The Olympic Museum

The Art of Sports Photography

From prints
to images

1835 – 2017


Reproducing movement

David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson · 1843
© National Galleries of Scotland · BM

Image of the tennis player Mr Laine
from 1843.

The athlete is posing for
this action shot in a studio.

He stands 2 minutes
without moving.

The birth of sports photography!

This was the era of the calotype, the first negative-positive process. The exposure time was long. The positive prints were produced using silver salts and kitchen salt! This marked the beginning of modern silver halide photography.



Capturing exploits

Auguste-Rosalie Bisson · 1860
© Eastman Kodak Company, formerly Gabriel Cromer collection, 1981 · BM

First image of the ascent of Mont Blanc
from 1860.

25 people

250 kilos
of large-format plates

a portable photo-lab

a tent to provide shelter from the light.

All to develop
3 photographs
immediately after exposure!

The age of the mountaineering
photography pioneers begins!

This was the era of glass plates. Initially wet plates were used, but these subsequently gave way to dry plates coated with photographic emulsion. The technique would lead to the invention of film 20 years later.



Deconstructing movement

Etienne-Jules Marey · 1890
© Collection Musée Marey, Beaune, France · CIO

In 1882,
movement in sport was captured
via a succession of different images

to give
the illusion of motion.

Sports photographs were now
able to convey action.

Flexible and transparent celluloid roll film was marketed for the first time by the American George Eastman in 1884. Chronophotography was the precursor to the cinema of the Lumière brothers.



the event

Albert Meyer · 1896

Olympic Games Athens 1896.
Fencing match at Zappeion Hall
in front of the Greek royal family.

Mid-action shots of
sporting events.

Portable cameras
ability to take 100 photos on one roll of film.

The Olympic Games enter
the photographic era!

First portable cameras equipped with a roll of negative film marketed by Kodak. Once the 100 pictures had been taken, users would take their camera to the manufacturer to have their photos developed and get their camera loaded with a new roll of negative film. The famous advertising slogan is still relevant today: “You press the button, we do the rest.”



sports photography

Photographer unknown · 1908
© Getty Images

Final push by Dorando Pietri as he crosses
the finish line in the first Olympic marathon
in 1908.

Their exploits immortalised,
their photos circulated in the media;

athletes had become celebrities.

The first great sports photograph!

“La Vie au Grand Air”, the first sports news magazine (1908). 70% of its content was image-based; a forerunner to the magazines that exist today. Sports photographs were set up using close-up, overlapping and photomontage techniques.



Revealing the aesthetics
of sport

Photographer unknown · 1920
© Getty Images

Suzanne Lenglen – “the Goddess” –
the first international tennis star
and an ambassador for women’s sport.

Instant photographs in natural light.
Accuracy and speed give rise
to excellent camera shots.

A defining moment for sports photography
with the arrival of small hand-held cameras!

The 500g small-format Leica model was mass produced and sold from 1925. This was the first camera to use 35mm roll film, which had previously been used exclusively for cinema. The standard 24×36 format photographs were in use until the end of the 20th century. A ground-breaking innovation that created a new form of popular expression!



Sharing emotions

Rübelt Lothar · 1936

At the Berlin Games in 1936, in Nazi Germany,
a black American athlete beat a German athlete
to win the long jump.

This image captured the bond between
the two athletes

… it become iconic.

Freezing a moment in time.

Capturing fleeting instants that could
not be seen by the naked eye.

The use of flash synchronisation
revealed a more emotional side to sport.

Sports photography was no longer
simply translated by action!

The first electronic flash was invented using a stroboscope in 1931. Movement was frozen by alternating between light and dark phases, allowing film to capture action that was too fast to be seen by the human eye and producing a softer form of light. After the light, the colour!



Crowning the winner

Photo finish · 1948

Temporal representation of the finish line
for the men’s 100m final
at the Olympic Games in 1948 in London.

The camera, perfectly positioned on the finish line,
takes hundreds or even thousands
of shots per second
depending on the speed of the athletes.

The space separating the competitors
is in fact a time gap.

Sports photography becomes more accurate
than the naked eye and the stopwatch.

Photo-finish cameras were introduced for the 100m events at the Games in Los Angeles in 1932. At the Games in London in 1948, OMEGA placed a camera on the finish line that filmed and timed continuously. Like a “magic eye”. This became the official technique at the Games in Mexico City in 1968.



