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  • sarahschaaf1996

Photographing the 2023 Kentucky Derby

I have lived adjacent to Louisville, KY for my whole life, so Derby season is the biggest holiday there is here. Contrary to popular belief though, MOST Kentuckians (me included) have never been to Derby! We like to celebrate at home- with family and friends and pull horse names from a hat while sipping on good bourbon. This year, however, I got to live the dream by working for the Churchill Downs track photographer, Coady Photography, for Thurby, Oaks and the 2023 Kentucky Derby!

Two Derby-goers wait in anticipation while watching an under card race
Two Derby-goers wait in anticipation while watching an under card race

I can say for certain that the week was a huge learning experience. I was aboslutely pushed outside of my comfort zone by organizing group and couples photos in the suites, trying my hand with off camera flash and even having a stint on the red carpet where I was able to photograph stars like Smokey Robinson, Patrick Mahones and local supertar Jack Harlow. Churchill Downs was a madhouse with huge crowds that were a wonderland for candids.

For the whole weekend I had been staking out where I was going to station myself for the big race where I could capture the crowd and the horses- especially the winner's circle. I settled on the corner patio of the Finish Line Suites which gave me an aerial perspective of the track, a perfect view of the Winner's Circle, and the chance to capture crowd reactions. While I primarily used my Sigma 35mm and Canon 70-200mm for capturing images of the crowds and portraits in the suites, I brought my Tamron 150-600mm lens and carried all 4.3 lbs of it in my backpack all day just for the Derby. You can see why it was worth it below!

I had such an incredible time over the weekend and am so thrilled to have had the opportunity to work among such incredible photographers and horsemen. I hope to continue working more and more on the track and make it back to Oaks and Derby 2024!

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