Flash Of Inspiration From fish-eyes to black boxes, SI photographers have pushed their craft to its limits, and beyond--often to a whole new way of seeing

April 25, 2004

An SI photographer once complained to his editor that John
Zimmerman was allotted three assistants while the other staff
shooters only got one each. The editor responded that the ratio
was equitable because Zimmerman worked 24 hours a day, so his
assistants were really only working three normal eight-hour
shifts. That was an exaggeration, but not a whopper--Zimmerman
was constantly taking his cameras apart, searching for a new way
to shoot a picture. That restlessness, that ambition, is a trait
shared by all the best SI photographers, which is why so many
groundbreaking photographs have run in the magazine over the last
50 years. Here are just a few of them; think of the following
pages as an introductory course--Photographic Genius 101.

1963
POLE CAM
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES TRAINOR/MIAMI HERALD
Trainor had to use all his charm to persuade officials at this
track event in Coral Gables, Fla., to let him place his camera
this close to the pole plant; it could have been distracting for
the pole vaulter ... and dangerous for the fish-eye lens, which
was rare and expensive back then. But John Pennel wasn't
affected--he soared 17 feet to break his own world record, while
Trainor triggered this shot by remote. Trainor got a break from
the weather, too--without those clouds, the figures in the
picture would have all been silhouettes.

1966
OVERHEAD CAM
PHOTOGRAPH BY NEIL LEIFER
The first fight in the Houston Astrodome was the first time
anyone shot a complete aerial image of a ring without using a
fish-eye lens. It was possible because the lighting rig was 80
feet up so it would not obstruct the view of spectators in the
upper deck. Leifer secured his camera to the rig, ran a cable
down to a foot pedal for his remote and patiently waited for
Muhammad Ali to floor Cleveland Williams.

1961
NET CAM
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN ZIMMERMAN
Rangers officials couldn't find anything in the NHL rule book
prohibiting it, so they allowed Zimmerman to mount two
wide-angle Nikons to the goal's back pipe. The first time he set
it up, a workman had to chip through the ice to run remote wires
to Zimmerman's seat and then resurface the ice. This picture of
Bobby Orr was taken in 1970.

1960
STRIP CAM
PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE SILK
Intent on conveying the speed of world-class runners, Silk
modified his camera so that a slit shutter would stay open for
a few seconds while the film moved past it at a speed
proportional to the speed of the subject. It took plenty of
number-crunching--and trial and error--to create this picture
of hurdlers at the Olympic trials in Palo Alto, Calif. "The
bugbear of photography is cliche," Silk says, "and here I
succeeded in getting past it."

1992
BLACK BOX
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
For these shots taken at the Staples Center in 2000, McDonough
used a technique developed by SI in 1992 that he went on to
perfect. He strapped a camera to the catwalk (with the lens
pointed down), another in the stands and a third behind the
backboard. Then he synced them all to his handheld camera at the
far end of the court. All four cameras were linked by remote
transmitters, so that when Shaq put the block on Kings center
Vlade Divac, McDonough pressed the trigger on his camera, and
all four fired simultaneously.

1980
SPLIT-WATER CAM
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN ZIMMERMAN
Zimmerman got five shots for the price of one by spending a lot
of time ... and money. He hung drapes around an outdoor pool to
create the ideal backdrop for Jenni Chandler as she performed
her forward 1 1/2 twist. He kept his shutter open for the
entire dive and fired five pairs of strobes sequentially to
create the five images of her in this photo. His biggest
challenge was getting the underwater shot in focus--for that,
he had one strobe above the water and one underwater. He had
also spent months modifying a lens at his dining room table to
cut down on the refractions that typically distort underwater
images.

1972
SLIT CAM
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN ZIMMERMAN
Intent on depicting Nate (Tiny) Archibald's shifty moves,
Zimmerman had Tiny stand perfectly still and let his camera do
the weaving. Zimmerman placed a slit camera, which had a
rolling round lens that panned downward, on a tripod that
allowed the camera to be moved laterally. Zimmerman held the
camera steady as the lens panned down from Tiny's head, but when
the lens reached Tiny's torso, Zimmerman moved the camera
laterally 15 times, until the camera had panned down to the
ground. That's why Archibald's upper torso doesn't "wiggle."
Zimmerman had to slow down the shutter movement considerably to
get all this in one frame.

SEVEN COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ILLUSTRATIONS BY SLIM FILMS B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES TRAINOR/MIAMI HERALD
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY NEIL LEIFER THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN ZIMMERMAN B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE SILK FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)