Sports photography is one of the most exciting niches of photography – but it is also one of the most challenging! Because the nature of sports is so unpredictable and can change in a matter of seconds, sports photographers have to be just as fast when it comes to capturing the action. In this post, we will be looking at some famous sports photographers in 2021, as well as some legendary famous action and sports photographers who are now retired.
1. Neil Leifer
In the ilk of famous sports photographers, Neil Leifer is one of the best. He has an incredible life story, growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and he was introduced to photography by a social service agency that offered free classes to the poor children in the neighbourhood. From there, a love of photography blossomed, and Leifer went on to photograph some of the most iconic sports moments of all time. In fact, he was only 19 when he landed his first magazine cover.
Leifer’s 1965 picture of Muhammad Ali knocking out Sonny Liston, is one of the most famous and instantly recognisable sports photos of all time. He enjoyed a prominent career, where he photographed more than 150 cover photos for Sports Illustrated, as well as working for TIME magazine. Leifer’s personal career highlight was covering 32 of sport’s biggest events counting the World Series, the British Open, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, the Daytona 500, Wimbledon, and the Tour de France.
2. Hy Money
When thinking of famous football photographers, Hy Money is one of the first who comes to mind. Money has been acknowledged as ‘Britain’s first female Sports Photographer’. She began taking photographs of football matches in the early 1970s, when women were banned from taking pictures of games from the sidelines at certain venues.
After a legal battle, Money was allowed to photograph football matches and went on to become the first female sports photographer on Fleet Street, and the official photographer of Crystal Palace, where she was referred to as ‘Mammarazzi at the Palace’.
In 2005 she released her book ‘Hy on Palace’ which includes 1,000 photos of Crystal Palace, featuring the likes of Ian Wright, Ron Noades, David ‘Kid’ Jensen, Brian Moore, Malcolm Allison, Terry Venables, Jimmy Hill, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Nobby Stiles, Gordon Banks, Jackie Charlton, Martin Peters, Alan Ball, and Bobby Charlton.
3. Aaron Chang
When speaking about famous sports photographers it would be remiss not to speak about American photographer Aaron Chang. Chang is widely considered to be the best surf photographer in the business. In 1974, a then 18-year-old Aaron moved to Hawaii to surf and shoot photos, on the North Shore of Oahu, combining his love for surfing and photography. The rest is history!
Chang was a pioneer of surf photography, inventing the technique of using an ultra-wide-angle lens in the barrel in big waves, which was unprecedented in the 1980s. Chang has enjoyed a 25-year tenure as a senior photographer at Surfing Magazine, as well as having his work featured in Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, GQ, People, US Weekly and Elle.
Of all the famous action and sports photographers, Scottish photographer Camilla Rutherford is a force to be reckoned with; making great strides in the sports photography and landscape photography world. After graduating from Central St Martins College of Art in London, Rutherford worked as a freelance photographer and then became a ski instructor to satisfy her love of sports. She alternated between living in Wanaka, New Zealand and Verbier, Switzerland (to both ski and mountain bike) and photograph it all.
Rutherford has settled in NZ, but travels the world as an action and sports photographer, and is now an award-winning photojournalist. In 2016 she was put on Still Stoked’s list of the ‘world’s best female action sports photographers’, among many other accolades.
With over 20 years in the industry, it is no wonder that Richard Heathcote is one of the best sports photographers in the UK. He has won many coveted awards including the British Sports Photographer of the Year Award at the 2019 British Sports Journalism Awards, and the 2020 World Sports Photography Awards.
Heathcote covers an extensive range of sports and has had the privilege of photographing FIFA World Cup tournaments, UEFA European Championships, the Olympic Games, Rugby World Cup and golf’s four majors, and The Ryder Cup.
American photographer Chris Burkard is one of the most inspiring sports photographers working today. Not only is he an amazing sports photographer, but also an amazing landscape photographer and travel photographer. Burkard is one of the best sports photographers on Instagram – it’s no surprise that he has 3.6 million followers.
Only 34 years old, Burkard has already established himself as an incredible sports photographer, known for his awe-inspiring surf and kayaking images, as well as his powerful landscape images.
7. Tom Jenkins
British photographer Tom Jenkins is one of the best in the industry and has been covering sports events and personalities for more than 30 years, with The Guardian and the Observer. Jenkins has loved sports from a young age and has combined his passion for sports and his photography skill to become a sports photographer.
Jenkins is a versatile photographer having photographed five FIFA World Cups, four summer Olympic Games, four Rugby World Cups, two Cricket World Cups, World Athletics Championships, the Commonwealth Games, and major tennis championships, including Wimbledon, 20 times.
British sports photographer Lynne Cameron is a formidable player in the sports photography game, specialising in football and rugby photography, and currently holds the title of the England women’s football team official photographer. Before being the official photographer for the Lionesses, she was the official photographer for the Rangers FC for nine years, and the Scottish Rugby Union for four years.
The fact that Cameron has had the unusual experience of being the official photographer of multiple sports teams speaks to her expert skill at capturing sports action on camera.
9. Marc Aspland
British sports photographer Marc Aspland has spent the past 30 years establishing himself in the sporting sphere. Since 1993, he has been the Chief Sports Photographer at The Times and has won Sports Photographer of the Year four times.
Aspland photographs just about every sport – football, tennis, swimming, horse racing – you name it. During his impressive career, he has had the honour of photographing major sporting events such as six summer Olympic Games and four FIFA World Cup Finals.
10. Elsa Garrison
American photographer Elsa Garrison is so well-known in the industry, everyone simply recognises her by her first name only. Elsa has the honour of being the first female staff photographer at Getty’s Images. She has loved sports and photography from a young age and has worked in sports photography since graduating from the University of Missouri in 1998.
Throughout her career, Elsa has photographed the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, World Series, NBA Finals, US Open, Stanley Cup Finals, Super Bowl, FIFA World Cup, and more. Her work has been internationally published in publications such as The New York Times, TIME, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN The Magazine.
We hope you enjoyed looking at the legends behind your favourite sports photos.
While you’re here, why not look at some amazing sports photos?
This is a new album from the new Splento App, simply the best app for keeping and managing your favourite images – sports photos and beyond!
For more about the art of sports photography, check out our next article below: