Johan Schmidt was the amateur winner of the inaugural Women in Sport Action Photo Awards (WISPAA) in 2019 with his picture of Sera Ah-Sam of the Western Force being tackled in a match by Tayla Stanford.
“WISPAA 2019 was the first photography competition I had entered, so I wasn’t quite sure what the judges were looking for. I submitted two rugby shots; one of Lily Dick in the Aussie 7s and then Sera Ah-Sam of the Western Force,” Schmidt said.
“Western Force were trying to qualify for the playoffs and with about five minutes to go, Sera broke around the maul and soon to be capped Wallaroos player Taylor Stanford tried to tackle her. The play was really close to me and I shot the picture with a 600mm lens.”
“The light and colours were beautiful so late in the afternoon and I was fortunate that their faces were in full sunlight. You can see Sera’s determination to score and help her team reach the playoffs.”
Schmidt started photography in 1976 when in high school and photographed local hockey, developing the black and white films in darkrooms. However, it got very expensive to continue with photography in those days and Schmidt took a break, not taking up photography again until his son was born in 2000.
“I got back into it when my son was born to take photos of him because kids change so quickly. Digital photography was just taking off and in 2006 when manufacturers started making affordable Digital SLR cameras, I took a plunge and bought a Nikon D50 with a two-kit lens, with the idea to record my son’s childhood,” the South African native said.
The hobby photographer had previously taken shots of amateur sport, but it all changed when his childhood rugby team visited Perth for a match.
“In 2013 the Free State Cheetahs, the team I have supported all my life, played the Western Force in Perth. I wondered how photographers got into the ground so I contacted Free State Rugby Union and offered to shoot the game for free if they could arrange accreditation. They obliged and arranged it with the Western Force. I was lucky to get a nice shot at the end of the match and from there a lot of doors opened for me,” Schmidt said.
With the rigours of sport becoming hard on his body, Schmidt has been able to combine two of his passions with sports photography.
“Having always played sport and now getting to the stage where I can’t play, with photography I get to still be on the field and experience that fantastic vibe, plus you have the best seat in the house. I really enjoy it,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt is proud of being the inaugural amateur WISPAA winner. He has increased his photography of women’s sport because of the competition and believes it is important in the sporting landscape.
“I was hoping that WISPAA would be happening again this year, so I planned ahead to get a lot of photographs of women’s sports. I would contact sporting organisations and advise that I was the winner in 2019 which opened a lot of doors for me. It has been very useful,” the Perth local said.
“The competition has added something additional to the normal women’s sport that we see on TV. This is a lot more visible as the photos are across social media and there have been exhibitions across the country. It makes people stop and look solely at the image.”
Women’s sport participation has seen an increase in all aspects and that has been seen by Schmidt at the local level in Perth.
“At my local footy club, I can’t even remember any females playing 10 years ago but now they have a couple of teams, plus the cricket club now has an extra female team. The number of females participating in sport looks to be increasing, whereas I have seen a drop off in male numbers, especially at the high school level locally,” Schmidt said.
“Sustained progress always builds slowly and suddenly takes off. Women’s sport is in the take off period.”
WISPAA entries for 2020 closed on 31 May, stay tuned for the announcement of finalists later this month.
Story: Daniel Hill, WSA Content Creator