James O’brien has been shooting the world’s top sporting events for the last 20 years. He shoots in various styles and genres, including editorial, commercial, PR, corporate, and portraits.
His series ‘Superman’, a sequence of images of the tennis superstar Gaël Monfils, taken at the 2016 Australian Open, has been awarded 3rd Place in the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards.
O’brien started his career as a darkroom technician printing black and white photographs for his hometown newspaper - The Gold Coast Bulletin. His career highlights include: the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final, the 2012 London Olympics and the 2008 Wimbledon Men's Singles Final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
He is now based in Byron bay in New South Wales, Australia, working as a freelance photographer.
Did you see this project as a series before you shot it or was it only upon seeing the images together?
As it was a live sporting event, you can't predict what will happen but when I shot the diving action I instantly knew that it was a great sequence of imagery.
When shooting sport images, do you go in with some idea of what you're going to capture, or do you respond to the movement of the athlete?
It’s a bit of both - you never know really know what's going to happen. However, you also do get to know certain athletes and what they might do. Gael Monfils is the perfect example as he has been known to dive and give different images to photographers. For a sports photographer he is a great subject to shoot as you have to be alert and concentrating on every point as he will just give you that “magic moment” at any point in time. So for his matches I usually like to position myself up high with a clear view of the court. The day I captured these images it worked out perfectly.
What interests you about this type of photography?
I’ve always wanted to be a sports photographer. Basically I am a sports fan and love the unknown and unpredictability of shooting sports action. I’m really in my element shooting sport.
What's your favourite sporting event you have photographed?
The Olympics is really the pinnacle I guess, however I really loved photographing the tennis at Wimbledon; such an iconic venue in the world and you really get a buzz when you are shooting on centre court with all the history and tradition surrounding the whole event.
Do you have a photographic philosophy?
I like to stick to fairly simple old school values: always be early and prepare for your event in advance. In a photographic sense always seek the best possible background, and I always try to go that extra step for whoever I am shooting for. It all pays off in the long run and the clients who I shoot for nearly always appreciate it.