A Love For Horses
Cara Grimshaw transformed her passion into a career. Was it serendipity? Or strategy?
Learn how you too can spend the rest of your life doing what you love
Born in England, Cara Grimshaw grew up “on the back of horses, with no real passion for anything else – and especially not photography!” she shares with a grin. “If I wasn’t near a horse, I was thinking about them… It’s like I’m addicted to these animals!” Wistfully, she continues, “I was never into competitions or showing, but I loved spending my weekends riding them through the local forests… and looking after other people’s horses, was satisfying enough.”
At 18, Cara moved to Canada with her family, settled into her new life there, and eventually started working at a corporate job. It wasn’t till she met her boyfriend of nine years, portrait photographer (and TFCS Mentor) Sam Chua, who encouraged her to take up photography classes after purchasing her first DSLR, that she started to explore photojournalism. Little did she know that her life was about to change.
The element of danger is always present. It only takes a split second to have my foot stamped on, be squashed against a wall, or be trampled on. Human subjects are less likely to kick me in the head.
TFCS: You grew up with horses. How would you describe your relationship with them as a child, and later as a photographer?
“I was hardly interested in photography, till Sam introduced me to it. He encouraged me to take photography classes, and from there on, there was no turning back. In 2015, I decided to quit my corporate job to focus on work as a freelance professional. Two years on, I’m travelling all over the world, covering international horse sport events, and shooting commercially for equestrian luxury brands.”
TFCS: Animals are tough subjects to shoot. What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt from working with horses?
“Great question! Horses teach us humans a lot about self-confidence: they try their best for us when asked to do something new, and always with an open mind. There may be a moment of doubt – the animal may refuse a jump, be spooked by something unseen in the bushes, or face the uncertainty of learning new dressage moves… But with patience and support from their rider or groom, they gain the confidence to overcome their unknown. I find myself relating to horses in this way when it comes to my self-confidence as a businesswoman, and creative professional.”
TFCS: You attended the London 2012 Olympics as an editorial technician. How did that experience influence your career choice?
“One day in class, I’d joked about the possibility of assisting my photojournalism college instructor at the games. ‘Get in line, there are 15 people ahead of you,’ he quipped. That evening, I wrote a rather tongue-in-cheek list of 16 reasons why I should go with him. Months later, on my birthday, I received a phone call informing me that my accreditation would be arriving in the mail! I don’t know if it was luck, my sarcasm, or my drive to learn that got me in.
Obtaining Olympic accreditation is the equivalent of finding gold. On one of the quieter days at the Olympics, I begged my boss to let me go and watch my childhood horse-riding heroes compete. I spent the afternoon watching my favorite riders zooming around Greenwich at a gallop, and got a few decent shots on my little camera. I left the Olympics exhausted but inspired – why hadn’t I thought of marrying my love of horses and photography? I knew then what I wanted to do with my life.”
TFCS: Your images have a consistent quality that reflect the respect between the horse, rider, and groom…
“Equestrian sport is a team effort. My main goal in my images is to show the emotions, the hard work, and the details that often go unseen, such as the groom cleaning the rider’s boots, or the horse regaining its composure after a rider fell off.”
TFCS: What goes through your mind when you’re trying to make one image unique from the last?
“ ‘I need coffee.’ Haha!
After covering show after show, the same riders, the same routines, the same horses, the same grooms, it can become quite challenging to get different images. I try to keep an eye on the scoreboard to see who is winning and losing because emotions can make or break an image.
I also shoot a little differently from other equestrian photographers by using a 300mm hand held (no monopod) at f2.8/3.5 for non-action shots – this makes my subject too close for my lens to focus. I hold on and follow my subject until I get a single point in focus. I get down low and angle my shots. It’s often a combination of getting a desired angle, watching the shadows, and having a little luck!”
TFCS: External conditions are extremely unpredictable. How do you mitigate them at the race field?
“Go as prepared as possible, mentally and physically, and bring suitable gear. Depending on my clients’ requirements, I may need to provide anything from five to 50 shots. But they must all be outstanding images. Sometimes, my Fitbit clocks up to 18,000 steps per day at a show if it’s been a challenging day, as I search for a variety of angles and shots.”
TFCS: What’s your secret to finding that elusive element of “connection”?
“I spend my day looking for moments of connection away from the main ring, away from the action. Most of the time, I’m waiting in the warm up ring where the horse and riders prepare to compete, or finish their day. I don’t usually see many other photographers back there with me.
This is where I see the riders drop their “media faces” and show their human side. I wait and watch. With longer lens, I can stand back and shoot quietly, allowing the pictures to present themselves.”
TFCS: How do you interpret your style of photojournalism?
“For me, it’s about capturing a moment in time that cannot be replicated. The image tells a story without deliberate manipulation. As a photojournalist, I document what happens in front of me. I do not intervene to dictate an image.
My style of photography, with its single focus point and often with the foreground out of focus, can feel a little ‘voyeuristic’. It’s as if I am spying on a secret world.”
You can’t explain how horses touch your soul. They just do.
Photos: TFCS Photography Mentor Cara Grimshaw
Cara Grimshaw is a TFCS Photography Mentor currently based in Vancouver, who travels globally for shoots. Cara will be in Singapore this October for an exclusive TFCS Mentor Workshop. Keen to collaborate or be mentored? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch this space for upcoming details!