In S.I. by 22

– photos courtesy of Will Bratton


For a sports photographer, there are few things that top getting a shot published in the nation’s most recognized sports magazine. Many spend an entire career chasing that goal.

Campbell University graduate Will Bratton did it at age 22.

Bratton’s photo of a University of North Carolina lacrosse player going airborne while wrapped around a player from the University of Detroit was featured in the “Leading Off” photo gallery — a full-page photo — of the Feb. 20 edition ofSports Illustrated, which featured NBA national phenom Jeremy Lin on the cover.

Bratton, a 2011 Communications Studies graduate from Littleton, currently works as a freelance sports photographer, shooting mostly UNC sporting events for print publications and WRAL TV in Raleigh. He said the night he shot the photo, he knew he had a winner on his hands.

“Before I decided to send it to Sports Illustrated, I emailed it to my dad,” Bratton said. “It was only February, but I knew then it would be the best photo I’d take all year.”

The photo is unique, he said, because lacrosse is mostly a vertical sport, and most of the shots he gets are of players running upright. This shot had a little of everything — action, bright colors and painful facial expressions.

“There’s someone falling to the ground while taking a shot; they’re both on their tip-toes; the lighting is spot on … it just made for a really nice frame,” Bratton said.

Bratton began his education at Campbell as a Religion major, but switched to Communications Studies his sophomore year because of his newfound interest in photography and journalism.

“A good friend of mine at the time played football at UNC, and not being as athletically gifted as he was, I had to find a way to get on the field with him,” Bratton said. “So I started shooting for the local paper at his college games, and it kind of hit me that I knew what I was doing … that I had an eye for it.”

And there were plenty of people at Campbell there to help him along the way. Bratton began shooting photos for Campbell Associate Athletic Director for Media Services Stan Cole. He also credits Jason Williams and Joe Prisco for allowing him the experience of shooting the 20-plus sports he covered while at Campbell.

He said Communications Studies Chairman Dean Farmer took him under his wing and helped him grow to become not only a better photographer, but a better photojournalist.

Bratton said he hopes the Sports Illustrated exposure leads to bigger and better things, but he will be careful not to let it go to his head.

“I hope it doesn’t change who I am or change what I love to do, which is taking photos of sports at all levels,” he said.