David Cannon: The Rise of a Legendary Golf Photographer

However, although his first professional camera was a Canon, the Englishman’s path to becoming one of the world’s leading sports photographers was far from life-changing: he didn’t even have formal training.

Born in Sussex, Cannon was a talented golfer in his youth, with a one-point handicap. Playing in a variety of amateur tournaments, he finished eighth at the British Junior Golf Championship in 1974 and played alongside a young Nick Faldo at next year’s tournament.

But sharing the fairways with the future six-time major tournament winner destroyed any hopes Cannon had of a professional playing career.

“When I played with him [Faldo]it was like, “Oh shit, I’m not even in the same league,” he told CNN Sport. “He was just something else.”

(From left) English golfers Tony Jacklyn and Nick Faldo pose with Cannon on the Swilkan Bridge prior to the 144th Open Championships in St Andrews, Scotland, 2015.

Needing a job to make up for the lack of financial rewards in amateur golf, Cannon worked for a nylon sheet company, but after four years, he yearned to change the pace. When an impromptu chat with family friend Neville Chadwick, a photographer from the Leicester News Service, offered the opportunity to capture some of the local sporting action, Cannon was all set.

Sold his car to buy a small telephoto lens and a camera – a Canon AE-1, naturally – shortly after sitting in a rugby stadium during a New Zealand tour match in November 1979.

The 24-year-old was armed with just two tips that have served as the foundation of his skill ever since: “Focus on the eyes and fill the frame.”

“I passed out, that’s all. The light bulb went on,” Cannon said. “Golfing suddenly took a backseat, and every free minute I had was buying cameras with spare money, taking pictures, going to games.”

hard earned

In 1983, covering everything from the Commonwealth Games in Australia to the World Cup qualifiers in Honduras, he joined the respected photography agency AllSport. Although the company was acquired by Getty Images in 1998, Cannon has since operated effectively there, specializing in golf and has quickly become one of the most recognizable names in the field.

“I loved every minute of it,” he said, and there were certainly many minutes to love.

Cannon has covered over 700 tournaments and nearly 200 men’s and women’s tournaments. interview with the Ryder Cup, biennially, on which he worked 17 times.

Cannon’s astounding career statistics: 3.4 million shots, 2.6 million flight miles, 115 countries visited, 5,000 hotel nights, and 13,000 golf course miles.

Cannon's shot of Argentine icon Diego Maradona at the 1986 FIFA World Cup

However, Cannon insists it’s a necessary commitment. While sports like football offer photographers at least the chance to capture the festivities at just about every match, the less dynamic nature of golf can make for smart choices.

“You can go at least six months, maybe two years, without having a fantastic final freeze frame,” he explained.

“Golf is very slow. People don’t realize how physically difficult it is to photograph golf. You can walk 25,000 steps a day and all you get is isolated shots of golfers hitting the ball, and nothing special if they’re down on the fairways all the time.”

Get to know your heroes

Fortunately for Cannon, his career has coincided with some of golf’s most iconic players, many of whom he knew personally.

Keeping in touch with Faldo, he befriended Ernie Els and met Greg Norman – a trio with 12 big wins for two – and took a front row seat at the top Tiger Woods era at the turn of the century.

Photographing Rory McIlroy and newly crowned US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick when they were amateurs, he had the pleasure of following their journey from the grassroots to winning some of golf’s biggest titles.

Cannon accompanied McIlroy to Royal Liverpool for media work following his Open 2014 victory when he filmed this spontaneous moment.
But one name stands above all others: Sev Ballesteros. “Never date your heroes,” goes the saying, but Cannon not only had the pleasure of filming his all-time sports idol, but also became his close friend.

Shot near his home in Pedreña in 1996, the portrait of the legendary Spaniard remains one of Cannon’s favorite photographs. And his footage of the five-time grand champion’s iconic fisticuff celebration in St. Louis. Andrews on his way to winning the 1984 Open is one of the most memorable images of Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011.

“This is possibly the most defining picture of my career,” Cannon said. “If the moment, this is my favorite.”

Ballesteros' iconic celebration of St.  Andrews in 1984, photographed by Cannon

Trade tricks

When Cannon took this shot, his 36-exposure camera gave him only 25 shots to choose from from the entire sequence. Today he will have five more pictures to choose from in one second. However, while technology has changed dramatically, the principles of sports photography have remained the same.

David Cannon poses with a camera on March 7, 2017 in London.

Cannon recalled one of those guiding rules when, while caddying for his professional golfer son Chris, he overanalyzed his swing from three holes earlier.

“Dad, you have to learn one thing: there is a 10-second rule in golf,” Cannon recalls the words of his son. “Ten seconds after you hit, you can’t take it back, you can’t do anything about it, you have to put it out of your mind.”

“This rule works exactly the same in photography. If you miss it, you won’t be able to come back and get it. If you are at a sporting event, this will never happen again. I find this to be a very useful rule.”

Cannon captured the moment Scotty Sheffler scores to win the Augusta Masters in April.

One of the most important skills of an artisan is proactively sensing a story or moment and preparing for it accordingly. Easier said than done on fairway-spanning courses with multiple games going on at the same time, but advice can bring great rewards.

They were reaped in abundance by Cannon at the 1999 Alfred Dunhill Cup thanks to his hitting basketball icon Michael Jordan and the Spanish golfer. Sergio Garcia participated in Andrews’ St. Fairway River Run, once called “the greatest golf photo of all time” by Golf Digest.

Hearing Jordan and Garcia goad each other on the first tee, Cannon decided to stay on the sidelines and follow the duo past the third hole, the point at which the newspaper photographers, unwilling to go any further from the clubhouse, decided to turn back. .

Garcia leads Jordan in a sprint down the 16th St. Louis Fairway.  Andrews' old field during the Alfred Dunhill Pro-Am Cup, 1999.

“I heard Jordan say to Garcia, ‘You want to run a race, boy?'” Cannon recalled.

“It was a lot of fun to follow them that day, and from that point on I always walked a couple of hundred yards ahead of them.”

It’s the sort of know-how that has kept Cannon at the top of his field for over four decades. Not bad for someone with no formal education.