Neil Leifer is considered one of the greatest sports photographers in history. His photographs of Muhammad Ali have become iconic images of the boxer, but Leifer also has more than 200 Sports Illustrated, Time and People covers. The famed photographer’s first cover shot for Sports Illustrated was at age 19.
He has photographed 15 Olympics since 1964, eight summer and seven winter. It’s a unique opportunity to shoot events that go unnoticed during off-years, he said.
“Working as a sports photographer in the U.S., there’s a steady diet of basketball, baseball, football, hockey,” he said.
The Olympics provide a variety of sports, many that the public hardly sees otherwise but that make beautiful photographs.
Leifer never approached the Olympic Games any differently than any other sporting event, he recently told CNN’s Don Riddell in an interview. But the Olympics are a “decathlon every day” for photographers.
He approached the games by looking for a new angle, since Sports Illustrated doesn’t come out until the middle of the week. He scouted his positions in advance, watched practices and made sure his camera was in the right settings.
“Two things photographers worry about – you’re worried about your exposure … and you’re worried about focus,” he told Riddell.
He didn’t plan for front cover photos, he said, but he looked for the shot he wanted.
“I think that most good photographers, even with action pictures, have an idea and a plan of what they wanted,” he told Riddell.
But these days, Leifer believes television coverage – with remote cameras, slow motion and instant replay – strongly competes with photography. And he doesn’t miss it, he said. Leifer now focuses on producing and directing films.
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN