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Burton Photography: Photographers of the Year

By Sherrie Norris

As Burton Photography celebrates 30 years in business this year, owners Bonnie and Jonathan Burton start the year celebrating some huge wins at a national competition in February. Not only did 10 of their portraits win top honors, but the dynamic duo was also named Photographers of the Year. Photo submitted.

The timing for Burton Photography could not be better. Just as the business prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary, owners Jonathan and Bonnie Burton were recognized in February as Photographers of the Year during a national conference.

Having long been known and respected as highly skilled and talented photographers in the High Country and beyond, the husband and wife team recently captured the coveted title
during the annual four-day (High School) Senior and Youth Sports National Conference, also known as SYNC, held in Orlando, Fla.

Produced by Darty and Michelle Hines, who founded the event 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.

First Place, Senior on Location – Indoor: Page Turner, Alyssa
Thams. Photo by Burton Photography

“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.

“Our daughter, Alyssa, chose to go to App State (from Iowa!) and we came to Boone for a
college visit. Bonnie and Jonathan took her senior photos on that trip — and we loved them!
They were so easy to work with and found the best locations that reflected Alyssa’s
personality. This past October, we went back to visit Alyssa at school and had the Burtons
take family photos for us. They are amazing! The Burtons really personalized our shoot and got
to know our family to create photos that really reflect who we are. We are so thankful to them
for capturing our family and will cherish those photos for years to come.”

– Emily Thams (mom of Alyssa, Class of ’22). Alyssa’s portrait, Page Turner, won 1st Place Senior Portrait on Location; Alyssa’s other portrait, A Place of My Own, won Judge’s Choice.

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.

Judges Choice: A Place for Me, Alyssa Thams. Photo by Burton Photography.

“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.”

Individually and Collectively — A Winning Duo

The Burtons began working together in 2010 and joined forces officially when they were
married in 2011. Having lived in Winston Salem for 30 years with her own studio at the time,
Bonnie was happy to move to the High Country and help build a new chapter at Burton

Sweet Breeze, featuring Maddie Ellis, was chosen for display during the SYNC conference in Florida. Photo by Burton Photography.

“The Burtons’ sincere approach brought out the best in Maddie and made the beautiful images
they captured possible. We’ll cherish the portraits and the experience of creating them as one
of the highlights of her senior year.”

– Megan and Tom Ellis (parents of Maddie Ellis, Class of ’23.) Maddie’s portrait, Sweet Breeze, was chosen to be printed and put on display in the SYNC gallery during the conference.

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.”

But, as a popular song confirms, there’s more behind the picture than the wall.

As a youngster growing up in Avery County, Jonathan loved photography. At the age of 15, he
participated in a cross-country adventure with Teens Camping Tour of the West. Already an
enthusiastic landscape and scenic photographer, it was on that particular trip that he
discovered just how much he enjoyed photographing his friends.

Carlton Dyer featured in God’s Garden. Photo by Burton Photography

Today, he doesn’t hesitate to admit that his appreciation of God’s creations plays a part in his desire to create portraits of people, especially in what he describes as “the beautiful environment of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”

Jonathan moved to Boone when his two children were school-aged; through the years, Burton Photography has had several commercial locations, but for the last 16 years it has been a residential-based studio. He’s the first to admit that he enjoys the short commute to work. But,
when he’s not working, Jonathan enjoys hiking, golfing and watching football.

Bonnie has been enchanted with photography since her childhood days of looking over her older brother’s shoulder in the darkroom of the recreation center near their home. Combining the magic of photography with her love of people put her on the path to becoming a portrait

A lover of all the arts, Bonnie enjoyed an accomplished career as a music teacher and choral conductor before devoting herself completely to photography.

“Having senior portraits was important to me, because I wanted to make sure to remember that season of my life, although I already graduated in May of last year and am now a freshman at NC State. I still thoroughly enjoy looking through the pictures and reminiscing on all the fun I had taking them alongside my best friends. My favorite part of working with the Burtons is how much fun I remember having while taking these pictures. I was so nervous going into the session because my mom and I decided to do a group session with some of my close friends from high school. I was a little uneasy about everyone watching me, but Bonnie and Jonathan made sure I felt confident and beautiful the entire time.”

– Carlton Dyer, Watauga High School Senior Class of ’22; Carlton’s portrait is titled God’s Garden.

