At many of golf’s big events of the past 30 years, one figure has not only been present but quite often front and centre stage. Once seen, this rangy figure is rarely forgotten. He is tall, slightly stooped under the burden of camera equipment that weighs as much as a young child and includes a lens the size of a bazooka. He is nearly always inside the ropes, roaming restlessly up and down the fairways or making a pell-mell dash from one side of a green to the other.
This figure is Englishman Dave Cannon, 64, golf’s preeminent photographer who has covered more than 100 major championships, taken millions of photographs, travelled the equivalent of circling the world 100 times and spent more than 5,000 nights in hotel rooms. Yet he might be best known by many who have seen him on a golf course as the photographer with the hat, the bloke with the bazooka, the snapper with the titfer.
Said hat is a cousin of the Australian bushwhacker’s hat, the sort that has corks hanging from it and almost as instantly recognisable. Cannon’s is known as the Tilley Outback and its Canadian makers, showing no modesty at all, claim it to be “the finest in all the world” and “guaranteed for life.” According to its makers, it is practically impossible to destroy. “It floats, ties on, repels rain, blocks UV rays, won’t shrink … ” Come to think of it, it probably can boil an egg.
But the hat did not help Cannon earn the level of respect that he has in golf. It is not as if he has inherited his talent as a photographer because he has not. His father was in advertising and his maternal grandfather was the author Nichol Smith, an expert on Sir Walter Scott and professor of English at Merton College at Oxford.
Cannon’s backstory is of a young man who loved golf, became a county golfer good enough at it to have tied eighth in a British Youths’ Championship (ahead of Sandy Lyle) and to have finished 15th in the Brabazon Trophy, one of British amateur golf’s important events. As a boy he was mad about sport, plastering the walls of his study at school with photographs of sports personalities.
He listened to the news of Tony Jacklin’s victory in the 1970 US Open on a crackly portable radio hidden under the pillow of his bed. He dreamed of a career as a pro but seeing Nick Faldo play made him realise the gap between the two of them was too wide. To earn the money to continue to play as an amateur he became a travelling salesman peddling nylon sheets until he met the man who would start him on his lifelong career.
When a picture of Cannon’s from the previous day’s rugby match appeared in the Sunday Express in 1977 it was as if he had his first hole-in-one: “ … From that moment on there was nothing else I wanted to do except take sports pictures.”
Neville Chadwick was a sports photographer in Leicester taking photographs of the city’s football and rugby teams. One day he invited Cannon to join him. That was it. Soon Cannon had sold his car, bought some Canon equipment which he could neither afford nor use properly and was taking photographs at weekends for Chadwick’s agency while continuing to sell nylon sheets.
When a picture of Cannon’s from the previous day’s rugby match appeared in the Sunday Express in 1977 it was as if he had his first hole-in-one: “… From that moment on there was nothing else I wanted to do except take sports pictures.”
Down the years, golf photographers have become as known for their distinctive clothing as their photographs. Bert Neale, a British photographer of many years ago, favoured a duffle coat and often a red beret. The duffle coat was to ward off the cold; the beret was his badge of honour. Two of golf’s current photographers, Matthew Harris and Ross Kinnaird, both favour floppy hats.
Brian Morgan, who is a Scot despite his Welsh sounding name, made a reputation for himself and therefore his pictures by wearing a kilt on one – and only one – day of tournaments in the US and Britain. “It was a deliberate attempt to separate myself from the herd,” Morgan said. “I was proud of being Scottish. It was a good marketing idea. As a one-off guy going to America, I decided I would wear a kilt on the last day. I wore a kilt at the four major (championships) and all the big tournaments I covered for 30 years.”
For Cannon a hat is part gimmick and part necessity, more the latter than the former. “At Augusta, doing one of my early Masters, I got absolutely sizzled,” he said. “So I bought a floppy hat but it was no good. Peaked caps are no good because when you go for an upright photo the camera doesn’t fit under the peak. A Tilley hat is sensible and easy to work in. They are expensive but one lasted me 15 years. It has been through the washing machine 100 times.”
