Walter Iooss Jr.’s photographs have graced 300 Sports Illustrated covers in a profession spanning six decades. He has captured iconic pictures of just about every athlete, like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and Kobe Bryant.
Iooss (pronounced Yoce, which rhymes with dose) has photographed the initially 52 Super Bowls and spent two years carrying out a photodocumentary, Shooting for the Gold, with US athletes as they ready for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He has also captured athletes in Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola, and a lot more campaigns.
Walter Iooss, Baltimore, MD, 1963 © Bob Peterson
In 2021, Forbes compared the photographer to a master painter of old, saying: “His masterful manipulation of light and shadow evokes Rembrandt’s chiaroscuro, or ‘light and dark’ to reveal contrasts of detail.”
Very first Paid Assignment from Sports Illustrated at Age 17
Tom Brady, New Orleans, LA, 2002
Iooss’ father, a jazz musician, was interested in photography.
“One of the issues my father and I shared was a really like for photography and sports,” says Iooss, as he joined PetaPixel for a conversation from Crucial Biscayne, Florida. “[When] my parents got divorced, I would see my father on Sundays, and [he would take me to] football games, basketball games, and it began when I was 15. I was just consumed with it and took an accelerated fundamentals course at The Germain College of Photography in decrease Manhattan and gave up my beloved stickball for the summer time.”
Kobe Bryant, San Pedro, CA, 2000
Iooss’s father let him shoot with his Asahi Pentax (possibly a Spotmatic) with an Asahi Super-TAKUMAR 300mm f/four lens. Young Iooss took 3 or 4 frames, and when he processed the roll of film and held up the frames, absolutely everyone stated that his future was unlocked from that moment on — “that’s what I was going to do.”
“I known as up Sports Illustrated when I was 16,” remembers Iooss. “I normally loved searching at the magazine and was transfixed by the imagery. I picked up the telephone in the kitchen and asked for a gentleman known as George Bloodgood, an assistant image editor. These days, people today answered their phones, and I told him, ‘I am Walter, yes, I have a portfolio. Can I come and show it?’
“He knew I was a kid, and I try to remember he stated, ‘You have any nudes in it?’ He invited me more than to his workplace and began providing me spec assignments. He stated, ‘Go to Philly. Your father will take you. Photograph this certain player. We’ll give you the film, course of action it, and critique it. Then [after 5-6 tries], he gave me my initially assignment.”
Michael Jordan, Highland Park, IL, 1998
The assignment was $one hundred a day, which was a lot of cash then — it is the equivalent of about $1,040 in today’s cash — and that was the starting. By 19, he was “all more than the spot.”
Tiger Woods, Reunion, FL, 2007
Shooting 300 Covers for Sports Illustrated
Iooss began shooting covers for SI when he was 20 and has amassed more than 300 of them in his lifetime. In truth, in some years, he had ten to 12 covers.
San Francisco 49ers Dwight Clark (#87) catches the winning TD vs. Dallas Cowboys in the course of the NFC Playoffs San Fran, CA 1/11/1982 © Walter Iooss Jr.
Iooss preferred cover image is The Catch, of Dwight Clark producing a leaping grab to full a touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Montana with seconds left in the game enabling the 49ers to defeat the Cowboys 28–27. This is also regarded as a single of the greatest plays in NFL history.
“That’s a single of my most nicely-recognized pictures,” says Iooss. “I spent that season covering the Dallas Cowboys from camp in Thousand Oaks, California, in July via the Candlestick Park in San Francisco. On that January day when Joe Montana rolled suitable with seconds left and threw a ball that only a single man on earth could catch, Dwight Clark.
“We shipped the film out to New York. I’m not certain how it got there, and subsequent week Sports Illustrated cropped the image with the headline The Catch. It is arguably the most well-known football image.”
Yogi Berra & Whitey Ford, Tampa, FL, 2001
With film photography, you never ever knew no matter whether you had captured the ball and player in the fantastic position. Also, this was shot on slide film exactly where the exposure was a great deal a lot more important than colour unfavorable.
“I didn’t know I had it. I had practiced taking that form of image. This is not like I abruptly took a single image. I’ve been operating on this for years since I really like pass receivers in pro football. I normally had a standard lens [50mm on a Canon F1]…if an individual was 15 feet from me, I was prepared and pre-focused.
