(CNN)With man and beast straining every sinew against a backdrop of stunning scenery, it’s no wonder the sport of kings lends itself to incredible photography.
Whether it’s gripping action, colorful crowd scenes or spectacular venues, horse racing offers a rich shooting gallery for photographers.Among the world’s best is Edward Whitaker of the UK’s Racing Post, who has been named racing’s photographer of the year for the second consecutive time, his ninth overall.
His latest accolade was for a portfolio of six stunning photographs taken over the last 12 months.Humble about his achievement, he says part of his success is down to his ability to pick a “balanced” portfolio which demonstrates the many different aspects of photography. Read More”It’s lovely to be recognized by your peers and I’m just very happy,” he told CNN Sport, saying he already has his eyes on a 10th title. “It’s just fortunate I’m quite good at picking which ones to submit.” Edward Whitaker has been named horse racing photographer of the year on nine occasions. ‘Taking a photograph is simple’One of Whitaker’s favorite photographs from the portfolio was taken of racehorse Tiger Roll, on his way to winning back-to-back Grand Nationals in April.Tiger Roll made a memorable late burst at Aintree and Whitaker’s picture depicts the diminutive racehorse leaping over one of the track’s infamous water jumps.However, despite the wonder horse in shot, he says the background is the real star of the show. “What really makes the picture is the birch hitting into the blue dyed water. There is so much life in the splash,” he said, revealing the picture was taken remotely by a camera pointing up behind the fence.
So happy to achieve my 9th win as Photographer Of The Year @HorseraceMedia annual Derby Awards at Lancaster Gate Hotel A big thanks to @alancrowhurst1 for organising the Brighton mafia to judge the photography . A proper bunch of [email protected] #nikonphotography pic.twitter.com/RRKdg59fNR
— Edward Whitaker (@edward_whitaker) December 3, 2019 Finding the perfect backdrop is certainly a key element in Whitaker’s approach and, in many cases, is more important than the jockeys and horses at the forefront. Whitaker jokes that finding the animals in beautiful settings is not so hard considering the wealth associated with the sport, “There are a lot of rich people in horse racing so the animals are often in very nice scenes which of course makes for great photographs,” he said. “Taking a photograph is simple really. It’s about the background primarily and then you wait for the subject.” This is certainly true of another of his award-winning shots, which shows a racehorse silhouetted against a stunning mackerel sky. The picture was taken just before dawn at Philip Hobbs’ racing yard on the west coast of England and, according to Whitaker, was a picture just waiting to happen. “I got there and saw this amazing sky, I could see what was going to happen but I just needed a horse,” he said. “Luckily one was exercising so I grabbed the rider and asked if I could do the picture. I was lying underneath this ridge, shooting up at the sky and just waiting for it to walk by.” Whitaker says that while dramatic skylines can make a great photograph, it sometimes comes at a cost. While snapping away at Lingfield Racecourse in May, Whitaker took a shot of horses racing towards a stormy sky.Despite it making his winning portfolio, he remembers taking the picture moments before it poured down with rain.”A lot of horse racing photography is living in your waterproofs, but those harsh, raw backgrounds make for great pictures with horses battling the elements,” said Whitaker, whose father James was a well known royal writer and broadcaster in the UK. Photos: The Racing Post's Edward Whitaker shares his favorite imagesSupermoon – Multi award-winning snapper Edward Whitaker earned horse racing’s photograph of the year award with this stunning image of a rare blue supermoon in Lambourn, Berkshire in January 2018. “I knew a spot where the angle was just right,” he says. Here he talks CNN Sport through seven of his favorite images. Hide Caption 1 of 7 Photos: The Racing Post's Edward Whitaker shares his favorite imagesFrench fancy – Whitaker’s image of French horse Arazi pulling off a stunning last-to-first victory in the 1991 Breeder’s Cup at Churchill Downs made his name. “He went through the field like it was ‘National Velvet’ or some ridiculous film like that. I got this image of jockey Pat Valenzuela screaming his head off against the spires of Churchill Downs. My lot were blown away, it was a big breakthrough.”Hide Caption 2 of 7 Photos: The Racing Post's Edward Whitaker shares his favorite imagesShower time – Another picture that has defined his career is this shot of the great stallion Danehill being hosed down at Coolmore Stud in Ireland in 2003. “I just love the whole effect, how the water is reacting over the horse. He turns his neck so it was almost like a massage to him, and you can see how much he’s enjoying it. I had to shoot it on a slow shutter speed and there’s a real sense of movement in the water, and the light is just lovely.”
