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Burtons Named Photographers of the Year in National Competition

Close to Heaven

By Sherrie Norris

The combined talents and skills of local photographers Jonathan and Bonnie Burton have long been acknowledged and respected in the High Country and far beyond — their work displayed on walls of homes and businesses throughout Boone, across the United States and abroad.

It came as no surprise to many that the couple was recently named Photographers of the Year during the annual (High School) Senior and Youth Sports National Conference, also known as SYNC, held in Orlando, Fla.


A production of Darty and Michelle Hines, founded in 2008, SYNC is a professional photography conference that specializes in high school senior and youth sports photography. Entering its 16th year, SYNC brings together industry-leading speakers, innovative companies and over 500 attendees to the annual conference from across the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The four-day conference is held each year in Orlando, Fla. “Education is so vital to our continued success as portrait artists and studio owners,” the Burtons agreed. “This conference fills up our fuel tank for the coming year.”

And, of course, sweeping the competition added to their excitement, they humbly admitted.

A major highlight of the conference, the Burtons said, is the print competition, which broke all precious records with 1,076 portraits entered to be evaluated and scored by a panel of expert judges.

“The competition was intense. And, as usual, we were again so inspired by the creativity and innovation of the artists and their entries,” said Bonnie Burton.

Of those 1,076 entries, 10 the Burtons portraits received the Award of Excellence; two of their portraits were picked as Judges’ Choice. The couple was also awarded both first and third place in the senior portrait on location, outdoor division, and first place in senior portrait on location, indoor.

As the most prestigious award presented at SYNC, Photographer of the Year is chosen by the judges in a head-to-head competition of the top five photographers with the highest averages from competitors who have entered six or more entries.

Page Turner

“We’re grateful for the opportunities that we have and are so humbled by this amazing recognition,” Bonnie said. “We give thanks to all our clients who trust us to create portraits for them that they’ll enjoy for years to come. We celebrate our incredible seniors who make creating their portraits a joy.”

Simply put, she added, “ We continue to educate ourselves in our craft, and put that education into practice in order to provide the highest quality of portraits possible to our clients. Entering print
competitions causes us to stretch our talents, ideas and skills. In both victory and defeat, we continue to grow as artists.”

Chase and Charlie

When asked by High Country Press about the Burtons, Darty Hines had this to say: “Jonathan and Bonnie Burton have been a part of the Senior and Youth National Conference (SYNC) for many years. They have been attending annually since 2019 and were one of our featured speakers at in 2021. The Burtons are well respected in our photography community and are always willing to help other attendees better their craft and continue to support and uplift our industry.”

Hines elaborated, “SYNC offers an image competition to all attendees of the conference. This year, we celebrated our 15th year of the conference and competition. Attendees have the opportunity to enter images of their work to be judged by a prestigious group of industry leaders who have been trained to
analyze the images and score them based on the provided criteria by our organization. Scoring is based on a scale of 0 to 100.

When an image scores 80 or higher, it is considered above average and is awarded an Award Of Excellence. There were 12 primary categories at this year’s competition. Once scoring has been completed, the Top 10 in each category are brought back in front of the judges for a head-to-head discussion to determine the trophy winners.”

Hines continued, “The most prestigious trophies in the SYNC competition is the Photographer Of The Year and Best Of Show. This year, the Burtons were the judges’ choice to win both of these awards, which is rare at our competition. The Photographer Of the Year receives a trophy and over $1,500 in prizes donated by our vendors and sponsors. “

A Place for Me

Furthermore, Hines explained, “Jonathan and Bonnie Burton entered 15 images; 10 scored 80 and above for an Award of Excellence; two scored 90 and above. The Best of Show image scored 98 — just two points from a perfect score. Only 29 images scored 90 and above out of the 1,076 entered. The
Burtons had (two) 90 and higher. Both images scoring 90 or above from the Burtons were from the High School Senior Outdoor on Location category, which this was the most popular category. with over 400 entries.”

The competition is entered by professional portrait photographers from all across the United States, Hines added. “Most of those who enter specialize in high school senior photography.”

Easy Breezy

More About The Burtons

The Burtons began working together in 2010 and joined forces officially when they were married in 2011. Bonnie had a studio in Winston-Salem at the time, but was happy to move to the High Country and help build a new chapter at Burton Photography.

Jonathan and Bonnie Burton were named Photographers of the Year last week during a national conference/competition in Orlando, Fla. 

Jonathan started Burton Photography in 1993 when he was in his 20s. “This year marks 30 years in business,” Bonnie shared. “Together, we have 46 years of combined experience as professional photographers. We specialize in creating portraits of all kinds — high school seniors, families, babies, children, professional headshots, and personal branding.”

She continued, “We believe in the inherent value of people and that they are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’ We strive to create authentic, timeless and storytelling portraits that go well beyond just containing a moment in time. We aim to create portraits that capture the unique personalities of our subjects and their connections with those they love.”

The couple “strongly believes in the superpowers of printed portraits,” they shared. “We provide our clients with art for their homes (that happens to be people they love) in the form of canvases and metal wall pieces, along with heirloom quality albums and portrait boxes.”

Jonathan and Bonnie share an artistic vision for their work, and play off the strength of each other while shooting a session or completing tasks at the studio.

“We work together seamlessly joined at the hip like a three-legged race,” she described. “Operating a studio together presents expected challenges, but more importantly, opportunities for growth and improvement.”

Giving back to the community is a cherished part of their lives in the High Country, they added. They use their talents and skills regularly to raise funds for the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation,
Watauga High School Student Government, Oasis and others. To learn more about the Burtons, visit their website at NCphotographer.com. Or Instagram for High School Seniors: @burtonphotographyseniors.

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