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Q&A with Huddersfield Town Women’s Photographer Jess Hornby

This article originally appeared on And He Takes That Chance

All photo credits: Jess Hornby

With Huddersfield Town Women’s season on pause again due to another UK lockdown, I caught up with their photographer, Jess Hornby, to learn more about the art of photographing football matches.

Huddersfield Town Women’s season has halted yet again due to the nationwide lockdown in England. This is the third time that the rise in COVID-19 infections means that the impact on ‘non-elite’ football in England resulted in fixtures and training being suspended.

It comes just a month after the team returned to action in December following the end of the previous lockdown, where they took on Stoke City. Huddersfield, who are still the league leaders in the FA Women’s National League North division, demolished The Potters 8–1. Then they followed that up with a 3–2 win over Middlesborough.

On 4th January, their last game before the third UK lockdown was a 3–2 FA Cup win in extra time over Liverpool Feds, which was the only Women’s FA Cup third-round game that went ahead due to the rise in COVID infections.

The game in Liverpool, which was the club’s last before lockdown, saw their official photographer, Jess Hornby, return to capture the action.

The 22-year-old, who is currently doing her Master’s degree in Photography at the University of Huddersfield, started photographing The Terriers’ womens team last season, with her first match being, coincidentally, against Stoke and she hasn’t stopped since.

Jess who is from St.Helens, has also photographed professional mens’ teams such as Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday, and other sports like rugby and hockey — but football is her main passion. A massive supporter of Liverpool, when she’s not photographing football you’ll probably find her watching Jurgen Klopp’s team in between her university work and editing images for her portfolio.

Just before the season was paused again, we caught up with Jess to learn more about sports photography, how she got involved with Huddersfield Town Women and getting a lift to games with the manager.

HTAFC Women’s Katie Nutter challenging a Nottingham Forest player for a header. All photo credits: Jess Hornby

How did you first get into photography?

I first got into photography at the end of high school. We had already picked our GCSE options for what we were going to do and we had French twice a week so they gave us another option which was photography and it started from there.

I got my first camera in year 11 and I just really enjoyed it so when I was applying for college, I picked art. When I had a look around colleges and the art projects they had on the wall and I was like ‘oh it looks amazing but I’m nowhere near that good at painting or drawing’, so I took photography as a backup option. It just felt right and somewhere I belonged, I found what I could potentially do as a career and that’s how it started, now I’m here at the University of Huddersfield studying photography and I’m doing my MA at the moment.

What’s your first football memory?

It was the 2007 Champions League final and it was the replay of that classic Liverpool and Milan game. I support Liverpool but I was at that age where I was into football, but I wouldn’t sit down for the entire game, so I’d be in and out doing things. It got to halftime, and I decided to like change my clothes and my dad jokes to me ‘you know it’s bad luck to change your outfit while you’re watching the game’. Being a kid I wasn’t that bothered because I didn’t think he would have an impact at all so I did anyway. Obviously, Liverpool went on to lose and then my dad turned to me as if to go “told you!’ jokingly of course, and I thought I had caused Liverpool to lose that Champions League Final and I was in tears about it!

As I got older, football became my life and I did it above everything else. Schoolwork was secondary, everything was secondary to football. If Liverpool were playing at the weekend and I had homework for Monday, I wasn’t doing homework, I was going to watch Liverpool. As well as watching, most of my football memories are from playing outside with the kids from the neighbourhood. Then I joined my local team Bleak Hill Rovers and loved that and it’s never stopped really.

One of the photos from Jess’ photograph series Team Colours. This is Zahra Gibbons, a player for Huddersfield University Women’s Football team. All photo credits: Jess Hornby

Tell us about your first time photographing a match. Can you tell us about your first game, was it like?

It was in the final year of my photography course and I’d decided to do a project on women in sports called ‘Team Colours’. My original camera broke so my parents got me a more suitable sports camera for Christmas, a Nikon Z6 and I bought myself like a lens to go with it. Before I started my project, I had never photographed any sport before so the first match I actually did was rugby. It was my dad’s former rugby team called Pilkington Recs and I photographed the first round Challenge Cup game and they got battered but I really, really enjoyed it. I had no idea about my settings, I just googled it before and went along, photographed and got some quite decent shots from it.