Turning sport into theatre

Circa · 1948
© Getty Images

The boxer Laszlo Papp,
triple Olympic champion,
in an attack pose.

The enclosed space of the ring,
the lighting,
the set-up…

Boxing was an ideal subject
for sports photography.

Sports photography turns sport into
a form of theatre.

The colour negative process, which produced photos that were easy to expose and develop, marked the beginning of the colour era in the mid-20th century. Agfacolor (1935) then Kodachrome (1942) were the first colour film products. The technique would not become popular until the 1970s.



Capturing the crucial moment

Tony Duffy · 1968

This photo of Bob Beamon was taken by an amateur photographer,
who captured the precise moment that the athlete smashed
the long jump world record with a distance of 8.9m
at the Games in Mexico City in 1968.

New equipment,
telephoto lenses, zooms
and special filters

enabled increasingly
striking and dynamic shots.

Sports photos became more intense;
the era of hyperrealism had arrived.

Ongoing technological evolution and optimisation from the early 1960s opened the way for amateur photographers. The reflex camera with its interchangeable lens, telephoto lenses, zooms and special filters, wide-angle lens, etc. turned photography into a real means of expression. The rise of the personal photo was well underway!



Developing the medium

John Dominis · 1968

Olympic Games Mexico City 1968.

Two of the three medal-winners
in the celebrated 200m event
raise one black-gloved fist in the air.

With their eyes rooted to the ground,
it was an act of defiance against
their country, the United States,

and the protocol of the Games,
in front of the cameras of the entire world.

Sports photography became

a sounding board and a record
of the current events of the time.

The first patent for a digital camera was registered in 1978. Kodak refused to put it on the market, fearing that people would stop buying film… At the time, the general wisdom was that no one would want to look at photos on a screen!



the extraordinary

Bob Martin · 1992
© Getty Images

Olympic Games Barcelona 1992.

The sporting performance of diver Tracey Miles
is set against a magnificent backdrop of the city.

Capturing the decisive moment,



and choosing the perfect frame
to take THE ultimate photo.

The first Canon D413 digital camera was a prototype designed for the Games in Los Angeles in 1984. The images were sent to Japan via telephone lines in under 30 minutes. The Games in Sydney in 2000 saw digital photography establish itself as the undisputed dominant form of photography.



Constructing the image

Simon Bruty · 1994

Ice hockey final (Finland-USA)
at the Winter Games in Lillehammer in 1994.

The digital era.

Motorised and remote-control cameras
gave sports photography
an artistic dimension.

Taking inspiration from television,
sports photography became more creative.

Digital cameras went on sale to the general public for the first time. Technical innovations which had been in development since the 60s, such as the remote control, were now readily available and easy to use. Photography had been liberalised, ushering in the “power of photography” era.



Offering up an experience

Pavel Kopczynski · 2012
© Iopp Pool / Getty Images

An unprecedented viewpoint
and immersive set-up

add a new dimension to this photo,
taken during the final of the men’s discus
at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

Remote-controlled camera.

Computer-guided steering.

Ground-breaking 360° angles.

These techniques were a sign of things
to come at the Games in Rio in 2016.

The boom in new and digital technologies, such as 360° techniques, offered a more personal and immersive experience of the action captured by the camera. Photography, through smartphones and reflex cameras, has truly become a part of our everyday lives.



Showing the invisible

Al Bello · 2016
© Getty Images

A photo of Michael Phelps underwater,
taken using a robot by Al Bello
during the 200m butterfly final
at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.

Controlled remotely
and mobile,
zoom techniques,

high definition,
accuracy, etc.

Innovation in the form of
robots and drones.

Free from restraints, photography
serves to enhance sport.

For the first time ever, a drone equipped with a miniature camera was custom designed to film the snowboarding and skiing competitions at the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. The best frames and viewpoints were selected to become spectacular sports images. Photos, films, videos, clips, time-lapse footage, GIFs, MOV files and mp4… they are all images! The next chapter in the history of sports photography will be written using new forms of expression.


The Art of Sports Photography

From prints
to images

1835 – 2017
And tomorrow…
To be continued…
Miniature Drone
Multiple Objectives
Virtual Reality
HDR Video