Tony Scott & Garry Templeton, Los Angeles, CA, 1979
“You just have to think wherever you are going to go late in the game is the suitable spot, and I had a sense for it. I was in the suitable spot numerous occasions, and I watched Montana and photographed him rolling suitable as he released the ball. I saw some thing coming in from my suitable side, and The Catch was born. At the fantastic time (of the exposure), his fingers weren’t even totally embracing the ball.”
Sports Illustrated in some cases chartered a Learjet just to ship exposed film back to the workplace, and it went from chopper to Learjet to limo in its journey.
Derek Jeter, Tampa, FL, 2006 for baseball book © Walter Iooss Jr. New York Yankees Derek Jeter in the course of a photo shoot on the roof of Grey Marketing developing, New York, NY five/13/1999, © Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated/Getty Pictures
“After Super Bowl 1, Neil Leifer and, I consider, Jim Drake and I flew back on a jet which had to refuel at the halfway spot in America known as Grand Island, Nebraska. So, you get off the plane for 15 minutes, they refuel the jet, and then go on to Kennedy or Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, wherever we landed, and you get a limo or a chopper.
“One of the Super Bowl [films] had been choppered out of Detroit to the Learjet. I applied to take the film back from Wimbledon on the Concord [supersonic plane taking three hrs. from London to New York]. I applied to leave with the film right after Wimbledon on Monday morning. You arrived prior to you left since of the time alter. If I left on a ten a.m. or noon flight, I’d be at Kennedy [New York Airport] at ten in the morning and hand the film off to be processed. They would edit it and place it in the magazine, which would come out Thursday.”
“For this image, I had two distinct negatives printed onto a single piece of paper. I normally loved this image as it captures two sides of his numerous personalities. In the course of the shoot, Shaq told me I was the second-finest photographer he’d worked with, so I looked at him and asked, “Who’s the finest?!” He answered, “Me.” Classic Shaq. He is a single funny guy.” March 7th, 2002, NFT Mint Occasion For Image: #01 The Bear, Mike Taliferro, LA, CA, 1995
In the course of his active shooting days for SI, Iooss was out of the home for half of the year just about every year. His wife stated that he was a human FedEx package — SI just pastes a label on him and sends him off. She got tired of answering the query, “Where is Walter?” so she produced up a T-shirt with the very same query in the front, and on the reverse had been the answers: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York.
Michael Jordan on Iooss: “He’s Speedy, and He’s Good”
Iooss says that Michael Jordan was the most exciting to photograph.
Walter Iooss & Michael Jordan, Chicago, IL, 1990
“First of all, you can not take a terrible image of Michael Jordan, and I had extraordinary access to a single of the most well-known athletes in the sport’s history,” remembers Iooss. “We did a book collectively and a second book, and I did a lot of his marketing shoots all via the 90s, and you know he requested me since his greatest quote for me was ‘He’s swift, and he’s very good.’
“You know, quick’s a single factor, but if you are carrying out a shitty job, they are gonna get an individual else, completely.”
Michael Jordan, Chicago, IL, 1991
Iooss has 3 photographs that are his preferred, and two of them incorporate Michael Jordan.
“Maybe 3 [favorites]: the Blue Dunk with Michael Jordan, my little ones in Cuba playing stickball with ten little ones on a corner, and the Jordan slam dunk.
‘The Blue Dunk’ Michael Jordan, Lisle, IL, 1987
“Blue Dunk. There’s a image anything about which was designed. Michael had a children’s camp in Lisle, Illinois, outdoors of Chicago. I met him the day prior to, and I shot a portrait of him which ended up becoming a cover, and the subsequent day I had this notion [for a photo.] I painted a massive parking lot, a single side red and the other blue.”
Iooss had a visual of a higher-angle shot of Jordan dunking with his sharp shadow from sunlight low on the horizon.
Michael Jordan, Coconut Grove, FL, 1993 Magic Johnson, Beverly HIlls, CA, 1991 Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles, CA, 2001
“And to make this appear with the shadow, you can not have a stationary basket unless it occurred to be in the fantastic position [meaning it had to be moved around.] There had been no NBA baskets in Chicago, so we had a basket driven in from St Louis, and it was crucial you could have a genuine basket, which could be raised or lowered as Michael didn’t want to jump complete blast all the time.
“I had a cherry picker so I could get above it, but I didn’t know what colour uniform he would put on till he showed up. So, if he wore his red uniform, we would go blue [court], or red if he wore the blue uniform.
