Featured Photographer – Shelley Johnson

by Allison Conte

photos by Shelley Johnson

How did you begin taking professional photos?

My husband, Jeff, got me a point and shoot camera for Christmas 2003 (they’ve come a long way since then) and told me I had until the Little Brown Jug to be able to take good race pictures.  We didn’t have any horses at the time, so I started with taking pictures of birds in flight or the dogs running in the backyard.

By the time the Little Brown Jug came around I found out neither the camera nor my ability were good enough to take race pictures.  After we bought our first Standardbred in 2005, I would practice taking pictures at the farm track where our horse trained.  The races went a lot faster than a horse jogging around a farm track!

My point and shoot turned into a better camera and lens, but I still didn’t get the quality I wanted.  So I just kept practicing all the time.  I’d take pictures at races in the summer, Saturday mornings at Scioto year round, and my friend’s horses in the field at her farm and on her track.

Christmas of 2011 Jeff bought me a new camera and a great lens.  He said if he had known the lens would make such a difference in my pictures, he would have gotten it for me sooner.  All of the practice along with the new equipment made a difference.  The summer of 2012 was the turning point for being considered professional.

Jason Roth at Scioto Downs started using my pictures on the race program covers June 21, 2012.  As the summer went on I started getting requests to purchase pictures.  Once you sell pictures your status goes to professional.  I still don’t feel that’s the right title for me.  It’s one of the reasons why I just used “photos” instead of “photography” with my name.

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How did you get into owning horses? 

My husband has loved the sport since he was a kid.  We bought our first Standardbred in February 2005.  I think it was fulfilling one of his dreams.

What do you look for in a subject/what calls your eye?

When they’re racing, catching all four feet off the ground.  When they’re warming up or post parading, I like catching the sunlight in the horse’s eye.

What do you hope that people take away from or learn from your photos?

I hope I’m helping promote Standardbred horses on and off the track and harness racing.

Tell us about your partnership with New Vocations, and what you think it is about Standardbreds that makes them so versatile?

I was introduced to Jennifer Daniels of New Vocations at Press Night for Scioto Downs last year.  We talked, she looked at some of my pictures, and I guess she liked what she saw.  I did my first photo shoot with her on May 23, 2013.  I haven’t been around other breeds of horses so I don’t know if Standardbreds are more versatile than other breeds or not.  Jennifer does a great job training them for their new careers.  My hope is that my pictures help with finding them a new home.

Do you have a favorite subject?

I guess I have multiple favorite subjects. At home it would be our three dogs. When I’m in Illinois, where I’m from, it would be our grandchildren because I don’t get to see them very often. At the track Cindi and Beau are my favorite subject.

You have a ton of pictures of outrider Cindi and her horse Beau, what draws you to that subject, which is so often overlooked by other photographers?

Cindi and Beau are among my favorite subjects to photograph at the track. In my opinion Beau is just the greatest horse there is.  He loves his job, and I believe he knows just how good he is at it. Cindi is just amazing. Her job isn’t easy, but she rides and does it with such ease.

It might be happening because a retired outrider thanked me for bringing attention to Cindi and Beau along with Donielle and Phantom and showing the work they do. To me the outriders and their horses are overlooked.  My hope would be through my pictures people will be more aware of the work they do.



Check out Shelley’s photos at http://www.sfjohnsonphotos.com/ and connect with her on Facebook

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