Tag Archives: sports photography

Behind the Cover: Photographing Super Mario

Like many famous athletes, Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli has developed a reputation for outlandish behavior. But photographer Levon Biss was not worried during his recent TIME International cover shoot with the star, who is currently playing for the British football club Manchester City.

(Read More: Mario Balotelli: The Infamously Mercurial Brilliance of the Soccer Star)

“His personality is very shy, actually,” said Biss. “He wears outrageous clothes and sometimes on the football pitch he does outrageous things, but as a person he is not outrageous, he is very, very shy.”

The shoot did get off to a slightly rocky start when Balotelli arrived at the studio Biss had set up at Manchester City’s training grounds. “He walked in and there were 12 or 13 people in there,” Biss explained. “I think he got quite nervous and walked straight back out again. We had to wait another half-hour for him to come back.”

Despite the delay, the shoot eventually went off without a hitch. To compensate for Balotelli’s discomfort, Biss focused on stylized portraits, rather than action shots. “He looks quite interesting, so you don’t need to do much with him,” said Biss. “He’s got quite a brooding character, so we tried to enhance that with a bit of red lighting and keep the images quite graphic.”

This is not an unusual approach when photographing athletes, who unlike actors and other celebrities, said Biss, are not used to performing for the camera. “These are sports people,” he said. “You have to hinge on what you can do photographically instead of relying on them to come through with a shining personality.”

Biss makes sure to work fast and use a straightforward, no nonsense approach, similar to what his subjects would encounter on the field. Most importantly, Biss, said is keeping the sessions short and sweet.

“They want to be out of there,” said Biss. “If you can get on their side by saying ‘look we’ve got an hour but we can do this in half an hour,’ you are automatically their friend and they will give you what you want straight away.”

Levon Biss is a London-based photographer and regular contributor to TIME.

At the Fights: How Howard Schatz Gets His Best Boxing Shots

In his six-year journey to comprehensively capture the world of professional boxing, Howard Schatz learned that the sport is one of courage, but also of constraints. Boxers risk getting injured, knocked out or killed when they step into the ring, all while navigating limited space, compared to the size of a basketball court or football field. Plus, they’re somewhat limited in their motions, too. “Some sports require several movements, like basketball—players jump, run, turn, pass, shoot—but boxers are essentially just ducking and throwing punches,” Schatz says. “I was interested in the tremendous challenge of making a photograph of boxers because of this limited range of human motion.”

That interest inspired his newly-released tome, At the Fights: Inside the World of Professional Boxing, in which Schatz chronicles the industry and its most prominent players—from boxing champions and club fighters to managers and promoters—over 256 large photographs.

The majority of the photographs were taken in a single frame, even if their special-effects aesthetic suggests otherwise. “I had to find a way to make a photograph that had the energy and power that boxing has,” Schatz says. “I always say that what boxers do has movement and depth, while the resulting image is still and flat.”

To make images that exuded the dynamism inherent in boxing itself, Schatz experimented with flash, lighting, shutter speed—and even threw water, salt and powder on the athletes—to create the stroboscopic effect.

For a portrait of Argentine boxer Sergio Martinez (slide #1), Schatz timed how long it took him to complete two jumps of the rope—.6 seconds—and then set off a strobe light to go off every .01 seconds, creating 60 flashes, while he photographed him. A special light that went off at the half-way mark added extra drama.

In another shoot with Amir Khan, the photographer set up his camera 40-ft. away from the boxer and had an assistant throw salt on him. Schatz then asked Khan to swing at the salt—hard enough to hit his camera—creating a spray effect that resulted in a highly energetic shot.

Schatz began exploring with these different methods after a Sports Illustrated shoot of baseball player Albert Pujols a few years ago. Photo editor Steve Fine had asked him to do a stroboscopic study on the great hitter, and Schatz was disappointed by the fact that he needed to create two frames—one for the bat, and one for the player—for one picture. Ever since, he’s relished at the idea of playing scientist in the studio. “I photograph to surprise, delight and amaze myself, so this constant, unending learning process has been enjoyable,” Schatz says of photographic journey of making the book. “It’s been a phenomenally rich education—a thrilling experience.”

Howard Schatz is a New York-based photographer. See more of his work here.

Photographer #446: Tomasz Gudzowaty

Tomasz Gudzowaty, 1971, Poland, studied law at the University of Warsaw before starting a career in photography. He started as a nature photographer, turned to social documentary work and is currently focusing on documentary sports photography. He concentrates mostly on non-commercial sports, sports that are not present in the media or those that are somehow different from the mainstream sports. Examples of these activities are pole dancing, sumo wrestling, wrestling and urban golf in India, Lucha Libre; a Mexican version of free wrestling, car racing in Mexico, freerunning, Mongolian horseracing, Chinese gymnasts and synchronized swimming. Tomasz tells his stories in the form of photo-essays. His strong and powerful black and white images are made with a large format analogue camera. His work, consisting of a vast amount of projects, has appeared in numerous exhibitions and magazines as Newsweek, Time and The Guardian and has won a large number of awards amongst which are the World Press Photo and NPPA Best of Photojournalism. The following images come from the essays Naadam Race, Lucha Libre and Pole Dancers’ Families.

