – I am so lucky that I get to work with so many great photographers on the circuit. To be able to call the likes of Libby Law, Elli Birch (Boots and Hooves), Julian Portch et al all friends and people that I can now feel brave enough to approach and ask for advice is amazing. The Hannah of a few years ago would never have dreamed in her wildest dreams that she’d casually be sitting on the grass at Barbury getting advice and discussing things with Libby Law.
Away from the day to day circuit, I would say look up your camera manufacturer and see who their ambassadors are. I was lucky to find that Sony have an extensive ambassador programme and I have found a couple of wonderful Sports photographers this way. I have attended talks and joined their online community, advice is so much more useful if they are using the same kit as you”.
Describe your photography style in 5 words
“This is a tough one for someone who waffles as much as me…
Vibrant, unintrusive, natural (I’m not a fan of a fake pose), real (not one for too many touch up’s), genuine.”
What’s your favourite thing to photograph
“I love the connection between horse and rider, be that as they tackle the biggest fence on course together. Or whether they are sharing a quiet moment of togetherness back at the lorry before heading off into battle together. For me it’s the trust they have in each other, the reassuring pat or the look of bravery as they tackle a step up.
And Black horses – yes I read Black Beauty as a child and it stuck in my head. Anyone else who enjoyed this story, look out for Brookfield Cavalier Cruise and MDSandyhill Zorro on the Eventing circuit.
I do have favourite courses and fences (too many to list), but experience has taught me not to get so hung up on these. Some days these photos work and some they don’t. Focus on what story the image tells rather than the phase or event”.
Top tips for someone who wants to take good pictures at an event
“Practice. It’s a well-used phrase, but practice, practice, practice.
Get out there and give it a go. Look up some of your favourite photos from other photographers in advance and work out how you can get similar shots. Try different angles – you’d be amazed how differently a fence can be shown in a photo depending on where you position yourself. Don’t forget about your height too – crouch down (that’s why I always have muddy knees!), stand on a bank – try them all out.
As mentioned before, I would say look up your camera manufacturer and see who their ambassadors are. I got so much help from Terry Donnelly, a great Sony Sports Ambassador. If there is a setting you want help with or something that you are struggling to nail, ask someone – but make sure they have used your kit as answers differ depending on what kit used and what their area of expertise is.
Consider your background – is there just a nice rolling view or something iconic to show you which event you are at (Big country houses always tick this box for me). Portaloos and cars don’t make for the best backdrops, so consider moving a bit to avoid these.
Work with your kit – you don’t need to spend a fortune or buy every new version. Spend time to work out what it does well and what is doesn’t cope so well with. Some lens have sweet spots – my first 70-300mm was a great lens, but 250-300mm did not produce as sharp images as when it was at 70-250, so I stopped trying to use it at those focal lengths. And the more you practice, the more you will discover these little quirks and be able to work with them.
Ask away. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask advice, ask a fellow photographer. Ask how someone gets on with certain kit. I always say feel free to ask me anything. I can’t promise I will have the right answer, but I always try to help people – payback for all the people who helped me get started.
And finally, remember why we do it. Why we stand in muddy fields for hours. Why we stand in the rain or cold – we are meant to be enjoying it. Have fun, enjoy what you are photographing – if you’re not enjoying, it will soon show in your work and it can take many hours of your life up. So make sure it’s something you’re enjoying”.
Visit Hannah’s website here.
Cover image by friend of Hannah’s, Digital Equine.