We are honoured to bring you this interview with top racing photographer Francesca Altoft. A very talented young lady, who has an eye for a picture.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself please?
I’m 21, from Lincolnshire, and I’m photographer at Windsor and Newbury Racecourses, as well as being part of the photographers’ team at Cheltenham.
Were you always a keen photographer from an early age?
I borrowed my dad’s camera when I was about age 12, taking it to racecourses up north, he never got it back. I’m completely self taught – I felt this was a side of photography that couldn’t be taught and experience is the best way to learn.
The passion for horse racing came before the love of photography – which makes the job easy on the cold, wet days. I consider myself very lucky to make a living from doing something I love so much.
How did the attraction to horses and racing come about?
I’ve always loved horses. I tried dancing and other things when I was little but then started horse riding just before my 8th birthday. That developed at about age 11 into a passion for horse racing and the rest is history!
What was your first camera and do you still have it?
My first camera was a Fuji S5 Pro (originally dad’s) – it’s still somewhere at home. I absolutely adored that camera and it taught me a lot!
Can you remember the photo that got you noticed?
The photo that got me noticed was the photo of Many Clouds crossing the line in the Hennessy, which I’m sure most people have seen. It was my first meeting with accreditation and I wasn’t expecting the photo to be used everywhere the next year – it was even used as wallpaper in a temporary bar at the Hennessy meeting.
How did the tie up with race courses come about and what is the best & worst part of taking photos at the race track?
I worked with Gavin James from age 17 while I was still at school. He gave me a fantastic grounding in the job and made sure I went about things the right way. Working with him and Craig Smith who did a lot of the sales and framing at 8 courses was a lot of fun. The trust that they put in me from a young age to cover race days on my own was incredible and I’ll always be thankful to them for the start they gave me.
Gavin retired in October 2016 and I took over Newbury and Windsor from him, as well as continuing in my role at Cheltenham. I still attend the majority of the courses I attended while working for him.
The worst part of the job is definitely the weather – extreme cold in the winter and at the minute extreme heat in the summer. Trying to keep cameras dry when it rains can be a nightmare but I’d always rather that than an office job, which I definitely wasn’t made for!
The best part of the job is the fact that I get to attend so many top meetings and call it work. It’s easy to take it for granted when you do it every day but I always realise how lucky I am to be doing the job when I’m at meetings like the Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot and you look around and realise how many people have paid to be there! I’ve also made some incredible friends within the press room and racing as a whole.
What is your favourite photo you have taken & why?
Very recent but I took a silhouette at Windsor when we got a perfect sunset. It’s not easy to get a silhouette spot on at Windsor as the horses have to be in just the right position, but on this occasion it worked – I’ve been trying to get the shot for three years so was pretty pleased when I got it!
If anyone is interested in getting into racing photography, what advice would you give them?
Don’t give up, don’t do anything that could be considered undermining the original professionals, speak to one of us, we’re all willing to help people who want to do it the right way and there’s people in the job who have been doing it for decades and know what they’re talking about!
I always say don’t just go to the big meetings too, it’s often being at the small meetings that will get you noticed. The most important thing is to have fun with it and be you – take inspiration for others but only you see the world through your eyes, we all see things differently!
It has been a pleasure getting to know Francesca. With the talent and desire that Francesca has, it’s a one way stop to the top.
Huge thanks for taking the time to talk to us and for supplying the photo’s.
If you wish to purchase any photo’s from Francesca or to see her portfolio –
Contact Francesca – email@example.com – @FranAltoftPhoto
Official Photographer to Newbury Racecourse and Royal Windsor Racecourse.
Interview by Rich Williams
All Photo’s Francesca Altoft