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Meadows photographer Gooden is "picture perfect"

January 31, 2018

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Photography allows Chris Gooden to enjoy two of his passions.
"I love being able to make art," Gooden said. "And I'm a really tech-nerdy geek guy, so I love equipment. Both sides go together and make me love my job."
Gooden is in his 16th year as the fulltime track photographer at The Meadows. Earlier this month, he won the George Smallsreed Award for outstanding harness racing action photography with "Shadow Racing," which appeared in the December issue of Hoof Beats magazine.

The photograph was taken from a drone and captured horses -- as well as their shadow counterparts -- battling three wide just after the three-quarter-mile point of a race at The Meadows. Gooden's inspiration for the shot came from a story he read online.

"It was about a family photographer that had shot the same family for years and years," Gooden said. "They wanted to come up with something different, so they decided to use a drone for their photo. It was at the time of day when the shadows would be perfectly stretched out. They were all holding hands together, so you see this line of people and the shadows holding hands. I thought it would be really interesting if I could come up with a way to do that during a race.

"I looked at the track and could tell where I needed to fly the drone so the shadows would be falling away from the horses. With drones, when you take photos it's not like a regular camera where I can take 10 photos a second. I get one shot at it. I took a sample shot and it was OK, but there wasn't anything special about it. I adjusted the drone a little and as the horses were coming around I fired off one shot and that's the shot I ended up getting.

"I liked the fact they were three wide because it gives so much more depth than just horses in a line. I was really surprised that I got the shot that I did. It worked out perfectly."

Gooden grew up in western Pennsylvania, not far from The Meadows. He developed his interest in photography after taking a trip to Utah.

"I wanted to buy a camera to take with me because I knew it was going to be pretty," Gooden said. "I'd used my dad's growing up, but not a huge amount. So I bought a camera, I was in my 20s, and I really enjoyed it. I don't know if there was one thing about that trip, but I think I just fell in love with being behind the camera."

When he returned from his trip, Gooden began shooting sports at California University of Pennsylvania. In 1997, he started assisting track photographer Doug Bishop at The Meadows before taking over on a fulltime basis five years later.


"I really enjoy the horse racing," Gooden said. "I love horses. I'm a big animal right's person, so it's good to see the way everyone takes care of their animals. I know a lot of people look down on that, but I see a lot more than the average everyday person on what goes on and how important horses are to people."

In addition to taking photos, Gooden is active on social media, notably with live feeds on Facebook.

"Social media has been the perfect outlet to get out as much content as possible," Gooden said. "It's worked out well. With the advent of live feeds, all that stuff, it really helps me get a lot of different things out; be able to do some video work, some photography work."

No matter the outlet, no matter the technology, Gooden is having a good time.

"I can't draw. I can't paint. The only other artistic thing I did was play drums until I graduated high school," Gooden said. "My eye for photography makes me view the world differently than most people do. I've always noticed that I pay attention more, like if I'm driving down the road or somewhere. I always look at the photography aspect of things rather than just looking at them.

"There are many, many times where I've pulled over to take photos because something looked good. It happens quite often, actually. I guess I'm just a photographer at heart." (Ken Weingartner/USTA)

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