Website: www.gudzowaty.com

Big Shots: Photography at ‘The Sports Show’

Neil Leifer’s 1965 photograph of Muhammad Ali hovering over a knocked-out Sonny Liston may be the most famous sports shot of all time, but you will not find it at “The Sports Show,” a photography and new-media exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Nor will you find a single picture of the most famous athlete of the past 15 years, Tiger Woods, or of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team celebrating its miracle win, or of American soccer player Brandi Chastain ripping off her shirt after clinching the 1999 World Cup. Can you really mount a worthwhile retrospective of sports photography without these iconic athletes and moments? Turns out you can. In fact, “The Sports Show” (on view through May 13) is better off for it.

When I checked out the exhibit on opening day, I expected a greatest-hits compendium of sports images. But curator David Little took a more surprising approach, choosing photographs that offer more social commentary than celebration. For example, the circa-1899 portrait of female high school students playing basketball in dresses sends the message that women, too, could participate in emerging sports. (The picture was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, whom LIFE magazine once called “the closest thing to an official court photographer the United States has ever had.”) More than a century later, that message continues to resonate: Title IX has delivered athletic opportunities to millions of girls, but female athletes still fight for the same opportunities and recognition that boys get.

The exhibit casts a skeptical eye on the emotional energy we expend on sports. In 1970 photographer Tod Papageorge toured the country capturing fans at big events like the Iron Bowl (the Alabama-vs.-Auburn college-football rivalry) and opening day at Yankee Stadium. Some people in the crowd are goofing off, but many others appear pensive. The photographs invite the viewer to wonder what the spectators are thinking and feeling. Is their favorite team losing? Or are real-life stresses still on their minds? Papageorge bitingly called this project—a portion of which is on display in Minneapolis—American Sports, 1970, or How We Spent the War in Vietnam.

Read More: “Big Shots: The impact of sports on society, seen through the camera’s eye.”

The Sports Show is on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts now through May 13.

MORE: Check out TIME.com’s new sports blog: Keeping Score.

The Golden Age of Baseball: Photographs by Charles M. Conlon

During his 38 years of snapping elegant, action-packed baseball pictures, Charles Conlon was the singular figure who captured the early years of modern baseball; from 1904 to 1942, he was the sport’s de facto official photographer. And with the recent release of The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs, some freshly discovered shots are being added to the Conlon canon. The compendium, published by Abrams Books in September, is a fitting follow up to Baseball’s Golden Age, Conlon’s 1993 book of the photographer’s images, which was also being re-released last month.

Conlon wasn’t raised with a camera in his hand. At the turn of the century, he was a newspaper proofreader, toiling for the New York Evening Telegram. That paper’s sports editor, John Foster, was also the assistant editor of the annual Spalding Baseball Guide. This book was not only a promotional publication for the sporting goods company, but, in the words of famed New Yorker baseball writer Roger Angell, “indispensable to any true fan.” As Angell writes in the foreward to Baseball’s Golden Age, “these pocket-size baseball compendiums contained the most up-to-date rules of the game, complete statistics and detailed summaries of the previous season, scheduling for the upcoming season, essays, editorials, and hundreds of photographs.”

Foster knew Conlon had a hobby: photography. So he asked Conlon if he’d put it to use, in his spare time, for the Guide. Over the next four decades, Conlon took some of the most iconic shots in baseball history. An unforgettable close-up of Babe Ruth, a young DiMaggio taking a swing, and Ty Cobb sliding into third base — his teeth-clenched, dirt flying in the air — are among his greatest hits.

It’s memorable images like these that appear in The Big Show, which features a surprising shot of Ruth in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform – he was a coach for the team in 1938. Elsewhere, the 1917 Philadelphia Athletics are seen taking military instruction—the American League president wanted to show that his teams were taking part in the war effort, and portraits of Hall of Famers DiMaggio, Christy Mathewson, Connie Mack, Phil Rizzuto, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker and Lou Gehrig are also included in this collection.

While Conlon loved the ballpark, his gig was risky. “Aside from countless narrow escapes, I was seriously injured twice,” he says in the ’93 book. “On one occasion, less than half an hour after I had assisted in caring for a brother photographer who was hit in the head by a batted ball, a vicious line drive down the first base line caught me just above the ankle, and I was unable to walk for a couple of weeks.” A second baseman for the New York Giants, Larry Doyle, had a habit of tossing his bat, which sent the shutterbugs ducking. “[Giants manager John] McGraw saw me get a close shave on day from a Doyle bat,” Conlon said, “and ordered Larry to tie the stick to his wrist with a thong.”

Sean Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @seanmgregory.