Sports Photographer and recent graduate of the Editorial and Advertising Photography degree Morgan Harlow, discusses the recent Specialist Sports Portfolio Award success.

For the 2021 Sports Journalism Awards I decided to not only enter the Young Sports Photographer of the Year category (up to age 25) but also the Specialist Sports Portfolio Award – with each category having different portfolio entry criteria.

For the Young Sports Photographer category the portfolio was for 5 photos, either of all the same sport or from different sports. I decided on a portfolio that consisted of four different sports, netball, cycling, hockey and boxing to showcase my versatility to capture images in a variety of sports during 2021. Like 2020, 2021 also proved to be yet another challenging year for freelancers to get access to prominent sporting events. However, due to the network of connections that I have made, opportunities did come my way and I took full advantage of them in producing work that helped generate more work at that same time as helping me to put together what I hoped was a strong portfolio.

For the Specialist Sports Portfolio category the criteria was for 10 images from just one sport. I have to admit that I did not originally think I had 10 strong enough images for this category, but after talking to a couple of other photographers I was persuaded otherwise (I’m always very critical over my own work) and decided I had nothing to lose by entering. Making connections in photography is very important and the background to how this portfolio came about demonstrates this. In February 2021, while we were still in lock down with very limited sporting events to shoot I reached out to Loughborough Uni for accreditation to shoot their Women’s Rugby team who compete in the Premier 15’s league, purely just to shoot a sport and get back into some normality. While at the matches I got to chat with the Loughborough Uni photographer who started to follow me on Instagram and followed my work. After noticing that I was also shortlisted for the SJA Young Sports Photographer of the Year category this time last year, he then made contact to say that England Netball, who he was working with to cover the Vitality Netball Superleague. They were looking for a second photographer to help with the high demands of club photo requirements and advertising campaigns, and therefore put my name forward. They approached me and, despite not having covered the sport before I said yes, and got to cover the Vitality Superleague series and which led to also being asked to cover some of the England Roses games.

Therefore, having worked with England Netball throughout last year I decided to enter the Specialist Sports Portfolio category with a Netball portfolio as I also realised that Netball have never been showcased before in the category. Admittedly, I found picking 10 photos very difficult as I am very critical of my work and nearly talked myself out of entering, as I wasn’t sure I had ten strong enough photos to enter. However, after being convinced that I had nothing to lose by entering, I wanted to show off the creativity of my work done during all of the netball events I had covered in 2021, showcasing action, portraits as well as wide views of play.

On Wednesday 16th February, SJA announced the ‘Shortlists’ for each category and I was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the two categories that I entered. The ‘Shortlists’ consisted of just 6 photographer portfolios that had been decided by a panel of photographer judges. I was obviously extremely pleased to just be shortlisted for this year’s awards and was happy to be acknowledged along with other well-known industry pro talented photographers. The awards evening was held on Monday 7th March in London, hosted by Jim Rosenthal, which is when I found out that I had been awarded joint 3rd place, with Getty’s Clive Mason, for my Specialist Sports Portfolio. I am incredibly pleased to come away with a bronze award for my netball portfolio and I look forward to creating more work to hopefully enter in next year’s awards.

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