Horse Racing

Behind the camera: Bill Denver


New Jersey native Bill Denver is today’s topic in TDNof racetrack photographers profiling rotation series. We asked about memorable horses, races and people they’ve seen through the lens, and also talked about how the horse-image craft has evolved.

Denver, 60, is the founder of Equi-Photo, which currently shoots races and provides circle shots of winners at Monmouth Park, the Meadowlands Thoroughbred, Parx and Penn National meetings.

Separated from her work at the East Coast racetracks, Denver has previously freelanced for the university’s athletic departments and numerous newspapers, including New York Daily News, and he also shoots for corporate clients from hospitals to power plants. His nearly five-decade-long portfolio includes everything from space shuttle launches to the Triple Crown.

In an edited interview for clarity and brevity, Denver began by telling how far he had traveled from his Jersey roots before returning home to seek a professional call. his career.

TDN: How did you first become interested in photography?

BD: I really enjoyed it on a cross-country bike ride I did when I was 22. I cycled from my home in New Jersey with the intention of going straight to Oregon. But as I came out of western Wyoming, I passed Yellowstone, then decided to go up to Glacier National Park. I went on to cross the Continental Boundary eight times, believe it or not.

And then I went to Canada, continued through British Columbia, then down to Seattle. I ended up going down to Oregon. Then I just said, “Ah, I’ll move on,” so I went to San Francisco. It ended up going 5,000 miles in two months. And I took a lot of pictures, all over the US – a great way to see the country.

TDN: Once you were bitten by a photo beetle, how did it lead you to the track?

BD: I grew up in Rumson, right near Monmouth Park. I went there with my parents when I was little, and I just thought it would be a neat place to work. So in 1984, I went to see [track photographer] Jim Raftery of Turfotos, and he hired me.

But in the end Jim hired me to work at Atlantic City Racecourse, even though I really wanted to work at Monmouth. At that time, back in the early 1980s, Monmouth ran on weekends in April. So he brought me over for two weekends to train me, and then he said, “Okay, you’re in charge — at Atlantic City,” where Turfotos also shot.

So I was thrown into a frying pan in Atlantic City. It’s a night race, five nights a week, and then I’ll help Jim at Monmouth for the bigger races. It was like a 90-mile drive, but Jim used to have a camper that he would drive from Florida and out of Atlantic City, and I would stay there. Then in winter, I’ll go down and help out in Hialeah and Gulfstream.

In 1988, I took over Monmouth. Then the Meadowlands followed. And then there was the Suffolk Downs, from 1992 to 2001. Then I did Gulfstream from 1995 to 2007. That was the year my son, Ryan, was entering high school. And I think just being absent all the time is enough.

TDN: And now Ryan has followed you into the business, sharing the workload at Monmouth. How old was he when he first showed interest?

BD: He’s been doing this for years, before Monmouth hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 2007. My daughter, Jessica, has also been helping out for years, but she’s a mom now, so she’s real. no longer participate. Ryan started work when he was 9 years old, and he has been doing it continuously for many years – he is 28 years old now. I’ll never forget how he helped out in the heavy rainstorm during that ‘Ranchers’ Cup 07, just drying the camera and gear, non-stop.

In 2017, I was offered to join the Eclipse Sportswire team shooting at the Breeders’ Cup. And then Ryan was asked to come the next year, so we’ve both been able to film that event together for the past few years. Ryan is doing great and enjoying it.

TDN: About the monsoon conditions at Breeders’ first and only Monmouth Cup – how does a professional photographer work under such adverse factors?

BD: Your strategy changes. Obviously, it goes from having a lot of ideas about where you’re going to shoot, “What’s the most important shot and how do I keep the camera running?” That is the main thing. It’s just the finish line, the winner’s circle, drying the camera in the weigh house. I’m just stuck out there. If you don’t keep those cameras dry, they’ll damage you and you don’t want to miss a thing while filming Breeders’ Cup.

TDN: You’ve been shooting tracksides for almost 40 years now. What was the big game changer in photography during that time period?

BD: It all goes back to the transition from film to digital photography, whether it’s in print or in editing. Or the way we save photos – we don’t have negative boxes anymore. It’s all on the hard drive, making it more portable.

I find the ability to do things remotely is great – like if I’m not out of Penn for a night, I can check in with my staff and view photos or even post them on social media from our repository. That’s something you could never do years ago. I think about how back when, we used to ship an entire colorful darkroom down to Florida and back in a U-Haul.

TDN: Aside from convenience, have you ever cared about the aesthetics of film photography? I know some photographers who say film produces richer prints with better color and contrast.

BD: I don’t really feel that way. If I go out in the morning, it really doesn’t matter if it’s film or digital to me. Digital makes it easier to see what you’re getting and you get more shots. You can come right back [to the office] and see it on the screen. So that makes life easier. I see a lot of photographers taking film now, but they end up scanning it anyway to try and take a digital photo. I really don’t see any disadvantage with digital as far as it is concerned.

TDN: How much time do you spend managing Photo Equipment compared to actual shooting? What is the ideal balance?

BD: Obviously, I have to manage the business, but I still get out and shoot a lot. I always wish I had more time to shoot. But I keep a pretty good balance; exact ratio which i am not sure. I go out and shoot a lot of races, edit a lot of photos, and stuff like that when it comes to publicity.

That’s one of the things I want to emphasize: We’ve always made it clear, from the very beginning, the importance of making our races public and the tracks we work on. So we always send captioned photos, whether it’s a stake race or just something fun. We’ve also started doing that on our social media.

It cannot be done without a good team. We also have two teams in Parx and Penn. They all understand what needs to be done – what the riders need, what the track needs, everything from action footage to marketing to winning photos.

TDN: Photographers see things differently than we do. What goes through your mind when you’re stalking the track to take pictures?

BD: That’s what we try to do every day – get something artistic, try to see something that other people don’t see or from an angle they can’t see it and get a picture. nice about it. But at the same time, editing is also very important these days. When you go back and see those images, you really have to take your time and find the right one. During the editing process, you may choose a photo that is not your best shot. You are looking for good light, good feelings and actions.

TDN: Everyone with a smartphone these days has a pretty powerful camera with them for a day at races. But average participants can’t access restricted areas open only to certified photographers. Any advice for hobbyists who want to get good shots from a track or grandstand apron?

BD: Just find your own location. There are so many great angles at the racetracks that you don’t have to go to professional photographers to get great, beautiful pictures of the horses the entire length of the track. And with today’s phone cameras, you can take lots and lots of pictures. Continue shooting. The more you shoot, the better you get. Just keep learning.

TDN: What stands out in your portfolio?

BD: I have a few photos that I am most proud of. I have one from 1997 [GII] Fountain of youth [S.], with Shane Sellers on his way back from his victory over Pulpit. The horse was covered in mud, and just as Shane moved forward to kiss him on the neck, Pulpit ducked his head slightly and the shot came out beautifully.

And in 2010, Look at luck was here at Monmouth getting ready for Haskell. I just got a great shot of him drenched in soap while being showered by his groom, Roberto Luna. Those are the two that really stand out as memories.

TDN: In a nutshell, let’s say you have a day off with no obligations. You can simply grab a camera and shoot anywhere. Where are you going

BD: I want to go to the back seat and take some nice pictures with the early morning light. That would be the best thing on my day off to do.





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