In an interview with The Game magazine, IMAGO photographer Domenic Aquilina discusses his recent award-winning as Malta's Sports Photographer of the Year, and shares insights on his passion for capturing athletes' defining moments.
For over four decades, Domenic Aquilina has been documenting Malta’s sports and developed a unique style that combines technical skill with a creative approach, resulting in visually stunning, captivating, and thought-provoking images.
Domenic is based in Malta and has gained recognition for his eye for detail, ability to capture the essence of his subjects, and outstanding work for Malta’s sports. He recently won the title of Malta’s Sports Photographer of the Year at the 31st edition of the Malta Journalism Awards. His groundbreaking work has taken him from analog to digital, and his images stand out for their quality and attention to detail. Domenic believes photography has the power to tell stories and evoke emotions, and he always tries to “show something to his audiences that they cannot see themselves.”
“Work hard, as hard as can be, never tire out, and always believe in your abilities.”
Congratulations on winning Malta’s Sports Photographer of the Year award. Can you tell us about the award and walk us through the process of capturing this photograph?
This year’s 31st edition of the Malta Journalism Awards, which consisted of the top journalism sphere in Malta, took place after an absence of two years, mainly due to the pandemic. Thus, any participant had to submit three submissions from 2020, 2021 and 2022, one for each year. For me personally, as always, it is no easy task because the big thing is getting to choose which, in my view, would be the best option.
The first photograph is an aerial football capture, captured during a local Premier League match played in a rainstorm in 2019 whilst freelancing for my local newspaper “The Malta Independent.”
My 2020 chosen capture depicted a typical “slow-sync” football action during a UEFA Europa Conference League match here in Malta and probably my best ever “slow-syn” image to date and was run in “The Times of Malta” locally.
The third was taken in 2021 during the LEN European Water Polo Championships Qualifying Tournament Group C 2022, which took place in Malta in February 2022. Water Polo can produce some compelling photographic captures. Here the ball water splash created a fan-like pattern illusion during the match between Malta and Romania; hence this is why I named the photo appropriately “Water Fan Illusion.”
With a couple of seconds away from the session closure buzzer, I tracked the ball leaving the hands of the Malta goalkeeper at the other end of the pool, where I was situated, until it landed in front of the Romania goal, creating this intriguing and very unusual capture. This capture was run in The Game Magazine in a very interesting photo essay by the name of “The Islanders’ Passion for water sports” in March of 2022. It remains one of my very best to date.
What made you want to become a sports photographer and inspired you to pursue it?
Very easy to respond. I was born a sports fanatic, I guess. Since my early childhood, I pursued various sports disciplines, particularly football, which remains my favourite sport. I did this not only actively, as I used to play amateur football myself – as a striker – but with no social media around at that time, I went through other entities like, at that time, snail mail pen friends, exchanging football souvenirs, via TV, radio and magazine, all related to sports at that time. I believe certain instincts are born within you.
How do you approach capturing the energy and excitement of a sporting event through your photography?
As I have already stated in previous interviews, it is a constant challenge within myself to get the best captures during a sports event. I challenge myself about this. I always want to go back home, always a happy guy.
Can you talk about any particularly challenging sports photography assignments you have taken on and how you overcome those challenges?
A Very good question. To be honest, I do not recall any particular sports photography assignment which proved to be challenging. Every sports discipline has its own story, and they are all challenging.
It could be the UEFA Champions League match I was covering in Milan between Milan and FC Barcelona in November 2018. It was one of those nights where nothing seemed to go right. It rained cats and dogs for the whole 90 minutes. I had problems transmitting photos, but you have got to stay calm; not easy at all, and I found a way to do it.
“It is only about one word: “professionalism”. Then commitment and a belief in yourself, believing that you can always succeed.”
“I believe certain instincts are born within you.”
In your opinion, what distinguishes a great sports photograph from a good one?
Another good question. You got me here. Well, I must say it is only about one word, “professionalism”. Then commitment and a belief in yourself, believing you can always succeed.
Could you tell us how you prepare to start capturing pictures during an ongoing game?
I always say that you have to know the sports discipline and the protagonists themselves before an event – not only football, but any, especially if it concerns a big scenario like UEFA Champions League matches, etc.
I use Canon stuff and have always been an AV AI Servo sports photographer. Some question my style of choosing AV priority, but I have always stuck to it, obviously playing around with exposure compensation, ISO etc.
The gear which I carry around during events depending on the sports discipline, is mainly my Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L USM II lens couple with my Canon EOS R3 or my Canon EOS 1Dx Mark III, a Canon RF 24-70mm F/2.8 and the amazing Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM lenses, not forgetting my “old guard” of my Canon 15mm f/2.8 L fisheye lens. I really don’t carry any speedlite nowadays; I prefer the magic of the mirrorless.
When you started, the photography industry was different. From the cameras to communication. How did you evolve through time? Especially with digitalization and the rise of social media.
Truly different. I used to take about four rolls of FUJI 3200 ISO films, speed off to the lab after an important match, print all and choose the best – then I used to add the caption by typewriting it and glueing it to the photo before sending it to my client by “Registered/Express” post. No Photo Mechanic around.
I went through the evolution from analog to digital as quickly as possible. I never backed away from anything, and I was one of the very first photographers to turn to digital way back in early 2000.
How do you stay current with new technology and techniques in photography?
I am one of those guys who always keep up to date with new equipment, most recent software, and most important of all, updating my photo gear constantly. Otherwise, you will not survive in my view. Simply you have got to compete. You simply have to be a professional in this field.
“ And of course I give them (my audiences) something which they cannot see themselves.”
What do you hope viewers take away from your sports photography?
I always keep in mind that viewers can view something different in my sports photography – something which strikes you as soon as you view the capture – something with a wow, if you know what I mean. And of course I give them something which they cannot see themselves.
What projects are you currently working on and what can we expect to see from you in the future?
Just before I was awarded Malta’s Sports Photographer of the Year, I had been working on a project for more than two years, which ironically started during the pandemic – my autobiography over 40 years of photography in a book, “The Malta Falcon”.
I decided to reward all sales from this book to Hospice Malta, a non-governmental organisation aiding persons living with a terminal illness to achieve the best possible quality of life. Very happy with the outcome. So happy to have achieved this objective for a good cause. Sometimes we act very individualistically, which is not good; helping others is.
At the moment, I am just out of recovery from a meniscus tear surgery, so I am regaining composure after nearly six weeks of inactivity. I take day by day assignments and never put on objectives, be assured I will be working hard, well maybe target my 7th Malta Sports Photographer Award.
There is no other award for me that can compare to it. Being judged as the best Sports Photographer in the country six times is so rewarding to me and my country too.
What advice do you have for aspiring sports photographers who are just starting out?
Very simple – work hard, as hard as can be, never tire out, and always believe in your abilities.
“I went through the evolution from analog to digital as quickly as possible. I never backed away from anything, and I was one of the very first photographers to turn to digital way back in the early 2000.”
“Work hard, as hard as can be, never tire out, and always believe in your abilities.”
Interview by Fatemeh Roshan.