One could argue that David Cannon’s last name predetermined his career as a photographer.
After being awarded the PGA of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Photojournalism in May, the 67-year-old was praised for his “excellence in technical skills and artistic talent.”
However, despite starting with a Canon as his first professional camera, the Englishman’s path to becoming a top sports photographer was not predetermined. He never received any formal training.
Born in Sussex, Cannon was a talented golfer in his youth, boasting a handicap of one. Competing at a host of amateur tournaments, he finished eighth at the British Youths Golf Championship in 1974 and played alongside a young Nick Faldo at the following year’s tournament.
Unfortunately, playing golf alongside the future six-time major champion ended any aspirations Cannon had of pursuing a career as a professional golfer.
“He was on a completely different level,” he recalled to CNN Sport about playing with Faldo. “I felt completely out of my league.”
Cannon needed employment to make up for the low financial compensation in amateur golf. He took a job at a nylon sheet company, but after four years, he desired a change of pace. A spontaneous conversation with family friend Neville Chadwick, a photographer for the Leicester News Service, presented the opportunity to photograph local sports events, and Cannon eagerly accepted.
He sold his car in order to purchase a small telephoto lens and a camera, specifically a Canon AE-1. Shortly after, he found himself at a rugby stadium for a New Zealand Tour match in November 1979.
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At the age of 24, he was equipped with only two essential techniques that he has utilized throughout his career: “Emphasize the eyes and capture the entire frame.”
Cannon explained that he had an epiphany and realized his passion for photography. Golf became less important as he dedicated all his free time and money to buying cameras, taking photos, and attending games.
In 1983, after covering various events like the Commonwealth Games in Australia and FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Honduras, he became a part of the prestigious AllSport photography agency. Despite being acquired by Getty Images in 1998, Cannon has remained with the agency, focusing on golf and gaining a prominent reputation in the industry.
He expressed his enjoyment throughout every moment of the experience, which has been abundant in duration.
According to an interview with the Ryder Cup, Cannon has participated in over 700 events and nearly 200 major tournaments for both men and women. He has worked at the biennial Ryder Cup event 17 times.
Cannon’s remarkable calculations of his professional accomplishments: 3.4 million frames captured, 2.6 million miles traveled, 115 countries explored, 5,000 nights spent in hotels, and 13,000 miles walked on golf courses.
However, Cannon maintains that it is a necessary obligation. Unlike sports such as football, where photographers can expect to capture celebrations in almost every match, the less fast-paced nature of golf may result in limited photo opportunities.
According to him, it is possible to go without capturing a perfect freeze frame for at least six months, and possibly up to two years.
“Golf photography can be physically demanding, with photographers often walking 25,000 steps in a day. Despite its slow pace, capturing shots of golfers hitting the ball can be challenging and may not always result in interesting images if they are constantly on the fairway.”
Meet your heroes
Luckily for Cannon, his professional journey has aligned with some of the most legendary golfers, several of whom he has developed personal relationships with.
Staying in contact with Faldo, he developed a close friendship with Ernie Els and became acquainted with Greg Norman – a group with a combined total of 12 major victories. He also had the opportunity to witness the height of the Tiger Woods era at the beginning of the 2000s.
The history-making victory of a rising star in Swedish golf is hoped to be a turning point for the advancement of women’s golf.
Since they were amateurs, he has had the pleasure of capturing the journeys of Rory McIlroy and newly crowned US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, from their beginnings in grassroots golf to their triumphs in some of the sport’s most prestigious events.
There is one name that stands out among all others: Seve Ballesteros. The saying “never meet your heroes” may apply, but Cannon not only had the opportunity to capture photos of his ultimate sports idol, he also developed a close friendship with him.
A portrait of the legendary Spaniard captured near his home in Pedreña in 1996 remains one of Cannon’s most beloved pictures. And his shots of the five-time major champion’s iconic fist pump celebration at St. Andrews en route to a 1984 Open win are some of the most enduring images of Ballesteros, who died from brain cancer in 2011.
Cannon stated that this image is likely the most significant representation of their career and is also their personal favorite.
At the time of taking the photo, Cannon’s camera only had 36 exposures, giving him a limited selection of 25 pictures from the entire sequence. In contrast, modern technology allows for an additional five pictures to be taken in just one second. Despite these advancements, the fundamentals of sports photography remain unchanged.
Cannon was reminded of a guiding principle when he caddied for his son, professional golfer Chris. He overanalyzed a swing from three holes prior.
“Dad, there’s an important lesson in golf that you need to understand – the 10 second rule,” Cannon’s son reminded him. “Once you’ve hit the shot, you have only 10 seconds to accept it and move on. There’s no going back or changing anything, so you have to clear your mind and focus on the next shot.”
“The same principle applies in photography – once you miss the moment, you can’t capture it again. This is especially important to remember at live events, as those special moments will never be repeated. This rule has proven to be very valuable for me.”
An essential skill for a craft is to anticipate and detect a potential story or moment in advance and take necessary actions. This can be challenging on courses that cover many miles and have multiple ongoing games, but following this advice can lead to great benefits.
Cannon captured a plentiful amount of recognition at the 1999 Alfred Dunhill Cup when he took a photo of basketball legend Michael Jordan and Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia racing each other on the St. Andrews golf course. This photo has been praised as “the ultimate golf picture” by Golf Digest.
Cannon chose to stay behind and follow Jordan and Garcia as they playfully teased each other at the first tee. He continued to follow them until they reached the third hole, where the newspaper photographers, who didn’t want to venture too far from the clubhouse, decided to turn back.
Cannon remembered overhearing Jordan challenging Garcia to a race.
“It was a delightful experience to accompany them on that day, and after that, I consistently walked a few hundred yards ahead of them.”
This type of expertise has allowed Cannon to maintain his position as a leader in his field for more than 40 years. Impressive for someone without any official education.