Then my dad said another team plays at this ground, a football team called Pilkington FC. I photographed their game and it was a lot harder than rugby because especially at semi-pro/amateur level, the ball doesn’t move as quick so you can kind of keep up with it through looking through the camera lens. In football, if you try and do that, it just won’t work. I really struggled in the first half but in the second, I just used my knowledge of football to anticipate where the ball is going to be rather than trying to follow it through the camera and it worked out much better. My photography style is documentary and still is, so it might sound silly but I didn’t connect that you could combine photography and football at first but once I photographed a few games, I really enjoyed it and just wanted to carry on and improve from there.

How did you get involved with Huddersfield Town Women?

I’m studying at the University of Huddersfield and my student accommodation is at Storthes Hall which is right next to their ground, and I work for Huddersfield Town anyway as a turnstile operator for Town and Giants games. I wanted to get involved with the women’s team, so I found the chairman David Mallin’s information and asked if I could come down.

I ended up going down last season and photographed the Stoke game and really enjoyed it, and sent the images to David after, then he asked me if I wanted to photograph the home games in future. I was really excited but then COVID happened and the league got suspended.

Then when this season was starting I got an email from Marcus [Wilkinson, the Assistant Manager] asking if I wanted to be their photographer for the season and I just jumped at that opportunity. I wanted something consistent to get some experience and images for my portfolio, so I’m with them home and away.

I get a lift with Marcus and Jordan [Wimpenny, Manager] for the away games and we end up leaving about four hours before the game which gives us plenty of time to prepare. I’m crammed in the back with all the sports equipment and its great fun. When you come into a team and you photograph them on a regular basis, you pick up the characteristics and the personalities of players and what they’re going to be like on the pitch. The runs they make, their reactions after they’ve scored, it’s been great and you build relationships with these people and the team has welcomed me into the group and I’m just grateful for the opportunity.

This is one of Jess’ favourite photos, it’s HTAFC Women’s Lucy Sowerby challenging for a header against Sunderland. All photo credits: Jess Hornby

What are your favourite photos that you’ve taken of Huddersfield Town Women and why? Any favourite players to photograph?

It’s difficult because I’m very critical of myself. I like one photo one week, and then the next week I can definitely improve. There’s one photo I shot at the Sunderland match and Lucy Sowerby has gone up to attack the ball at a corner and you can see all the expressions, that would be one of my favourite photos that I’ve taken. I like taking photographs where you can see the raw emotion in the photo and you can see the determination, it tells the story of the game itself.

In terms of favourite players, because I’m normally positioned near the end of the pitch to capture the goals, you’re naturally going to take more photos of attacking players like Laura Elford, Sarah Danby etc. What I’ve learned is if you have the opportunity like at our home ground to walk around the pitch, then use that to your advantage, you don’t get that at big professional games, you’re normally fixed to one position until half time.

Can you describe your workflow for a single sports event? From the start to the photos getting published?

If it’s a home game, I’ll get there an hour or two hours before kickoff and if it’s an away match, four hours before because I’m getting a lift with Marcus and Jordan! I’ll have a wander around the stadium and look inside the dressing rooms and photograph anything interesting, e.g. if the kits may have been laid out already and I like to get a photo before the players come in. Then I pick my spots for where I’m going to base myself for the game depending on if we’re home or away and which side we’ll kick off at.

I’m fortunate because unlike a professional photographer say at a Championship game, they wouldn’t shoot past the halfway line because they’ll have to edit their photographs to send them while the match is going on. I don’t have to send my photos until after the game apart from a couple for the social media team, so I can just concentrate on the match. Then I’ll get home, edit everything straight away, pick out the best ones and send them across and they’ll distribute them to the staff and players. I probably take about 1,000 photos for one match on average because you want to make sure you capture everything.

Jess photographed the Barnsley v Sheffield Wednesday game in early 2020. All photo credits: Jess Hornby

You’ve photographed Huddersfield Town Women and the Barnsley Men’s Team, is there a difference to photographing women’s football compared to men’s football? Have you had to adapt your style?

There will always be that comparison with men and women’s football but honestly, I don’t adapt my style for the gender of sport. I adapt based on the style of football that the team plays, so like Huddersfield Town Women play out from the back like most men’s team nowadays, but I’d adapt for the odd couple of teams who play ‘the old fashioned way’ of launching the ball forward and look into play the ball into that space.

