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Picking the Brain of Renowned Sports Photographer Neil Leifer


Renowned sports photographer Neil Leifer has captured some of the most recognizable photos in the history of sports, particularly of Muhammad Ali, one of his long-term subjects. Here’s a fantastic 17-minute video by The Art of Photography in which Leifer talks about his life, the stories behind his iconic photos, and his experience in the ever-evolving photo industry.

One of Leifer’s most famous photos is of Ali knocking down Sonny Liston and standing over him, and a second is an overhead, remote-triggered photo of Ali knocking out Cleveland Williams at the Houston Astrodome in 1966.

In the video above, Leifer shares how the Astrodome fight was the first time it was physically possible to set up an overhead remote camera in hopes of capturing the unusual shot he had envisioned. And because it took 3.5 seconds for the strobes to recycle, Leifer only had one chance to capture his perfect shot. He nailed it.

Leifer spent a total of 16 years shooting for Sports Illustrated and was the first photographer to have over 100 cover photos to his name. In 1978, he expanded from sports to global news and became the first time-time photographer at TIME magazine.

Through his career, Leifer has been at ground zero in witnessing emerging trends and techniques in sports photography and photojournalism that are commonplace and taken for granted today. But photographers like Leifer played huge roles in raising the bar for sports photographers everywhere, and the video above is well worth a watch if you’re interested in hearing from one of the greatest to ever play the sports photography game.

Update on May 16, 2018: The Art of Photography has removed its interview with Leifer at the photographer’s request. Jared Polin also interviewed Leifer. Here’s his great 45-minute video: