An Interview with Racing Photographer Megan Dent
The impact of the unforgettable coronavirus pandemic is hardly ever reflected as positive but Megan Dent’s story is one of sunny days that initiated the start of her photography business. It’s difficult to forget that hot summer of the main lockdown and this was the idyllic catalyst to Megan’s blossoming talent.
On finishing school, Megan, 22, had gained A-Levels in Business Studies, Media Studies, Food Technology and Psychology but it was always horses, and particularly racing, that held her heart. She grew up near to the northern hub of Middleham in a small village called Finghall. Always a Yorkshire lass to the core, she now lives in Catterick Village with a ‘rather crazy Labrador called Ted’ and her boyfriend Henry Newcombe. They have been together for six years, buying a house together last year.
Photographic skills and Henry weren’t the only two entities she acquired through her job at Phil Kirby’s; the other is the ex-racehorse called Nautical Nitwit. Megan says she was ‘lucky to look after Nitwit at Phil Kirby’s’ and luckier to take him home when he retired.
The last few racing seasons, Megan’s photographs have depicted racehorses in many beautiful scenes – cantering along a sandy beach, wading in the river and grazing through the greenest of paddocks dotted with dandelion puffs. To top this off, she deservedly won the Emerging Talent Award at the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association’s Derby Awards in 2022.
Did you have a horsey childhood? My Mum and Dad have both worked in racing their whole lives so many of my childhood memories include racing and ponies.
My Dad was head lad for Howard Johnson when I was growing up. I’d go into work with him on a Sunday and I can remember my brother and I running home from school to watch Inglis Drever win his third World Hurdle – we were all lucky to enjoy some good days there.
Growing up we always had ponies and in the early years, my older brother Jamie rode too - until his attention later turned to football. It’s funny now we all work in racing but in different areas - Mum is a racing secretary, Dad works for the BHA and Jamie works for Middleham Park Racing. We don’t have much else to talk about but it’s nice.
How did you get into racing and in what roles? My Mum has been a Racing Secretary for Phil Kirby for the last eight years, so naturally, I spent my weekends and school holidays there since I was about fourteen. Then, when I finished my A-Levels, there was an opportunity to join them full time, working in the office alongside Mum which I did for five years and loved every minute.
My role there was pretty varied, which was great. I’d help with all the admin side of things for the horses and staff, entries and declarations. Plus, the website, social media accounts, newsletters, taking photos and creating brochures – anything very technical usually had my name on it! I’d also go racing two or three times a week, which I loved, and helped on the yard when they were busy. I think I liked being in a warm office too much for riding out! However, I enjoyed riding one down the beach from time to time. I’d also like to think I’ve learnt how to make a solid cup of tea in my time there as well as pull a good pint in Phil’s bar! All the vital life skills.
I now work for Christian Williams in a similar role, which works well alongside my photography business. Most of the work there, I can do from home in Yorkshire or when I’m on the road; I travel down every three weeks to spend a few days with them. They’re a great team of people to be around and I’m lucky to have Christian and Charlotte’s support.
How did you start photographing racehorses? Photography has always been a bit of a hobby but it wasn’t until COVID forced the country into lockdown in 2020 that I realised I wanted it to be more than that. I moved into Phil’s staff house on the yard so I could keep working without having to travel home to my family each day, surrounded by a hundred acres of fields of horses and nowhere to go, I used this time to teach myself how to use a camera properly. I would be up before sunrise and out until the sun had set every day.
Phil’s wife Pippa encouraged me to set up a Facebook page to share my images. They seemed to bring a bit of joy to people during the pandemic, especially when they couldn’t leave their homes, and Owners enjoyed seeing what their horses were up to. Things grew from there and now I get to travel up and down the country photographing horses for a living. Each day is different, which I love and you never know who you’re going to meet.
That Golden Hour
What is your favourite racecourse? Some of my favourite days working in racing have been at Wetherby, and it was lovely to be back there taking photos on Boxing Day as it’s only forty minutes from home, which helps! A day out at York in the sun has to be up there too.
Where is your favourite place you have photographed racehorses? I’m lucky that my photography has taken me to some wonderful places, although I think Christian Williams’ is hard to top. I go in there every three weeks and have taken thousands of photos but there aren’t two that are the same. Each day is different, whether it’s through the dunes, down the beach or paddling through the river - it’s a photographer’s dream. Plus, you can’t beat photographing smiles, of which you get plenty there!
What are the best aspects of photographing racehorses? There are a lot of good things that come with it, but I love spending time with the horses and getting to know them, especially now I’m not in a yard every day. I also love capturing the joy they bring to us as humans, that’s very special too.
Which is your favourite photo that you have taken? As it is the only one of my own photos I have up in the house, I think this one has to be my favourite! This is one I took at Christian’s, of his three staying chasers, Cap du Nord, Win My Wings and Kitty’s Light. Admittedly I’m my own biggest critic; I usually find something I’d change in my own photos - but not this one. Each time I look at it I see something else I hadn’t noticed and it always makes people take a second look! We had a laugh getting the shot too.
In fact, it’s one of the three photos which together won me the HWPA Emerging Talent Award last year. This makes it even more special.
What did it mean to you winning the Emerging Talent Award at the HWPA Awards? In December 2021, I actually said to someone close to me that I’d love to get my photos seen at The Derby Awards one day, but I didn’t for a second think it would happen only a year later. It’s hugely satisfying to set yourself a goal and be able to achieve it. It also meant a lot to make the people who have supported me proud, even more so to have some of them there by my side.
It’s incredible to get that kind of recognition so early on in my career, hopefully I’ll make it back there again in future years.
What is the best time of day and weather for photography? I’m sure every photographer has a different opinion on this, but my favourite time to be out with my camera is as the sun rises and as the sun sets. If you’re lucky, on a nice day you get about an hour at either end of the day where the light can be surreal for photos. I don’t worry about the weather too much but it depends on what I’m photographing - I don’t think you can beat a frosty and cold morning with the sun out for photographing horses exercising. However equally I wouldn’t let rain or snow put me off getting out with my camera (plus they make us tough in Yorkshire!)
I took a photo a few weeks ago where I could barely see ten feet in front of me for fog - yet it’s one of the most popular photos I’ve ever taken.
What does photography mean to you? Much of it is about capturing a moment in time, but it’s as much about the places you get to explore and all the people you meet along the way, both in front of the camera and beside you.
Other interests: When racing isn’t keeping me busy, I love getting out and exploring with my Labrador, Ted. He comes out running with me and thankfully shares my love of being beside the sea! Henry has also recently got me into mountain biking, which is rather chaotic but great fun.
Favourite drink: Hot chocolate on a cold day.
Favourite holiday destination: Anywhere warm!
The impressive backdrop of Christian Williams' yard