Bonnie grew up in Fayetteville and Long Island, New York, before moving to Winston-Salem to
attend and graduate from Wake Forest University, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa.
She loves to hike, listen to music and spend time with family and friends, especially her nine-year-old granddaughter.

Having now worked together for over a dozen years, Jonathan and Bonnie share an artistic
vision for the portraits they create — but each has his and her own flair and creative energy.
“Working together, side by side, has been a joy,” they admit. “We feed off of each other’s

Simply stated, Brooke Scheffler loves working with the Burtons and helped add yet another winning entry to the photographers’ collection of awards. Photo by Burton Photography.

Plus, they say, the mutual respect and the deep love they share for one another have been important ingredients in their ability to successfully work together so closely on a daily basis.

Jonathan and Bonnie stay current with trends and advancements in portraiture and keep their business skills sharp by attending several national educational events each year, such as Imaging USA put on by the Professional Photographers of America, and SYNC.

The couple has a trip to Minnesota planned for June , during which they will study with one of their favorite portrait artists to hone their skills and ignite their creativity.

“Continuing education is the fuel that keeps us moving forward on a successful path,” Bonnie
says. “Learning new techniques for both shooting and post-processing, understanding advancements in technology, and taking deep dives into the creative process with other
accomplished artists have kept our work fresh and up to date.”

“From a young age, I have always loved working with the Burtons. Their talent has never failed
to amaze me — even when I may not look my best! Their working environment is always
positive and so fun to be around. I am thankful for how well they plan ahead so I always know
how to dress. And, I swear, they know every spot in the High Country to take the best photos
possible! Jonathan and Bonnie are some of the best photographers I know and are the most
deserving of these awards!”

– Brooke Scheffler (class of ‘23), featured in the winning photo titled Brooke.

Bonnie and Jonathan strive to create portraits that are timeless, authentic and storytelling.
Each person has their own unique story and the Burtons approach each session open to fresh
ideas. They believe that each person they photograph is “fearfully and wonderfully made —
and have their own unique value and voice.”

Best of Show: Repose, Skyar Moss. Photo by Burton Photography.

“The Burtons had the capability to really listen and understand the vision I had for a specific
shot I requested for Skylar’s senior photos. We worked together and collaborated with ideas,
and it resulted in a beautiful, breathtaking image. These pictures represent a moment in time.
Crossing over from childhood to becoming a young adult. They skillfully capture playful,
youthful glimpses alongside images of a young woman. It’s an obvious talent, and we are very
lucky to have their work on our walls for years to come.”

– Fushia and Gary Moss, parents of Skylar Moss.

Bonnie and Jonathan believe in the “superpowers of printed portraits,” they described, and specialize in creating art for their client’s homes in the forms of custom-designed albums, handcrafted portrait boxes and canvas and metal wall art. All of their printed portraits are of archival and heirloom quality.

As one of Burtons’ Top 10 photos during the SYNC competition. Chase Dixon and Charlie are captured in a breathtaking scene that drew the attention of the judges. Photo by Burton Photography.
It’s easy to see how “Easy Breezy,” featuring Laurel West, was among the winners during the recent competition. Photo by Burton Photography.

Upon receiving their recent award, Jonathan said, “I felt shocked to be recognized with such
an incredible award, given the high quality of portraits entered by gifted photographers I greatly

Bonnie said, “Being recognized as SYNC Photographers of the Year puts us in the
company of immensely talented high school senior portrait artists. Achieving this level of
recognition jointly with Jonathan makes it all the sweeter. Being validated in this way is
thoroughly satisfying.”

Jonathan and Bonnie keep company with many wonderful professionals in the industry and
appreciate their friendship and influence. “We don’t operate in a vacuum, and we are grateful
for our photographer friends who help make our success possible.”

And, family support means everything, the couple agreed. “We feel as though we always have
a cheering squad behind us, urging us to keep going!”

In another of Burton Photography’s Top 10, “Close to Heaven” with Emmy Reams says it all. Photo by Burton Photography.

“We work together seamlessly joined at the hip like a three-legged race,” Bonnie described.

“Operating a studio together presents expected challenges, but more importantly,
opportunities for growth and improvement.”

A Rare Accomplishment —Photographer of the Year and 10 Awards of Excellence

When asked about the Burtons, Darty Hines, co-founder/owner of SYNC 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.”

Third Place, Senior on Location – Outdoor & Judges Choice: Here Comes the Sun, Max Midgett. Photo by Burton Photography.

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. “

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.”

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 and
@burtonphotographyseniors on Instagram.