From the Olympics to the Super Bowl, famous sports photographers make their mark on the world by capturing awe-inspiring moments that shape history.
Most of the world's most famous sports photographers humbly decline to acknowledge the impact their work has made on society. When asked what makes their images distinctive, most pros simply say they are "just doing the job." In addition to their gift to capture historic moments in sports, the following photographers also excel at shooting on whatever format the job requires, from 35mm to large-format to digital.
The World's Most Famous Sports Photographers
Walter Iooss Jr.
Walter Iooss is a legend in sports photography. He is known around the world as the most famous sports photographer to ever pick up a camera. Iooss has shot the cover of Sports Illustrated nearly 300 times, including 10 of the magazine's famous swimsuit covers. The 65-year-old sports shutterbug has also documented every major sports figure from baseball great Roger Maris to tennis star Serena Williams, and he is still clicking today. Iooss' most revered covers include basketball great Michael Jordan; baseball 500-home run hitter Ken Griffey, Jr.; football giant Brett Favre; golf phenom Tiger Woods and boxing champs Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Iooss's 40-year career behind the lens has yielded hundreds of extraordinary contributions to sports photography, many of which have been recognized with awards for outstanding achievement in the industry.
Retired sports photographer Neil Leifer was once considered a "boy wonder" at Sports Illustrated. Leifer sold his first photos to the magazine when he was 15 and landed his first cover when he was 19. His 1965 picture of Muhammad Ali, the moment he knocked out Sonny Liston, has become one of the most memorable sports photos of all time. Leifer shot the first Super Bowl in 1967, and every one until 1978, when he left Sports Illustrated for a job at TIME magazine. Before he switched jobs, Leifer captured more than 150 cover shots for Sports Illustrated. The sports shutterbug says his crowning career achievement was executing a year-long shooting spree, in which he covered 32 of sport's biggest events including the World Series, the British Open, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, the Daytona 500, Wimbledon, and the Tour de France.
After more than 30 years on the job, Aaron Chang has earned the title of the best surf photographer in the world. Chang got started in the business by combining his two passions: surfing and photography. The preeminent surf photographer has risked his life on many occasions to capture the world's most talented male and female surfing champs in the water. For nearly a quarter of a century, Chang has braved 25-foot swells on Hawaii's North Shore to hone his craft. In addition to holding senior positions at Surfing magazine and shooting more than 100 covers for other sports publications, Chang's images have been used in ads for Nike, Yamaha, Levi's, Macy's, Polaris, and Mercedes-Benz.
Hy Money is considered Britain's first female sports photographer. The determined shutterbug made her mark in the industry in a time when women were not allowed to stand on the sidelines at certain sporting venues to take pictures. However, Money was undeterred and after a two-year battle in the early 1970s she was allowed to cover British football matches. She then went on to earn the title of first female sports photographer on Fleet Street.
Pioneers in Sports Photography
The aforementioned photographers and their colleagues owe a debt of gratitude to the following pros who helped make sports photography what it is today:
- Charles Conlon: Conlon is regarded as the most famous baseball photographer that ever lived. From 1904-1942, Conlon immortalized sport's greatest players. His most recognized images include shots of Ty Cobb violently stealing bases while playing for the Detroit Tigers.
- Toni Frissell: A leading fashion photographer for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines in the 1930s-70s, Frissell went on to become the first female staff photographer for Sports Illustrated. Frissell is known for her athletic style of photography and her work lives on today in the Library of Congress.
Learning From Top Sports Photographers
Good sports photography involves the right equipment and a keen sense of timing. The world's top sports photographers have illustrated how to marry the two in their award-winning work. In an effort to help cultivate a new generation of sports photographers, most pro shutterbugs offer tips online and in books. If you are interested in the field of sports photography, consider checking them out.