“It had to take spot in between two-three p.m. for the length of the shadow [to be correct]. I couldn’t get any clouds. I had the fantastic day, and the blue dunk [he wore red] was designed.
“It was shot on the Canon F-1 Higher-Speed Motor Drive Camera, which could shoot film at 14 fps [not a typo!].”
‘The Corner’ Havana, Cuba, 1999
“My little ones in Cuba playing stickball with ten little ones on a corner was a Renaissance for me. It was like bringing back my childhood. I photographed a lot of kids’ sports all through the planet. The beauty in sports is when you play it, absolutely nothing else exists. If you are getting difficulties, after a pitch is delivered to you and you swing at it, nothing’s taking place in the planet.
“It’s like you take a jump shot and you wait for the sound of the swish, the planet stands nonetheless, and that is a single of the beauties of sport. It is feeling the ball and the action and the movement. I’ve normally been possessed, even as a kid, and attempted to make use of it, photographing the little ones in Cuba, Bangkok, Brazil, and exactly where I grew up. I photographed my small league group when I was like 21.”
‘The Slam Dunk’ Michael Jordan, Chicago, IL, 1988
Iooss’s third preferred photo is of Michael Jordan dunking. He was just not receiving the shot till Jordan helped him with a positioning tip that helped him clinch the winning image.
“The slam dunk. I got two Jordans in there [his three favorite photos.] The slam dunk in 1988, a single frame, fantastic.
“What I discovered was in the slam dunk contest in 1987 in Seattle, which I lit [with strobes in the catwalk]. It [the setting] took a good image, but it wasn’t Michael Jordan. I looked at the photographs, and Jordan’s face was normally blocked. You didn’t know if he was coming from behind.
“So, in 1988, I went to the slam dunk contest in Chicago. I had strobes up in the Chicago Arena and arrived incredibly early on a freezing day. Michael comes in, and he’s sitting in the front row, and just like people today setting up stuff, I began to speak about it.
‘This is either the stupidest query I’ve ever asked or the smartest. If you can inform me which way you are going to go’…because anything with Michael’s a game. He stated, ‘Sure.’ I stated, ‘How are you going to inform me?’ He stated, ‘You watch I’ll point on my knee.’ I stated, ‘You’re gonna try to remember this?’ ‘You watch,’ he says.
“So, I’m sitting beneath the basket. I appear more than. He pats his knee and goes like that, so that suggests I have to go to a single side so I can see his face. He ran from a single finish of the court to the other with the well-known slam dunk. I was suitable in the basket with my Hasselblad, and he fell into my lap, which was sort of thrilling for me but not for him.
“So, on the final dunk, I was in the very same position, he looked down the court at me, and he goes [gestures] ‘slide more than infant,’ and that was it, slam dunk 88, which ran on the cover [sometime later.]
“I firmly think in it, you know, you can ask any individual something. They may possibly consider you are crazy, and you could get a No, not carrying out that, or you may possibly get a Yes.”
LeBron James, San Francisco, CA, 2009 Larry Bird, Boston, MA, 1989 Kevin Garnett, Minneapolis, MN, 1999 Kevin Garnett, Minneapolis, MN, 1999
The Cameras, Films, and Lights for Sports Photography
Iooss began his photography as a teenager on his father’s Pentax. He then moved up to the Nikon F and then the F2.
“I applied Nikons for years, and then I got involved with Canon in the late 70s. I have been a Canon Explorer of Light for a extended, extended time because they began. I have kept all these earlier cameras in our home in Montauk [NY] — numerous feet of cameras. I’ve got pretty much all the cameras I applied. I nonetheless have the original Pentax but not the 300mm. I do not know what occurred to that, but I have my normal lens.”
Serena Williams, Scottsdale, AZ, 2003 Serena Williams, Crucial Biscayne, Fl, 2005 Tiger Woods, Orlando, FL, 2002
“My father and I would go to Madison Square Gardens,” Iooss continues. “I would use a film known as Isopan Record [Agfa Isopan Record (640 ASA (ISO)]. It was dark. That spot was a dungeon. Isopan was a higher-speed film [at that time].”
Iooss’s principal film was Kodak Tri-X, and he would also push-course of action it suitable from his starting days.