Before Cannon sets out to roam a golf course he has a checking routine not unlike that of a pilot on the runway. Cameras, check; lenses, check; water bottle, check; order of play, check; pen or pencil, check; hat, either on his head or kept around his neck by means of a cord, check. His hat is wide-brimmed, waterproof, squashable, washable and invaluable. It is as much a part of what he needs to do his job as his Canon equipment and for him to set forth without his hat would be as disastrous as leaving his 600mm lens behind.
In 1981 he began working for Bob Thomas, who ran a photographic agency in Northampton. “I thought he had a passion for photographs and he was driven,” Thomas, who now owns the Popperfoto library, said. “He was earning a living doing something he didn’t want to do in order to finance doing something he wanted to do. It was his eagerness that struck me.
“He had to learn how to use long telephoto lenses, 400mm. He didn’t have much experience at that. And he had to take colour slides. There is no latitude when shooting colour slides. You have to get the exposure right. You can’t crop or enlarge afterwards. I used to tell him, ‘Don’t waste my time bringing me little pictures of little people in the distance.’ ”
From that day to this, Cannon has attended 36 Masters, 38 Opens, 19 Ryder Cups and 19 Walker Cups, as well as a Commonwealth Games and a World Cup. He provided the photographs for three instructional books by David Leadbetter, three by Nick Faldo, both of Ernie Els’s instructional books, one for Seve Ballesteros and for other golfers including Ian Woosnam. It is no exaggeration to say that there have been few important golf events these past 30-plus years that he has not attended.
But it’s not only at tournaments that he makes his mark. “Dave’s golf course photography is very high quality too,” Morgan said. “He has got ‘that eye.’ The thing that separates Dave from the herd is the constant quality of his pictures. Constant high quality.”
It is easy to pinpoint why Cannon has become so successful. No photographer works harder. “I’ve known him for 30 years and he outwalks everyone,” Morgan said.
David Rogers is predominantly known for his work as a rugby photographer though years ago he photographed golf. “He is the most professional as well as the best of the lot out there,” Rogers said. “He does work bloody hard, doesn’t he? God knows how many miles he has walked but it’s not work for him, is it? He loves it.”
“I remember saying to (Nick Faldo), ‘You’re a little bit open there.’ He wouldn’t believe me. Sure enough, the camera doesn’t lie. He was open. He respected me a lot for that.” – Dave Cannon
The American journalist Jim Moriarty turned to golf photography after being a golf writer and now combines the two arts. “You can’t be a golf photographer over the phone or in a studio,” Moriarty wrote in an e-mail. “In order to do your job you have to be there and I don’t think anyone ever worked harder at being there than David.
“Sometimes that meant hustling around a 7,000-yard course carrying telephoto lenses large enough to anchor an aircraft carrier. Sometimes it meant hauling crates of strobe lights and stands halfway across Europe to do the portrait of a player whose agent says you’ve got five minutes but, because it was David and the player knew him and trusted him, he’d stay as long as it took – and chat afterwards. Sometimes it meant flying halfway around the world in a middle seat and getting up at dawn for a panoramic of a golf course most people could only dream of seeing, much less playing. Getting behind the scenes is the dream of any photographer. David got there.
“Modern camera equipment, like modern golf equipment, has taken some of the mystery and skill out of producing an image. Anyone can push a button. Not everyone can get where they need to be, frame the picture like a piece of art and then push the button. That takes tenacity and talent and David has both.”
In Cannon’s lifetime as a photographer, cameras have gone from using film to digital, which is not unlike going from wooden woods to metal woods. “At my first Open I guess I shot 50 rolls of film with 30 frames on each roll,” Cannon said. “What is that? Roughly 1,500 pictures. Now, in an average day using digital equipment I will shoot perhaps 2,500 photographs.”
“Dave learned on film,” Morgan said. “In those days you had to choose your shots, especially out of a bunker. When a player hits a bunker shot they hit the sand really hard and the ball pops up kind of late. It doesn’t come flying out of the bunker unless it’s a long bunker shot. As a film photographer you have to time that shot perfectly.
