In this corner of the ring -- in fact, in every corner of the ring -- stands Neil Leifer. The undisputed champ of boxing photography, Leifer has delivered some of the sport’s most iconic and memorable images in Sports Illustrated’s 60-year history, none more so than Ali posed over Liston. Like a skilled practitioner in the ring, Leifer brings a variety of skills to bear, adjusting his plan on the fly. Some of his handiwork is predicated on power and force. Other times, he relies on instinct and imagination and subtle nuance, finding openings that only he sees.
Here, in the first of a series of Sports Illustrated Photo Legends longform presentations, Leifer reveals -- in his own words and via video -- the behind-the-scenes effort it took to attain some of the seminal photos in boxing history.
“I really can’t tell you why I’ve done as well as I did. I had a real passion for photography and I was a rabid sports fan. Why I was good at it, I don’t know. I worked very hard. I’m not modest about this when I say it, but I don’t think I’m particularly gifted; I think I had to work twice as hard. But the end result is what pays off. ... The way you look at sports photographers, or certainly the way I have always looked at them, is the difference between the really good ones and just the average shooter is that you have to be very lucky, and again that sounds modest, but again you do have to be in the right seat. When you’re in the right seat and in the right place at the right time, a really good photographer doesn’t miss, and I guess if you wanted to summarize why I’ve been successful -- I haven’t missed a lot when I’ve been lucky.”