"One on One" with Michael Willson

7 August 2017

Michael Willson is AFL Media’s senior photographer, and is the newest edition to "Ted's Masters"! Find out where he started and what drives him, in our exclusive "One on One".

"One on One" with Michael Willson"One on One" with Michael Willson

Hi there, my name is Michael Willson and I am Senior Photographer at AFL Media. My primary responsibility is shooting all the action from AFL matches on weekends, but I also shoot training sessions, press conferences, portraits, commercial shoots and all the AFL team photos and headshots. My photographs get used on AFL.com.au as well as club websites/social media channels, the AFL Record and other offical AFL Publications. They are also used in ad campaigns for AFL commerical partners as well as editorially in newspapers across Australia and the world.

What defines your photography style?

I like to focus on the emotion of football, capturing intimate moments that are otherwise unseen, whether that be on the field or off it. When it comes to action I try to capture the movement, speed, skill and beauty of AFL from a creative perspective.

How did you become interested in photography?

I always had a love for the still image (and for football). Growing up my bedroom wall was covered in newspaper photos and posters of footballers. I also recently learnt my great-great Grandfather was a professional photographer back in the early 1900’s so it’s in the blood somewhere.

"One on One" with Michael Willson"One on One" with Michael Willson

Do you have any formal training?

I have a degree in Graphic Design (photography was one of our core subjects.) This was back before digital, so I learnt with film and in the darkroom which I am grateful for. I don’t believe any formal training is required to be a photographer, however, I think you either have it or you don’t.

"One on One" with Michael Willson"One on One" with Michael Willson
"Up Close" by Michael Wilsson

What is your proudest moment as a photographer?

Having a book published of my work in 2016. I worked in collaboration with publisher Geoff Slattery to produce ‘Up Close’ – a photo book that includes more than 120 photographs of the 2016 AFL season, from the torture and hope of the pre-season through to the apex of the Grand Final - the fans, the families, the tears of joy and agony of defeat.

How has social media helped with the success of your photography?

Instagram is my social media tool of choice and it has been incredibly important as a delivery channel for my photography. Before Instagram, you could really only see my work at AFL.com.au, newspapers or in the AFL Record. With Instagram now I have a whole new platform and audience that can enjoy my photography where and when they like. I also have greater control of which photographs I want to share.

"One on One" with Michael Willson"One on One" with Michael Willson

"One on One" with Michael Willson"One on One" with Michael Willson

What’s your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken?

It would have to be this image of Mitch Clark:

It was Round 6, 2015 and Geelong had just triumphed over Collingwood at the MCG. Despite playing a great game, Clark (who has had a well-publicised battle with depression) was distraught, fighting to hold off tears as the team began to leave the field.

Overcome with sadness, he wandered off aimlessly down a side corridor in the rooms, where he and Chris Scott (Clark’s coach) very quickly walked away from the rest of the team, the coach placing his hand on the back of his troubled player, guiding him for support. A simple gesture which signified so much.

"One on One" with Michael Willson"One on One" with Michael Willson

The photograph sparked a lot of debate in the ensuing days. Everything from the image being an outrageous invasion of privacy to how we should celebrate the support and care depicted in the photograph.

Looking back now I think this image kickstarted the conversation of mental health in the AFL, a subject that was absolutely taboo in the past. I take great pride in thinking that in some small way this photograph has contributed to players now openly declaring they are struggling with their mental health and that there is no shame in asking for help.

How important is post-processing to your works? 

Not that important really. Editorially, very little can be done to the photographs anyway, a crop and slight adjustment of levels and that’s it. If I’m sharing a pic on Instagram I will apply some filters to enhance the photo, maybe add a border if I think it suits, but generally I strive to get my photos looking good ‘in camera’.

"One on One" with Michael Willson"One on One" with Michael Willson

What is the best advice you have ever received?

 ‘You’re only as good as your last photograph.’

Any big plans for the future?

I would love to do another book in the near future – a ‘Best of’ the last 10 years of my AFL photography. There is also an exhibition in September each year at Crown Casino showcasing AFL Photos best work that I’m preparing my folio for. September is always a busy month as we gear up towards finals, there are always huge moments and you never know when and where they will appear. I’ll be there on the boundary line, waiting to capture these moments.

"One on One" with Michael Willson"One on One" with Michael Willson

Any advice for the novice photographer?

Bite the bullet and get the gear you need. Especially for sports you need that long lens and fast frame camera. Then shoot, shoot, shoot. Always shoot manual. Start shooting your local sports, try different angles, mix up your camera settings, think outside the square. There are no rules. Try and capture images that are unique, build up a folio of work that separates your work from the rest of the crowd.

What’s in your camera bag?

If you'd like to see more of Michael's work, check out his galleries and website in the links below!


Instagram - @michaelcwillson

Twitter - @michaelcwillson

All Images Copyright Michael Willson/AFL Media

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