“My initially colour film was Kodachrome, ASA (ISO) ten, suitable ten. And then, you know, Ektachrome came in. It was 160 ISO or some thing. Almost everything I had, which sounds old-fashioned now, was the finest in the planet. ISO 2000 now does not imply something.”
Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss on the field in the course of the 1975 NFC Divisional Playoff game in between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum. © Herb Weitman, US PRESSWIRE Dec 27, 1975, Los Angeles, CA
Michael Davis, Colorado Springs, CO, 1983 Kelly Slater, Melbourne Beach, FL, 1990
In 1982, Fujifilm commissioned Iooss to do a photodocumentary of athletes attempting for the 1984 Summer season Olympics in Los Angeles.
Most of his later film operate is shot on Fujifilm.
“Fujichrome incredibly nicely could have been the finest higher-speed colour film ever invented,” he says.
Tina Turner, New York, NY, 1969 Jimi Hendrix, New York, NY, 1969
Iooss set up strobes in the catwalk of huge arenas, as that was the favored method of SI.
“Yes, we applied to do that. I had to set all these strobes [Speedotrons] up there, which was a nightmare, but you know you can make attractive light, and now the arenas are so illuminated I do not know if you necessarily will need them. If you turn off a single light or two lights, you can make some amazing effects, which I began carrying out back in the 80s.”
Joe Namath, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 1969 Frank Torre, Philadelphia, PA, 1962 Dave Parker & Grant Jackson, Bradenton, FL, 1980
“I did it with Jordan in numerous areas,” the photographer says. “I’d take a single light and just aim at the crowd behind him and then a single light more than the basket. You applied to be in a position to place them up on the mezzanine level in Philadelphia in the late 60s, so the light was a great deal decrease, and it had a a great deal improved angle. Absolutely everyone was smoking, so the arena had this appear that no longer exists. The lights now are pretty much straight above.”
Iooss generally applied a Hasselblad for the flash shots as the flash synchronized up to 1/500 sec on the leaf shutter (situated in between lens components close to the aperture blades) alternatively of 35mm, exactly where it was slower.
Pelé, New York, NY, 1987 Michelle Kwan, New York, NY, 1997 “This was photographed in the course of the 1984 Summer season Olympics in Los Angeles though covering American athletes for ‘Shooting for the Gold,’ but I occurred to see this track cycling race and couldn’t resist photographing it as the Italian group looked so good in their blue uniforms all lined up.” — Walter Iooss, Jr., 1984 Bjorn Borg, U.S. Open, Flushing Meadows, NY, 1978 Arnold Palmer, Ligonier, PA, 1965 Arnold Palmer, Chaska, MN, 1970 Tunnels, Haena, Kauai, 1976
“The flash sync speed was 125th of a second, then it went to 1/160th and then 1/250th exactly where you nonetheless get an edge, but if you go 500th of a second on a Blad [Hasselblad], no ghosting,” says Iooss. “You can not use 120 when they want some thing repetitive that requirements a motor drive. If you are carrying out something in the studio, it was normally 6×7 and the Mamiya RZ67 with Winder II motor drive. I also had the Mamiya 7 [a 6x7cm medium-format rangefinder camera system with interchangeable lenses.] I also shot the 20 x 24 inch Polaroid for years.
“I had this Canon F-1 Higher-Speed Motor Drive camera that took 14 frames per second [introduced for the 1984 Winter Olympics. It had two huge battery packs attached to the bottom and would chew through a 36-exposure roll of film in just 2.57 seconds. The lens had to remain stopped down for the entire burst and had a fixed translucent pellicle mirror.]
“I try to remember when I went to a football game with this, all the pros on the sidelines had cameras shooting at 5 frames a second. When I let this factor go, I looked at the other demoralized photographers since if I was in concentrate, you couldn’t beat me.”
When autofocus came about, Iooss was content to use it.
“You’re damn suitable, I did [use autofocus]. It saved a lot of photographers’ lives. Autofocus now is so good it is ridiculous. The very good action photographer at Sports Illustrated then could concentrate the manual 600mm. You became incredibly adept at working with it.
“I could alter the balance a small with the camera, and you just became [an expert]. It is like practicing the piano. You had a knack for adhere to concentrate which wasn’t that simple, and then when autofocus came in, you had to be incredibly cautious of what was in your foreground [lest it locked in on that instead of the subject].
