Prospect Heights

World’s best sports photographers gather at Brooklyn Museum for roundtable discussion

December 20, 2016 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An image from "Who Shot Sports" of professional tennis player Serena Williams. Photo by Bob Martin, courtesy of the artist
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While the majority of Brooklynites were cozying up in front of the fire during last week’s arctic blast, hundreds of people braved the cold to attend a roundtable discussion at the Brooklyn Museum featuring a group of renowned photographers who have shot some of the most iconic moments in sports history.

The event hosted four distinguished photographers who have shot the likes of Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and Michael Phelps, among others. From Olympic Games to Super Bowls to World Series Game Sevens, these photographers have captured timeless pictures on sports’ greatest stages.

The discussion, which was moderated by photo historian Gail Buckland, was a spotlight on the museum’s special exhibition “Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present.”  

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The exhibit showcases more than 200 photographs hand-picked by Buckland for their “aesthetic, cultural and historical significance.” And with photographs ranging from 1843 to present day, the exhibit is considered one of the most thorough displays of sports photography ever curated.

The show is broken up into six sections: The beginning of sports photography, the Olympics, solo and team sports, portraits, life off the field and fans.

“When the athletes on the field or on the court are taking their shots, the photographers are taking theirs,” said Buckland. “To play and to watch and to photograph sports is to be fully in the moment. Still photographers, these guys are masters of moments, and when the action stops, the image remains.

“They’re documenting the front lines of human drama, preserving bodies in motion, giving shape to victory and defeat and capturing the spirit, the nobility of sports.”

On Thursday, photographers Walter Iooss Jr., Brooklyn native Al Bello, Simon Bruty and John Huet discussed their famous photos, how they captured them and provided insight into sports photography.

“People think you have an hour with someone,” said Iooss Jr., who has shot hundreds of Sports Illustrated covers and who has photographed almost every Super Bowl. “Maybe you have five minutes. I’ve had 2 minutes on a stopwatch. I’ve had 60 seconds on a stopwatch with athletes. But that’s almost part of the fun.

“You have to take chances to take pictures,” he continued. “You go to a game, you’re going to throw away 50 percent of your take, maybe 90 percent. You’re looking for one picture … If you can take one great picture, then it’s a success.”

With a slideshow showing some of their most famous photographs, the men went through their thought processes on each photo and discussed some of their favorite athletes to shoot.

“Serena Williams. She is one of the greatest athletes to photograph on this planet Earth,” said Canarsie native Bello. “There is nobody who is as emotionally wonderful, who spreads the court like she does, that can stretch from side to side, beautiful hair, backlit pictures, expressions and tantrums and action and dives and screaming and yelling. It’s endless.”

Iooss Jr. revealed that when he shot international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo “it took him about four seconds to take his shirt off.”

The photographers broke down all of the components that go into shooting a good photo from light, background and composition to the importance of shadows. In addition, they revealed the need to have strong sports knowledge.

Bello, who captured New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s famous one-handed catch, discussed how his knowledge of sports and innate ability to read a game helped him capture that specific moment.

“Chance favors the prepared man,” said Bello. “The Cowboys were shutting down the Giants and they were relying on the passing game. I knew Beckham [Jr.] was an up-and-coming star, so I positioned myself in the end zone and anticipated the pass. It was right place, right time.”

Simon Bruty revealed that for him, the best photographs aren’t taken during games.    

“We always see [athletes] on the stage earning all hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Bruty, “but all the hard work that goes on behind [the scenes], that for me is where the real photographs are taking place.”

Following the roundtable discussion, attendees had the opportunity to ask the photographers questions and to attend the exhibit free of charge thanks to a donation from Canon. Tickets for the exhibition are normally $16.

For those unable to attend the event, the live stream of the discussion can be re-watched at

The exhibition is on display until Jan. 8.


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