Series10 Apr 2018

Patrick Smith’s story behind the picture – capturing Karsten Warholm’s ‘Scream’


Karsten Warholm and Kerron Clement after the 400m hurdles final at the 2017 World Championships (© Getty Images)

Getty Images photographer Patrick Smith was the man behind the lens to capture the shock and elation that Norway's Karsten Warholm experienced moments after securing 400m hurdles gold at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, an image that immediately elicited comparisons to Norwegian Expressionist artist Edward Munch’s famous painting, ‘The Scream’. The US-based photographer tells us just how he did it.


“I fell in love with athletics covering the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. The sport is beautiful in that it offers a stunning range of lights, shapes and colours, and there is no sport like in terms of its raw emotion. It is our challenge to capture those emotions in a time span which can often be little more than a few tenths of a second.

“As part of a large team of photographers at the 2017 World Championships in London we are on a rotation: we might be in the photographer’s pit looking straight on at the athletes, we could be covering several events from the in-field or in the catwalk, or what we call the nosebleed section, high up in the stands.

“The day of the 400m hurdles final I was situated on the first turn - or finish line position - for what was, as I recall, a miserable wet and cold day.

“All season long we follow the fortunes of the athletes in the various events. I was aware Kerron Clement, the Olympic champion, would be a major threat for gold but through the first few rounds Karsten Warholm had impressed and the Norwegian was clearly a contender.

“I took a number of shots of the athletes in the starting blocks before the race. Once the athletes are in the set position, it’s standard process to lay off the shutter so as not to jeopardise the start process. But when the race starts, I re-engage my camera while glancing up at the giant screen to follow which athletes are likely to enter the home straight first.

“Karsten was clearly building up a sizeable lead, although Kerron was closing in the latter stages of the race. As the athletes crossed the line and Karsten put his fingers to his face coupled with the look of surprise in his eyes, I knew something special was unfolding. My challenge was to capture this moment in the one second it happened.

“For me, the picture is perfectly composed with a clean background. I love shooting more than one athlete in an image and the juxtaposition between Karsten and Kerron is unbelievable. While Karsten looks both shocked and elated you can see the dejection in the eyes of Kerron. The emotions of both athletes is palpable for all to see and it is what makes the image special compared, perhaps, to the aesthetic qualities of the picture.

“The image quickly went viral on social media, which as a Getty Images photographer is very rewarding. Our goal is to create an emotional image that resonates with people. We hope the images stick with people and can inspire a younger generation of athletes and on a lighter note seeing how the image made people smile and connect in a different way - through the use of memes - is good for the company and the entire team. I am very proud of the way it turned out.”

Steve Landells for the IAAF