Sports Photographers: The Most Underappreciated People in Sports

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IJuly 11, 2008

We like pictures. Pictures help us understand something if a textual description can't. 

We can recognize great works of art such as paintings.  We acknowledge those who did them.  Anyone who knows even a little bit about art knows some artists and their creations.   

This isn't the case with sports photographers.  Even the most avid sports readers probably don't know even one photographer who contributes their work to the weekly magazine they subscribe to.  But they probably have one or more favorite writers whose names they know. 

Look at the cover of the July 14-21 issue of Sports Illustrated.  It has a full-page photo of the "greatest match ever:" the Wimbledon Championship match between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on it. 

You'll notice that the title of the featured article about the Federer-Nadal match and its sub-heading as well as its author's name (L. John Wertheim) are shown on the cover on top of part of the left-hand side of the picture. 

But the person responsible for taking the snapshot is not noted.  He isn't known or credited.  However, I'm willing to bet hundreds of thousands of subscribers to the magazine knew the author's name already because they enjoyed previous articles of his.     

And it's a great picture, capturing a great moment of the action. 

Federer is seen near the net catching the ball on his racquet at the last second in an attempt to backhand a shot that looked as if it was headed for his left baseline.

It was obviously a tough shot to handle; very fast, as Nadal is about 10 feet from the net. He's trying to stop his momentum and ready himself for his next shot.  This is evidence that he was close to the net when he hit the ball. 

The snapshot was taken from a vantage point above the court and behind Federer. A bit of zoom-in puts the image about 10 or 15 feet behind Federer. 

That's just one example out of hundreds—or probably even thousands—of excellent photographs depicting America's best sporting events in recent memory whose takers went uncredited—or very lightly credited. 

Even the photographers who are recognized for their work don't enjoy nearly the same fame that top sports writers do. 

Go to, and you'll see a big picture of the most popular story, which will be advertised at the top of the front page.

The first time you visit the page, read the information about the article you always do.  You only read the headline and the teaser, didn't you. 

Then click on the link to the full story and do what you usually do. 

Let me see if I can guess what you read and did. 

On the front page you read the article's headline and the sub-heading as well as the picture.  Then you clicked on the link to the full story.  When the page loaded, you read the author's name because that was the first thing your eye was drawn to.  Then you read the column. 

But you didn't notice who took the picture that advertised the article, did you?  Didn't think so.  You wouldn't have even known where to look, right?  Thought so.

But you knew exactly where to look for the author's name, and you saw it as well as remembered (okay, that last one is a stretch), didn't you?  Thought so. 

To further my point, if you have read any of the Best American Sports Writing books, you know who Glen Stout is: the senior editor of the series. 

But I bet you can't name even one sports photographer.  But then again, if you answered "yes" to that question, "You wouldn't have even known where to look [for the photographer's name], right?"  then you wouldn't have had a chance of knowing one.     

Everyone puts their best foot forward.  The fact that photographers' work is emphasized so much and they only get minimal due for it tells them that they don't matter. 

But sports writers still matter.  Their names are printed in size 24 bold font above their columns and their email addresses are even put somewhere on the page above or below the article to make them even more known, famous, and accessible. 

The icing on the cake is that taking pictures of sporting events constantly in motion and trying to capture just the right moment of the event is extremely difficult. 

It requires incredible timing, knowing every part of the camera down to the last detail (so that once a chance to take a great photo presents itself it doesn't go to waste), and the ability to get everything desired into the tiny space available for content in an image.

I hate to admit it as a guy who loves sports writing, but sports photographers' craft is so much harder to master.     

Wow, sports photographers are definitely the most underappreciated people in sports.      


    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

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    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report