You support Liverpool, how does it feel to photograph other teams like Huddersfield Town?

What I’ve found is whether it’s my local team back home in St.Helens or Huddersfield Town Women, after photographing them a lot they become your team anyway even if you don’t support them. When they include you in your team, and you’re there for some of the training sessions and the games home and away, you just naturally want them to do well.

Maybe if I photographed Everton in the future, then I might be secretly wanting them to lose even though I’d be photographing for them. Joking aside, I think you just do the job that you’ve been asked to do and you do it to the best of your ability.

In your opinion, what makes a good photo if you’re covering a football match?

There’ll be many different answers, depending on who you ask. For me, what makes a good photo is something that can summarise the event itself and the game itself. It might be a goal, a last-minute goal, the celebrations of the team, the fans. If you look at a lot of sports photographers at the moment, they’ll put a series of photographs tailored for Instagram, so it’ll be ten pictures which tell the story of the match.

Everyone’s different, you want your own style and it depends who you’re photographing for but if I’m photographing for myself, I would say find an image that can summarise an event.

Jess’ proudest moment is photographing the Women’s Super League Grand Final in 2019 between Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos, All photo credits: Jess Hornby

What’s your proudest moment as a photographer?

It was at the Women’s Super League Grand Final in 2019 between Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos. When I’m back home, I cover the St.Helen’s Womens rugby team and the final was held in St.Helens and I would say it would probably be my proudest moment in terms of events that I’ve been to. I come from an incredibly sporty family and it was great to have it in my hometown and the final was being shown on Sky Sports for the first time too. It was a really enjoyable experience and I got to interview some of the players at the end, plus it was the first night game I’d ever photographed.

What’s your most challenging project?

My project at the moment. So it’s for women in sport but it’s had to take a sidestep at the moment because of the pandemic and it’s near impossible to get into any stadiums to photograph because of restrictions. I had lined up to shadow Simon Bellis, Sheffield United’s photographer and learn the trade and how he works.

At the moment, I’ve been focusing on local sports like the university’s team and question the impact that COVID-19 has had on men and women in sport. It’s very difficult with access to photograph and interview people, so it’s been ten times harder.

You’ve photographed different sports including rugby, fencing and hockey, are there any other subjects you’re interested in?

Football and rugby are the two sports I enjoy the most but I’m open to photographing any sports. I’d struggle with something like Formula One because I’ve seen photographers in that sport mention that you have to like love it and be interested in it to get good images out of it and I don’t have that connection to it.

I like to document the surroundings behind the scenes more than the action because you get more interesting photos from it. At the moment, as mentioned I’m interested in documentary-style photography, street photography and portraits.

Rugby is another sport that Jess regularly photographs. All photo credits: Jess Hornby

Have you been inspired by any other photography?

George Wood is a sports photographer who I take inspiration from, Chloe Knott, another young sports photographer too. They’re a similar age to me and it’s great to see what people around my age are doing and take inspiration from and improve. Simon Bellis as I’ve mentioned, Lindsey Parnaby who’s photographing Premier League teams.

Lynne Cameron who’s the official team photographer for England Women, The Lionesses and she’s a huge inspiration because she travels with the team and captures pictures behind the scenes. They’ve all given me great advice in the last few months to improve my technique and adapt in a pandemic and they’re all really approachable.

What would be your advice to anyone looking to get into sports photography?

It’s difficult to get into sports photography in general and especially in the pandemic but what I would say is that if opportunities come up, take them. Even if that means you have to travel or photographing a night match, or the weather is horrendous and it’s chucking it down, you’ve got to be prepared to do these things and adapt to the situation. Contact people who are professional photographers like I have because they’re approachable and will give you advice. If you can’t get to the games you want, look more locally to gain experience and it’s a great way to improve and develop your skills.

Not every young photographer is going to be like a footballer, say Trent Alexander-Arnold and get straight into the first team and play Champions League football, you’re going to have to start off small. Sometimes you have to go the hard way round and work your way up to get those bigger opportunities and contacting people yourself to get your foot in the door. There’s no one way to get into sports photography, so don’t give up. If you work hard and try and get yourself out there, hopefully, someone will pick you up.

If you like Jess’ work, check out her website and social media for her latest projects. Scroll down to see some of her other images.

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Writer and podcaster, based in Leeds.

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