“This is the camera I use these days [he holds up an iPhone], incredibly very good. These cameras are exceptional, and you normally have a camera with you. Most of the time, nothing’s taking place, but if some thing exceptional takes place, you have got it.”
Extra Freedom in Editorial Than Marketing
Apart from editorial, Iooss did industrial shoots for Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Gatorade, Fujifilm, Eastman Kodak, Camel, and Marlboro.
“I imply, the marketing business enterprise was so profitable that at a single point, I would keep down in Crucial Biscayne and operate for Pepsi, and the subsequent day I worked for Coca-Cola. So, we’d have to hide anything in the [hotel] area, all the slides, and then you operate for Adidas a single day and Puma the subsequent.”
Muhammad Ali & Ernie Terrell, Houston, TX, 1967 ‘Dodger Stadium’ Los Angeles, CA, 1993 Jack Nicklaus, West Palm Beach, FL, 1967
“Editorially, there’s a lot more freedom than marketing since they ordinarily have a idea in marketing. Art directors draw up what they want for the ad in advance. There had been a lot of very good advertisements that restricted your creativity. They employ you for what you do, and then in some cases, when they get you there, they do not want you to do specifically what you do. But in the finish, you have got to alter that.
“I was on a set in a studio a single day, and I took the initially Polaroid and looked at it, and they’re all hovering more than it and stated, ‘Can we attempt some thing distinct?’ I stated, ‘I just began. I’m not even shooting film.
“Once the screen came in, people today are like more than your back. Everyone’s staring at the screen tethered. I didn’t like that either.”
Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Troubles
Iooss has been fortunate to photograph some of the most attractive ladies in the planet, and that also in the most attractive areas.
Malia Jones, Kahuku, Hawaii, 1999
“The swimsuit challenge was incredibly unique back then. I shot 25 or some thing someplace up there. They had been good adventures. Beyond just the attractive ladies, exactly where you went to Seychelles, Fiji, I imply, some of the most fabulous areas in the planet. You woke up just about every day with a likelihood in the morning and evening to take a good image. You do not have that likelihood just about every day, but on the swimsuit challenge, you did.
“I applied fill flash, and I use incandescent lighting. I’ve applied just about every form of light. The crew grew and grew and grew. I only had a single assistant, and then we had a digital guy and hair and makeup. You had the SI video crew. Then you had the editor, the assistant editor, and perhaps a different assistant editor. So, what grew from 4 or 5 people today on the road became an extravaganza.
“I had a motor drive I applied. The finest years had been with the Mamiya RZ67, despite the fact that a lot of 35mm initially.
“I came in 1973 [swimsuit issue first published in 1964]. The finest element of the swimsuit challenge was when it was at its peak reputation in the 90s. After a year on Sunday at prime time, when people today watch Network Television like ABC, they’d have the swimsuit challenge, and I was the male lead for a handful of years.
“All the athletes would watch the show as it was about hot girls. In the locker rooms, no a single would spend consideration to me, but then abruptly, ‘Hey, are you the photographer who shot the swimsuit girls?’ I stated, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Oh, come more than right here,’ and then it is like, can I hook them up and ‘I can not hook you up.’
“Christy Brinkley [appeared on an unprecedented three consecutive covers in 1979, 1980, and 1981] was so attractive, it was Cancun, her initially shoot, and I try to remember I shot 23 rolls of film on generally a single pose since I didn’t want to cease. It was just like she radiated character and beauty in her prime.”
Photography for Operate, Music for the Heart
Iooss is recognized for his sports photography, but handful of of his fans are conscious that he is incredibly passionate about music as nicely – and, perhaps, even a lot more!
“I normally believed that if my parents had stayed collectively, I would have been in the music business enterprise,” reflects Iooss. “But I’m not complaining about what occurred.
“I do not know [what I would have done], perhaps piano. I imply, I sang in choirs. I could sing but not sufficient for jazz. I’m certain I would have gone into R&B.
“I can not reside without having music. I could, I consider, reside without having photography faster than no music.”
You can see a lot more of Walter Iooss’ operate on his web page and Instagram.
About the author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher primarily based in Atlanta, GA. He began a single of the initially digital camera classes in New York City at The International Center of Photography in the 90s. He was the director and teacher for Sony/Preferred Photography magazine’s Digital Days Workshops. You can attain him here.
Image credits: All photographs courtesy Walter Iooss.