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5 Famous Sports Photographers - The People Behind Some Of Sport's Iconic Frozen Moments

Walter Iooss Jr.

Charles M. Conlon Erik

It can sometimes be harder to discover famous sports photographers than photographers in other genres. The great images of sporting moments often seem like one-off photos, where the photographer happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Think of Ali standing imperiously over the defeated Sonny Liston, captured from canvas level. This is surely the most famous sports photo of all time. It must have been shot by a lucky ringside photojournalist who found himself in the perfect place to capture the shot of a lifetime, right?

Well, that's what the great photographers seem to be able to do: be there when it matters. Neil Leifer, who took this amazing Ali shot, has a mind-blowing portfolio of inspiring sports photos. He found the best angles, at the best events, at the most crucial moments consistently throughout his career!

So here's a list of 5 famous sports photographers who have brilliantly captured the true drama of sport time and again. I hope you enjoy discovering their work as muh as I have...


Walter Iooss Jr. (1943 - )

Walter Iooss was born in Texas and moved, as a young boy, to New Jersey. He was a passionate sports fan growing up, which lead seamlessly into a desire to capture it through photography.

He took pictures at professional events as a teenager and, keen to see his work published, submitted them to the famous publication Sports Illustrated. His submissions were accepted at a very young age leading, when he was still only 20 years old, to his first cover image for the mag!

Ioos went on to have over 300 shots featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which ensured his place as one of the most famous sports photographers of all time. He captured many of the greatest icons of sport, including Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan and David Beckham.

Walter Iooss Galleries


2. Max Rossi (1965 - )

Rossi was born in Rome and started working freelance for Italian papers in 1990. He became a member of Reuters in 2003 and, since then, has turned out countless amazing images of spots ebvents from across the globe.

Subjects of Max Rossi's pictures have included things like Formula One races, Italian football matches and events from the Athens Olympic Games.

One of my favourite photos of his features two gymnasts. One, in white, is in the background and holding a pose for a handstand. The other, red, is in full downward movement swinging on 2 rings suspended by ropes. The foreground figure in red is partially blurred to capture the dynamism of his downward movement. The whole scene is beautifully composed and perfectly captures the grace and power of the athletes.


3. Neil Leifer (1942 - )

Neil Leifer is undoubtedly one of the most famous photographers of all time. His incredible collection of work spans many decades and contains a lot of famous photography that will be familiar to even those with just a passing interest in sport.

He was a big sports fan as a boy. He found ways of getting into the New York Giants' NFL games even when he couldn’t afford it! He showed the boldness the all good photographers need to have at a really young age by taking his place alongside the pro photographers at pitchside!

I mentioned above how Walter Ioos got his career with Sports Illustrated started early. Well Neil Leifer was even more of an early developer, getting his first pictures published at 16 and winning his first cover shot at...19!

Leifer has taken many iconic shots of sportspeople. But his wonderful capture of Ali looming over the KO'd Sonny Liston assured his spot as one of the most famous sports photographers, and respected photographers in general, of all time.

Since the late 1970's he has worked chiefly for the famous Time magazine, producing over 40 cover images for them! He's basically had 2 wildly successful careers. Definitely one of the legends!

Neil Leifer Gallery

neil leifer sports photography

The Best of Leifer  

Now this is what sports photography is all about people! Justified with a beautifully produced hardback edition, Leifer's amazing work is on full show in this volume.


4. Charles M. Conlon (1868 - 1945)

Charles Conlon was a fantastic photographer of the early great baseball players. He seemed to fall into the role by chance. He was working on a paper in New York in an unrelated area to photography, although he was a keen snapper in his spare time.

His boss had seen some of his pictures and one day invited him to contribute them to an associated baseball magazine. So Conlon's career in photography began. He recorded the faces of many top baseball players of the time who otherwise would only have been famous names.

Conlon has made my list of famous sports photographers in no small part because of one great shot he took. It's an action shot of Ty Cob sliding into 3rd base and taking out the legs of Jimmy Austin. Dirt flies in the air and limbs are all over the place. It's an exciting, dynamic, atmospheric and just brilliant moment. I think it's an example of what sports photography is all about!


5. Erik Refner (1971 - )

Erik Refner was born in Denmark and was himself a top class athlete, representing his national pentathlon team.

His photographic career kicked off in the world of fashion, but he later moved towards photojournalism and sport. Having been a pentathlete he's interested in capturing the sense of effort and exhaustion that goes with extreme exertion.

In 2001 he covered the Copenhagen marathon and took a fantastic shot of one of the runners at the finishing line being sprayed with water to refresh him. The bottle where the water is coming from has been cropped out, so all we see are the droplets falling on to his face dripping from his brow.

The runner's mouth is wide open, gasping for air, and the high definition processing brings out every last detail of the exhausted face. It's such a great shot that sums up the feeling of post-exercise relief! It won Refner the World Press Photo of the Year in the sports section in 2007. It's the chief reason I've selected him for this group of famous sports photographers.

Refner's career as a photojournalist has seen him win numerous other major awards, unconnected to sports.

Erik Refner Gallery

sports photography

Reuters - Sports in the 21st Century  

I highly recommend this collection of exciting, bold, dramatic sports photos, taken by some of the best snappers in the business!

Who are your favourite sports photographers? Share your views in the comments...

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