Sport, photography and branding have always enjoyed a close relationship. The reasons are simple. A single image, like a brand, tells a story, triggers memorable emotions, and reveals the psychological connection between an icon and its fans.
Examples? Try this photo from the World Sports Photography Awards. Moments after an unforgettable victory over Barcelona, the image captures perfectly the unique bond between the Liverpool players and their followers which defines the football club.
There’s so much to pick out, but for me this is one of the loudest photographs ever taken. Even though the picture must be silent, you can hear the stadium anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, ringing around the stands. It’s a deafening image in every sense. (Pic Neil Hall).
Despair and dreams
Not every story is a happy one. My earliest football memory is of the England goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, back turned with trepidation as England take a penalty at the other end of the field during a World Cup qualifier in 1973.
Nothing says more about the fortunes of the England team in the 1970s than this picture. Alan Clarke converted the spot kick, by the way, but it wasn’t enough to get Shilton and co to the finals in West Germany the following year.
And this is my favourite shot of all from the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
It’s quite an expression. Sebastian Coe was embarrassed when he first saw this, but the image expresses the relief of a runner who has just won the 1500m a few days after a series of tactical errors cost him the 800m gold medal.
Welcome to the golden age
These days, technology, including artificial intelligence, has transformed sports photography, as it has pretty much every other medium. As thousands of digital images fly from venues to photo agencies, editors and photographers increasingly rely on software to categorise and quality control their output.
Computer vision software can tag the objects in an image in milliseconds. It can even read emotions by studying expressions and the positions of players and spectators. The latest software can even make aesthetic judgements based on composition, framing, depth of field, lighting, and so on.
Not every photographer uses these features, but there’s no doubt that advances in software, as well as camera bodies and lenses, mean that we’re living through a golden age of sports photography. Just take a look at some of the other images from the World Sports Photography Awards which announced its shortlist this week.
I’m a sucker for abstract shots, so this Aussie rules match caught my eye. (Pic. Scott Barbour).
I also like anything that captures the intense focus that any athlete needs to be the best in their field. (Pic. Patrick Smith).
And then the raw emotion of victory. (Pic. Aleksandra Szmigiel).
But if I had to pick just one, it’s this of Australian cricketer David Warner diving for a catch from England’s Ben Stokes (Pic. Ryan Pierce).
Spoiler alert, Warner dropped the catch. But that doesn’t really matter because this is all about the moment. Like the players in the background, and the spectators beyond, we’re all watching intently to find out what happens, frozen in a moment of perpetual suspense.
Like I say, it was a difficult choice. There are dozens more that I might have included and you can see the full shortlist here. It’s a stunning collection from start to finish.