Hide Caption 3 of 7 Photos: The Racing Post's Edward Whitaker shares his favorite imagesKaleidoscopic – This color-filled image of Churchill Downs is another Whitaker favorite. “I knew there was this fire exit up to a door that opened onto the roof so I went up there and caught this great dawn. There was a cold front coming in, so I knew there would be some very dramatic reds and yellows in the sky. And now they light up the iconic spires with purple light, so the colors are unbelievable. It’s so American and over the top.”Hide Caption 4 of 7 Photos: The Racing Post's Edward Whitaker shares his favorite imagesChantilly face – Horses break from the stalls in front of the Great Stables at Chantilly, France in 2016. “I love this shot because of the light and the horse rearing at the start. It’s just a dramatic picture. That one horse going up gives it great strength.”Hide Caption 5 of 7 Photos: The Racing Post's Edward Whitaker shares his favorite imagesLucky horseshoe – Whitaker’s luck was in with this picture from Cheltenham last January when he discovered the flying horseshoe. It was part of his portfolio that won an eighth photographer of the year award. “It was a remote picture from under the fence shooting into a clear blue sky. It was a nice picture anyway but the fact the shoe fell off and pointed upright was just unique. I’d never seen anything like it. That’s why photography is so exciting.”Hide Caption 6 of 7 Photos: The Racing Post's Edward Whitaker shares his favorite imagesScared stiff – Whitaker conquered his fears and rode up in the TV crane to capture this image of the city of Chester and the racecourse. “This is the scariest picture I’ve ever taken. You go up on this wobbly plank with a safety harness clipped to a metal frame. I was absolutely terrified but the view was amazing, the light was just right and I got this great scene of Chester with the action on the racecourse.”Hide Caption 7 of 7 ‘Dramatic sense of speed’Photographing racehorses at full tilt can be difficult for any experienced snapper but Whitaker was able to capture that staggering sense of speed at the Juddmonte International in York. Using a panning technique — tracking the subject with his camera — he snapped a wonderfully blurred image of eventual winner Japan storming to victory past Crystal Ocean.”There is just this lovely, dramatic sense of speed in the picture,” he said.”It sort of cleans up the picture without all the sponsors in the background.” It’s a similar style to another of his portfolio pieces which depicts a family watching on as racehorses gallop past them at Goodwood. Whitaker says the picture was inspired by cycling’s Tour de France which was going on at the same time as the race. “The family was standing there perfectly and it just so happens to be horses racing in front of them. It could have so easily been watching cyclists,” he said. The final photograph to make his portfolio is of a jockey coming off his mount at a fence but Whitaker stressed that both man and horse were fighting fit after the incident. “Although it’s unfortunate, falling jockeys make good photographs. He is making such a great shape, like a dancer desperately trying to look good.” This photograph of Tiger Roll jumping a fence at the Grand National is one of his favorite’s this year. Favorite monthWhitaker travels the length and breadth of Britain, braving the elements in search of the perfect picture.He says the four different seasons provide an opportunity to take very different photos, whether it be the bright sunshine of summer or the moody light of winter.Whitaker’s favorite month is September because “the light is just so beautiful and makes the photographs so colorful.” His passion has also taken him overseas to capture some of the biggest races on the planet, including this year’s Breeders’ Cup in the US. After picking up his latest award, Whitaker was catching a plane to cover the Hong Kong International Races where he was looking forward to taking pictures at the iconic Sha Tin Racecourse.Whitaker’s colleague Patrick McCann also won Picture of the Year at the Horserace Writers’ & Photographers’ Association Derby Awards, for his photograph of a jockey being dismounted by his horse.
“I’ve won with very different pictures, it’s getting harder and harder every year,” said McCann, who has now won the award three times. “There are so many great photographers out there. It’s a privilege to be nominated and to pick up the award.”