Douglas Lees Equine Photographer Extraordinaire

Douglas Lees is a longtime Warrentonian, a fly fisherman and a wonderful photographer. He has a natural eye and learned from one of the best – Peter Winants –  and along the way absorbed some knowledge some other good ones such as the late Marshall Hawkins and Robert ‘Pooch’ McClanahan.

As noted journalist, Matt Hegarty writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader once said: Lees won his second Eclipse Award for doing what veteran photographers do best – putting themselves in the right place at right time.

In a profile by Morgan Hensley in His Lifelong Hobby of Capturing the Chase for the Piedmont Virginian, published in November/December of 2017, Hensley said:

Since he began taking pictures nearly 50 years ago, Douglas Lees has garnered accolades and awards as one of the nation’s most distinguished and prolific steeplechase photographers.

2007 Eclipse-winning photograph. Navesink View, ridden by Will Haynes, in the International Gold Cup.

A lifelong resident of Warrenton, Lees inherited his parents’ penchant for photography and foxhunting. Lees began shooting and developing pictures in the late ‘60s, and in 1967 at the age of 17 scored his first cover story for the Fauquier Times-Democrat. The photo, which was taken on a “miserable, terribly cold Saturday in March,” Lees says, depicts a riderless racehorse who, in its bewilderment, wandered back toward the other horses.

He met renowned sporting photographer Peter Winants in 1971, and Lees’ approach to photography changed immediately. “He took me to his studio and loaned me a lens for the day. I studied his photographs and thought, ‘This is what I need to be doing.’ I’m still operating under a lot of his theories,” Lees says. He admired Winants’ approach to sporting photography, which used large telephoto lenses to capture wide, vivid images. Lees experimented with different equipment and techniques, placing cameras under fences to capture the horses’ midair. “He told me to buy the best equipment that I could. It allows you to reach way out and capture the scenes that others maybe don’t see.”

1978 Eclipse-winning photograph. Mrs. R. H. Crompton III’s Master’s Degree, ridden by Buzzy Hannum during the timber race at the Foxfield Races.

Lees has won two Eclipse Awards, the first in 1978 and the second in 2007, received three honorable mentions, and is one of only eight to win the honored award more than once. Both winning photographs capture accidents—that moment of uncertainty and stillness, the outcome forever suspended—and in both cases jockey and horse were unharmed. “I can count on one hand the number of times horses have been injured,” Lees says, “and I don’t even think I’d be able to name five.”

In the offseason, Lees photographs fly fishing, his other passion, and foxhunting. “The hounds and the horns, that’s powerful stuff. Even better when you can capture it,” Lees says. Now retired from a career as an insurance agent for Carr & Hyde, Lees continues to develop his craft, learn new techniques, and compile his lauded photographs into a book.

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And thank the Lord, he continues to lend his images to Old Dominion Horseracing News. – G. Petty

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