There is more than one way to shoot a deer, says top fieldsports photographer Sarah Farnsworth, who has done much to document days in the field
Having first followed hounds age 10, Sarah Farnsworth was determined to find a career that would allow her to go hunting five days a week. As a top fieldsports photographer, she has hunted with 250 packs, branched out into driven game shooting, travelled the world and discovered a passion for deer.
For more sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, Phillippa Hake is happiest casting on the river with a fly she tied herself. And Rosie van Cutsem founded The Riding Club London and TROY London for women in the field.
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When first invited to be a Sporting Diana, I felt a bit of a fraud – and completely daunted. After all, I certainly haven’t hunted as much as the ladies that precede me in these pages. Not only that but I’m not very good at talking or writing about myself, either. But then I got to thinking, I am passionate about fieldsports and I’ve been witness to a lot of sport in the field – and been lucky enough to document those special moments with my camera. On many wildfowling, game-shooting and deer-stalking trips, I have been there right alongside the hunter, taking in every detail they have, observing all they have – I just haven’t pulled the trigger although I’ve gained just as much enjoyment in photographing it.
I started following hounds with my grandfather aged about 10. In my early teens, I took my parents’ film SLR with me. I soon progressed to having a full array of film camera kit to use when out hunting. When the time came to choosing university or a job, I thought to myself, what career could I possibly have that enables me to go hunting five days a week? A hunting photographer, of course. How naïve I was to think I could hunt so many days a week and earn a living doing it. Jim Meads did it, so why couldn’t I? He has been a real inspiration to me in my budding career as a hunting photographer, and I was privileged enough to join him in America watching how he worked photographing the Virginia Hound show. He became a mentor to me. I’m very lucky to have hunted with more than 250 packs of hounds worldwide now (with the camera), from the UK and Ireland to France, the United States and New Zealand.
I decided against the route of university – it was the year after the hunting ban and I didn’t want to miss a single day out with hounds if I could help it. It certainly wasn’t plain sailing, as in 2008 injury held me back just as I’d been assigned my first hunting reports for Horse & Hound. Utterly gutted and spending a lot of time recuperating from a broken femur, I focused all my energies in getting as much hunting in as possible. I then proceeded to hone my photography skills further and really developed the style you see today. It’s lovely when people mention that they can spot one of my photographs when they see it without having to check the byline, which is a huge compliment for me.
I then started to widen the photography I was undertaking to include other fieldsports, with driven game shooting now taking up a large part of my winter sporting season as much as anything else. I’m a self-confessed terrible shot with a shotgun, so I am more than happy to live vicariously through those who can shoot far better than me and document their days in the field with the camera, capturing memories for them.
Then deer stalking came along. Not so much with the camera initially but to be out in the woods and countryside, quietly observing deer, with the chance of filling the freezer, became a real treat – and probably only second to seeing hounds in full cry across open hill country. Both have the goosebumps effect for me.
My husband, Adam, and I have a mutual love of deer and we are on a syndicate in Scotland where we retreat to stalk the forests of Argyll whenever we can – him with his rifle, me with the camera. I’ve had successful stalks myself on roe and fallow in the UK, and also in South Africa. Our most recent hunting trip was in November where I was lucky to have a wonderful stalk for a cull impala. On the trip also was previous Sporting Diana and friend Louise Farmer, and I was fortunate to document her hunts for impala, springbok and warthog, and admire a fellow lady hunter in her element.
I’m very lucky that my passion in life has allowed me to document so many aspects of fieldsports worldwide – I’m proud of what I do and hope to be able to keep on supporting and showcasing fieldsports with my images to a wider audience in the future.
TOP TIPS: This is probably counterintuitive – and I daresay plenty of professional photographers will be rolling their eyes at this – but when it comes to photographing out in the field on those (numerous) wet days do away with your UV/skylight filters on your camera lenses. It’ll only create more condensation in between the two pieces of glass and you’ll be forever cleaning them. I use Scope Dope Lens Cleaner, which is great for anti-fogging any of your optics – whether it’s the scope on your rifle or your camera kit.