In this captivating interview, we spoke with Simon Burton, co-founder of the World Sports Photography Awards, the global sports photography competition. With a remarkable background as an event entrepreneur and a deep love of sports, our guest has harnessed his passion for creating a platform that celebrates the captivating stories and moments immortalized by sports photographers.
Through thought-provoking reflections, he shed light on the key elements that make sports photography stand out, the power of storytelling, the influence of technology and AI, and invaluable advice for aspiring sports photographers looking to make their mark in the industry.
To begin with, could you tell us a bit about your background and what you do?
I am one of the co-founders of the World Sports Photography Awards, the world’s biggest sports photography competition. The Awards are in their 4th Edition and showcase the work of hundreds of sports photographers from around the world.
How did you become part of the photography industry, especially in sports?
I’m an events entrepreneur who has a passion for sports. As one of the founders of the Football and Sports Business Awards I regularly saw amazing sports photography that I didn’t think was receiving the attention it deserved. There’s a very long history between photography and sport and I wanted to create a way to celebrate that.
“There’s a very long history between photography and sport, and I wanted to create a way to celebrate that.”
In your opinion, what makes an image stand out among others?
Sports photography is unique in that there’s regularly more than one story behind the image because so often we know the athlete and their personal back story. This means the viewer brings that extra context to bear against celebration, despair and determination. That context can make an image very powerful. But it’s a big subject – we have 25 sporting categories represented in World Sports Photography Awards and a huge range of styles and contexts. I think what our judges frequently spot in our winners is a special quality that makes you “look again”. And when you look again, you see something slightly different or unexpected that wasn’t there at first glance. Something was revealed about the athlete, their journey to that moment and, in turn ourselves as observers.
“I think what our judges frequently spot in our winners is a special quality that makes you “look again.”
Can you tell us about your perspective on the influence of storytelling in sports photography and how it can enhance the overall impact of the images?
I think storytelling is inherent in sports photography in a way it isn’t in landscape or architectural photography, for example. How did the athlete get to this moment? Not simply in the match but in their career. What were their commitments in training, relationships, and lifestyles that enabled this moment? What happened next in the image? In capturing the moment, sports photographers help us consider what happened before and afterward, which is the essence of storytelling.
What are some emerging trends, and how do they influence the industry?
Diversity and inclusion are as important in sports photography as in any other industry. There are a growing number of female photographers, up-and-coming young photographers and photographers from different countries and backgrounds who are all using their unique viewpoints to tell powerful and distinctive stories.
What is your opinion about AI, and how do you think it can influence or change sports photography?
AI seems to me to be both a huge opportunity and a huge threat for everyone in the creative industries. We are only just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible and to understand the implications of AI. What we must ensure is how we put AI at the service of photographers and not the other way around.
What advice do you have for aspiring sports photographers looking to enter the industry?
Be brave, share your unique worldview and personal style. But do that with a knowledge of what has come before and how you fit into that process. Follow all the great photographers who have already achieved success – in sport and other areas. What makes their images great? Look at what images are published and what images win awards like World Sports Photography Awards are they the same? What does each audience look for and how to you take pictures that reflect your spirit and appeal to audiences at the same time?
“ Be brave, share your unique worldview and personal style.”
“Whenever you prepare to photograph any sport, you should have done your homework regarding that sport.”
“No matter what sporting or news event you are covering, you need to remember that you are an impartial observer, and should not being biased in any way.”