Ken Nicol: Internationally renowned racing photographer and journalist Liesl King is a fixture at most of major races in the Western Cape and took some time out of her busy schedule to talk about the exciting and varied career she has built for herself in the racing industry.
Liesl has lived in the Stellenbosch area her entire life, “except for when I ran a riding school in Mill Hill East in North London for a year and during a six-month stint in charge of a dressage barn in Boston”.
A qualified chartered accountant, she worked for KPMG for many years before joining a small practice near Paarl. She started on her current career trajectory when, roughly 10 years ago, she heard Peter Gibson of Racing South Africa was looking for help and she went on to work for that organization for two years.
She was also delving into racing journalism around this time, writing the odd article for Parade magazine.
‘’I enjoyed writing and I love horses, so I decided to give myself two years to travel the world, establish my name and have a full go at becoming an international racing journalist.”
One thing Liesl has in abundance is bravery and determination and that bold decision paid off when within 18 months the Thoroughbred Daily News asked her to cover international meeting she attended and she also got regular work from International Racehorse and Thoroughbred News.
“I am very proud of the fact that I changed careers and created a brand new job for myself,” she said.
The expansion into racing photography was born partly out of necessity, as when covering overseas events for Racing South Africa she found the budget didn’t stretch to paying international rates for photographs.
“Wildlife photography was my hobby, so I thought my equipment would be fine, but I soon found my zoom lens was nowhere near fast enough. I received a lot of support from international photographer friends. The first big overseas meeting I did was Royal Ascot 2011, and things have blossomed from there.”
This highly motivated woman has also worn a few other racing hats during her journey, including an interesting story of how she spent a few years as chairperson of the Cape Breeders Club (CBC).
“I broke my neck playing polocrosse in the 1990s and couldn’t ride anymore. But I needed to be involved with horses, and Anton Shepherd’s Beaumont Stud was close by. I ended up with six mares at one point, and took over as chairperson of the CBC when Veronica Foulkes stepped down. That also led to sitting on the Gold Circle Board as a breeders’ representative.”
When asked her secret is in terms of taking brilliant images, Liesl says: “I know how to make a horse look beautiful, and that’s half the battle won. Also, I think I am pretty good at reading a race, which is one of the keys – watching in real time through your lens, judging who is going to get there, and most crucially making the shot.”
A typical international year for Liesl begins in the snow in St Moritz in February, before taking in Royal Ascot, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders’ Cup, ending at the Hong Kong Cup in December. She then covers the Western Cape season in the few months she is permanently in South Africa.
Summing up her hectic jet-set life, she admits she is “very privileged. I get to see the world, see great horses race, and have a lot of fun.”