From Weddings to Animal Photography – An Interview with Hilly Hoar

Hilly Hoar is a photographer specialising in animal photography, alongside an eclectic mix of other genres. While her work is mainly animal related, particularly as she also works as a dog trainer, Hilly also shoots detailed abstract and macro work, which she sells successfully as prints, canvases and cards. She’s also an extremely talented artist, working in pencil and acrylic. You can view more of Hilly’s work on her website. I spoke to Hilly to find out more about her work (and meet her adorable Labradors over a video call!).

What got you into photography and can you tell us a bit about your career so far?

My grandmother gave me my first camera when I was eight. She was very creative and encouraged me in anything artistic. It was a little Ilford camera and it sparked my interest in photography, which just grew and grew. I started shooting professionally when I met a boyfriend who was also a pro. I helped him shoot weddings in London and it really grew my knowledge of the technical side of photography and the darkroom. 

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Photo by Hilly Hoar titled ‘Desolation.’ “This was taken in Northern Iceland during an amazing three week road trip round the whole country.” – HH

After we split up, I shot weddings and events, and had my own darkroom. My mother was a Labrador dog breeder and I got the chance to go to America to work with another Labrador breeder, training and competing with the dogs. But at the same time I was also shooting commissioned portraits of dogs, photographing weddings and events with my own darkroom again. I was there for four years until I couldn’t get a visa to stay any longer. I came back and started setting up dog obedience classes and photographing dogs. I was still photographing weddings as well and also had a studio for 18 months. During this time I produced my own prints and got my LRPS and ARPS qualifications from the Royal Photographic Society. I’ve worked as a technician at the local agricultural college and did their photography and shot food photography for recipe books during the National Food and Farming Year in the 1980s. I also judge local camera club competitions. There’s been a lot of variety.

What drew you to photographing dogs in particular?

I’ve always been involved with dogs, with my mother being a breeder. I think that my dog training skills give me a unique insight into dogs and their personalities. And this helps me to bring out their personalities in the photos.

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Photo by Hilly Hoar titled ‘Watch!!’  “A weekly commission to photograph this litter of puppies. What a joy they were.– HH

What kind of influences do you draw inspiration from?

I was particularly influenced by Eric Hosking, the pioneering wildlife photographer who lost his eye after being attacked by a tawny owl. His images are amazing. I joined a local camera club in 1979 and it really brought my photography on. It’s a small club and there’s lots of feedback and competitions to help improve our skills. I’ve also attended lots of lectures at the club and seeing other natural history photographers’ work is inspiring. 

I do look at a wide variety of different styles and genres for inspiration. I have a very technical mind and enjoy getting to grips with the technical side of photography.

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Photo by Hilly Hoar titled ‘Bee Gathering Nectar’. “Taken using my 105mm Micro lens. I love the shallow depth of field, that sets the Bee apart from the surrounding flower”.– HH

What kit do you shoot with and what’s your favourite bit of kit?

I currently shoot with a Nikon D7500 and D500. Lens wise, I have a 16-80mm, 105mm macro and the 70-200mm. They’re all f2.8 and I love them all, although I probably use the 16-80mm the most. I do occasionally use a Nikon speedlight if I need some flash. 

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a project after I found a tiny felt elf in the woods. It turned out to be a Waldorf doll (dolls made to be compatible with the Waldorf or Steiner education principles) and people have given me others and accompanying creatures. It really sparked off my imagination about storytelling and the adventures that this little doll is going to have in its life. I’ve taken lots of photographs and want to do a storybook for children using only photos to explore the doll’s adventures. 

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Photo by Hilly Hoar titled ‘Elfie & Friend’. “Hopefully there will be some books to come of their adventures”. – HH

What would you say is your goal with your photography?

I want the project I’m working on to take off! I don’t want to do high pressure and full-time photography work anymore, but I do want to enjoy my work and earn a living from it. 

As a female photographer, do you feel that you face any particular challenges? Do you feel that the industry is favourable towards women, or would you like to see any changes?

I personally haven’t had any problems, but I do think that a lot of camera gear just isn’t designed for women. For instance, rucksacks never consider our boobs. When I joined my camera club the vast majority of members were old men, but now the membership is not far off 50/50 and I’m the president. So things are changing. 

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Photo by Hilly Hoar titled ‘’Bookends’. “I had two families of Starlings that argued all the time over the feeders, but took occasional breathers”. – HH

What advice would you give to budding photographers?

Find a friendly camera club. There are plenty out there, although some are very big and not very welcoming, so I’d advise looking for a smaller one. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you or any of your friends and family know a photographer, ask if you can go out with them, or if you can ask them for advice. And lasty, shoot in black and white to start with. If you take colour out of the equation you then have to think about composition and lighting, and that improves your photography dramatically. 

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Hilly Hoar, Photographer, with Portia the dog
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