Former communication studies major Mark Brown ’95 is the winner of the Dave Boss Award of Excellence for his entry into the 54th annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Photo Contest. His photo, “Backlit Backup,” was selected as the Photograph of the Year for the 2021 National Football League season.
Brown, who was “completely shocked and surprised” by the win, says he almost didn’t enter the contest. A last-minute change of heart — and his wife’s help picking the right photo — paid off big time for the freelance photographer.
“I honestly thought I was getting a prank phone call from one of my friends when I was first contacted,” Brown said. “I think I entered right near the deadline and when I was trying to figure out between a couple of images, I asked my wife, Carolyn, what she thought, and this was one she really took to. I’m just so thankful she has such a great eye.”
Brown’s photo also impressed the panel of judges, made up of prominent photo editors and photographers. The image, taken during the Miami Dolphins’ game against the Houston Texans on Nov. 7, 2021, depicts Dolphins quarterback Jacoby Brissett dropping back to pass in the shadows of Hard Rock Stadium. The fans in the background create a colorful mosaic.
“There are so many talented photographers that enter this contest,” Brown said. “I thought there were some really strong images that also received awards [this year]. It really is so surprising that the judges took to my image.”
Brown has worked as a photographer since 2012 and covers sports and entertainment in the Miami/South Florida area. While it took some time to get there, Lynchburg helped move his career in the right direction, he says.
“I actually didn’t do much with my camera during my time in Lynchburg,” Brown recalled. “I was so busy studying. Early in my photography career, I was always looking for situations to photograph. In 2015, I was lucky enough to get back on campus a couple of times to photograph the lacrosse team during their insane 2015 season.
“Coach [Steve] Koudelka was such a great support with letting me document the season and giving me full access. That experience capturing the team was such a huge help for me, as it went a long way into developing a style of shooting. After that season, doors just started [to open] a little more, and a couple of years later I made my way to this area.”
Brown’s clients include Getty Images Sport & Entertainment, various NFL teams, Major League Baseball, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and others.
The Hall of Fame’s photo contest is open to professional photographers on assignment to cover NFL games. Photos taken during the 2021 NFL season, including Super Bowl LVI, were eligible. View all of this year’s winning photos here.