Walter Iooss Jr., Icons

by Xavier Encinas

Widely considered the world's most influential sports photographer and dubbed "the Rembrandt of sports photography" due to his use of light, shadow, color, and composition, Walter Iooss Jr.'s images transcend the fame of his subjects and have come to represent modern sports culture.


But the secret to his success is a carefully crafted rapport with his subjects. As a result, his work has forever changed the definition of what a "great sports photograph" should be.

Born to a family of sports fans in Texas in 1943, Iooss discovered photography at age 15 when his father gave him a camera. Within a year, he had begun photographing professional football games. At just 17, he got his first assignment for Sports Illustrated. By 20, he was shooting the magazine's covers.

Iooss's images have appeared on over 300 covers of Sports Illustrated—more than any other photographer in the world. In a career spanning more than 60 years, he has worked with almost every athlete at the top of their game, including Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Kelly Slater and Kobe Bryant.

Iooss has photographed every single one of the first 52 Super Bowls; published a book on the 18 months he spent following U.S. athletes as they prepared for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles called Shooting for the Gold; created a New York Times bestselling photo essay, Rare Air, with Michael Jordan; and shot campaigns for the likes of Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola, and more.

Previous image: Michael Jordan, Deerfield, IL, 1993. This image: Gail Devers, Westwood, CA, 1996. Next image, left: Tyra Banks & Kobe Bryant, Culver City, CA, 1999. Next image, right: Serena Williams, Key Biscayne, FL, 2006.

Previous image: Torry Holt, 2001. This image: Shaquille O’Neal, El Segundo, CA, 2002.

Goalie’ Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, 2001.

This image: Steffi Graff, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 1997. Next image: Kickboxer #1, Bangkok, Thailand, 1995.

Previous image, left: ‘The Slam Dunk’ Michael Jordan, Chicago, IL, 1988. Previous image, right: Kobe Bryant. This image: Serena Williams, Scottsdale, AZ, 2003.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Inglewood, CA, 1996.

This image: Tiger Woods, Orlando, FL, 2002. Next image: Carl Lewis, Houston, TX, 1991.

Previous image: Muhammad Ali & Ernie Terrell, Houston, TX, 1967. This image: Wilt Chamberlain, Boston, MA, 1967.

Kickboxer #3, Bangkok, Thailand, 1997.

Michael Phelps, Baltimore, MD, 2004.

This image: Mary Lou Retton, Los Angeles, CA, 1984. Next image: Todd Torres, Atlanta, GA, 1996.

This image: LeBron James, Cleveland, OH, 2003. Next image, left: Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester, England, 2006. Next image, right: Sprinter, Havana, Cuba, 1999.

Jack Nicklaus, West Palm Beach, FL, 1967.


  1. Larry Sultan, Swimmers

    ‘I wanted to do something so absolutely different, and physical, and in a certain way, kind of ill-conceived… I took my camera and went underwater in a bunch of pools. And made pictures.’
  2. Mark Steinmetz, The Players

    Made between 1986 and 1990, these photographs are classic Steinmetz: tenderness, humor, and humanism are all present here.
  3. Walter Iooss Jr., Icons

    Widely considered the world's most influential sports photographer, Walter Iooss Jr.'s images transcend the fame of his subjects and have come to represent modern sports culture.