David Cannon’s surname seemed to foretell his future career as a photographer.
After being awarded the PGA of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Photojournalism in May, the 67-year-old was praised for his exceptional technical skills and artistic talent.
Although his initial professional camera was a Canon, the Englishman’s path to becoming a top sports photographer was far from predetermined. He did not receive any formal training.
Cannon, who was born in Sussex, was a skilled golfer during his younger years and had a handicap of one. He participated in numerous amateur tournaments, placing eighth at the British Youths Golf Championship in 1974. He also had the opportunity to play with a young Nick Faldo at the same tournament the following year.
Cannon’s aspirations of becoming a professional player were dashed when he had to share the fairways with the future six-time major winner.
“When I competed alongside Faldo, I realized that I wasn’t even on the same level,” he shared with CNN Sport. “He was truly exceptional.”
Cannon needed employment to compensate for the low monetary benefits in amateur golf. He took a job at a company that produced nylon sheets, but after four years, he desired a different experience. When he spontaneously spoke with his family friend Neville Chadwick, who worked as a photographer at the Leicester News Service, he was presented with the opportunity to capture some nearby sporting events. Cannon eagerly accepted the offer.
In November 1979, he sold his car in order to purchase a small telephoto lens and a camera, specifically a Canon AE-1. Shortly after, he found himself in a rugby stadium watching a New Zealand Tour match.
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At the age of 24, he relied on only two key principles that have been the foundation of his work ever since: “Emphasize the eyes and frame the subject.”
Cannon explained that he had a breakthrough moment when he took a break from playing golf and focused on his passion for photography. He started using his spare time and money to purchase cameras, take photos, and attend sporting events.
In 1983, after covering a wide range of events such as the Commonwealth Games in Australia and FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Honduras, he became a member of the prestigious AllSport photography agency. Even after being acquired by Getty Images in 1998, Cannon has remained with the agency and has become well-known for his expertise in golf.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment,” he stated, and there have been plenty of moments to cherish.
According to an interview with the Ryder Cup, Cannon has participated in 17 editions of the biennial event and has provided coverage for more than 700 events, including nearly 200 major tournaments for both men and women.
Cannon’s remarkable calculations of his professional achievements include shooting 3.4 million frames, flying 2.6 million miles, visiting 115 countries, spending 5,000 nights in hotels, and walking 13,000 miles on golf courses.
However, Cannon maintains that it is an essential obligation. Unlike sports such as football, where photographers have frequent chances to capture celebratory moments during every match, the slower pace of golf can lead to limited photo opportunities.
According to him, it is possible to go without achieving a great final freeze photo for at least six months, and possibly up to two years.
“Golf photography requires a great deal of physical stamina, which many people may not realize. On a typical day, a photographer can easily walk 25,000 steps while only capturing individual shots of golfers hitting the ball. However, if the golfers spend most of their time on the fairways, the resulting photos may not be very captivating.”
Meet your heroes
Luckily for Cannon, his professional journey has aligned with some of the most legendary golfers in the sport, whom he has had the opportunity to get to know on a personal level.
Staying in contact with Faldo, he developed a strong friendship with Ernie Els and became acquainted with Greg Norman. Together, they had a combined total of 12 major wins and witnessed the height of Tiger Woods’ dominance in the early 2000s.
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Taking pictures of Rory McIlroy and Matt Fitzpatrick, who was recently named US Open champion, since their days as amateurs, he has had the pleasure of witnessing their progress from the beginning to winning some of the most prestigious golf tournaments.
There is one name that stands out among all others: Seve Ballesteros. According to the saying, “Never meet your heroes,” but Cannon not only had the privilege of photographing his ultimate sports idol, but also developed a strong friendship with him.
One of Cannon’s most cherished photographs is a portrait of the famous Spaniard, taken near his residence in Pedreña in 1996. Cannon also captured iconic images of the five-time major champion’s triumphant fist pump at St. Andrews during his 1984 Open win. These photographs of Ballesteros, who passed away from brain cancer in 2011, are some of the most enduring images of him.
Cannon stated that this photo is likely the most significant one in his career and it captures his favorite moment.
Methods of the craft
When Cannon captured that image, his camera with a capacity of 36 shots only allowed him to select 25 photos from the entire sequence. In present times, he would have an additional five photos to choose from in just one second. Despite the significant advancements in technology, the fundamentals of sports photography remain unchanged.
While caddying for his son Chris, a professional golfer, Cannon was reminded of one of the guiding rules when he overanalyzed a swing from three holes ago.
“Dad, there’s an important lesson in golf that you need to remember,” Cannon remembers his son advising. “After 10 seconds of hitting the shot, you can’t take it back or change it. It’s best to let it go and move on.”
“The same principle applies in photography, as once you miss the moment, it cannot be captured again. This is especially important in sporting events where opportunities are fleeting. I personally find this rule to be quite beneficial.”
A crucial ability for any craft is to anticipate and detect a narrative or event before it happens and take appropriate action. This can be challenging on courses that cover large distances and have multiple games occurring simultaneously, but following this advice can lead to significant benefits.
Cannon captured a plentiful amount of recognition at the 1999 Alfred Dunhill Cup with his photograph of basketball legend Michael Jordan and Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia racing on the St. Andrews fairways. This photo has been hailed as “the ultimate golf image” by Golf Digest.
Cannon overheard Jordan and Garcia teasing each other at the first tee. He then made the decision to follow the pair past the third hole. At this point, the newspaper photographers, who were hesitant to venture further from the clubhouse, decided to turn back.
Cannon remembered hearing Jordan challenge Garcia to a race, saying, “Do you want to race, boy?”
“It was such a great experience to accompany them on that day, and ever since then, I always walked a few hundred yards ahead of them.”
This expertise has allowed Cannon to maintain his position as a leader in his field for more than 40 years. Impressive for someone without any formal education.