My big break
See the shot that catapulted sports pro Mark Pain from national papers to global exposure
As the chief photographer for the Mail on
Sunday, Mark Pain was already well established as one of the UK’s foremost sports photographers when he covered the 2010 Ryder Cup. Having photographed numerous Olympics, World Cups and other international sporting events, you could say he was in no need of a ‘break’. However, when he huddled down with the rest of the press pack to photograph Tiger Woods play a chip onto the green of the 18th hole at Celtic Manor, little did Mark realise that he was about to be the headline story of the following day’s papers.
“At the time, Tiger was the world’s biggest golfer by a country mile,” Mark recalls. “He was number one in the world, but he hadn’t been playing well and he sliced the ball 45 degrees off to the right straight towards me and my camera. The ball came towards me, hit the camera and landed at my feet. It looks as if I’m between him and the flag, but to the right of me there were four or five photographers and to the left there another four or five, all kneeling down.”
The next day Mail Online ran Mark’s photograph with the headline: ‘Easy Tiger! The moment Woods’s Ryder Cup challenge was halted… by a photographer’. Suddenly Mark’s name was more than a small credit line at the bottom of one of his pictures: “It was the first time I had been part of the story of one of my photographs,” he says.
After the Mail Online story, this image went viral. “It wasn’t just the picture that was extraordinary, it was the story behind it. It was my first experience of a picture I had taken going viral all around the world and me becoming part of it as well.” As part of the story, Mark was interviewed by American television and his picture published in the country’s major golf magazines. It was his trans-Atlantic breakthrough.
Having spent years virtually unknown outside of the UK, Mark’s profile soared, in America. “I even had a lecturer in America thanking me for the picture and telling me how he’s used it in a lecture for his students in a photography degree!” The response also proved to be an awakening for Mark: not only did it show how widely an image can circulate on the Web, but he also discovered that viral images do not lead to great financial returns.
“Back in 2010 that was all new to me,” he says. “I thought it would make me good amounts of money, but it was not remotely like what I expected. If your picture has gone viral, there’s nothing you can do in terms of chasing it (for reproduction fees). I quickly became aware that there’s not a lot you can do and you should just try to maximise the moment for self-publicity as much as you can. It’s very hard to make any kind of return for online image usage.”
Mark Pain is the chief sports photographer for the MailonSunday. He was named Sports Photographer of the Year in the British Press Awards in 2005 and 2011. In 2011, Mark launched the first dedicated sports photography school in the UK. www.markpain.com