“Nowadays, guys with high speed cameras do four or five frames but they miss the shot. Four or five frames a second isn’t as fast as it sounds. A movie camera runs at 30 frames a second. If you want slow motion you are talking about 80 or 90 frames a second so when you shot at five, six or seven frames a second you could still miss the picture. Dave and I know to wait until the ball appears to get that one shot and then click after that to get the player’s reaction.”
Cannon knows what he wants when he takes a picture. “Neville had two tips for me: Focus on the eyes because they are the first thing that people look at. You are automatically drawn to the eyes. And fill the frame. I have never forgotten those tips.
“For me, it’s all about colour and light. If the light is amazing you can make your subject look amazing. I would choose the football match to cover by the colour of the team’s shirts. If it was a blue shirt against a red shirt game then that was absolutely top of my list. Stadiums with the best floodlights – good for light.
“I love using my 600mm lens. It is heavy so I carry more weight than other photographers. I love the effect of isolating the subject. You blur out the background. At football get an out-of-focus background and the subject is sharp. It is amazingly stronger than a photo where everything is sharp.
“I’ve had clients say, ‘Your pictures jump off the page,’ because the background is more out of focus than other people’s. The other guys at Getty (Images, with which Cannon has an attachment) are using a 400mm lens all the time.
“I think people notice me for a long lens. You have to have a lot of stuff. You have to. If you haven’t got the lens with you then something is going to happen in front of you that you need a different lens for. That’s the nature of the business. I weighed my stuff the other day. It was about 15 or 20 (kilograms) plus a water bottle.”
It is a big advantage that he had been such a good golfer. As his friend, the South African entrepreneur and golf benefactor Johann Rupert, says: “Dave knows how to get the best pictures because as a good golfer he knows where to stand, the angle he needs, what the light is going to be like because he has done it. He is very good at composing a photograph.”
Someone once said that art is in the eye of the beholder. “So is photography,” Morgan said. “Sometimes a good picture for some people is not such a good picture for another person. The best pictures are the ones where you did something to create them. Either you got into the right position and you were the only one that managed to get that shot at that time. Or you created a picture out of your mind, a landscape or a crowd scenic that encompasses everything you want in one picture.”
Cannon said: “Because I’m a golfer … certainly on the instruction side that made a big difference. I used to get ball positions right first time, which they were very finicky about on the magazines. That’s why magazines liked using me because I knew. I knew driver, ball position left heel. I remember with Faldo doing his book Swing for Life. We had a whole list of pics to do. Then we came to a few sequences where he was hitting a shot into a polystyrene board about 5 inches thick.
“I remember saying to him, ‘You’re a little bit open there.’ He wouldn’t believe me. Sure enough, the camera doesn’t lie. He was open. He respected me a lot for that.”
Matthew Harris is one of Cannon’s peers. “There is no question that Dave’s knowledge of the game is a massive asset to him,” Harris said. “Anyone who was once scratch clearly knows the game and he has applied that knowledge to his photographic skills. That is partly why he seems so often to be in the right place at the right time.
“There are two of Dave’s pictures that I think demonstrate this,” Harris continued. “One is of Seve (Ballesteros) playing his second to the 15th in the 1988 Open at Lytham. Seve is bent backwards. Only Dave and Peter Dazeley got that picture and I do not think it is a coincidence that Dave and Peter were both good golfers. They were not the only ones following Seve at that time but they were the only two who got that photo because they had worked out that Seve was going to have to put particular effort into that shot because it was into the wind and they knew where to go to get the picture.
“The second is his famous one of Seve celebrating victory in the 1984 Open at St Andrews. There were lots of photographers around that green and they all got photos but in reality only three photographers got the moment. These are the photographs of Seve’s victory celebrations that are seen again and again. Dave was one, (the late) Phil Sheldon was another and a chap called Matthew Harris was the third.”
John Mummert, the USGA’s assistant director of visual content, was at Hoylake recently attending his 13th Walker Cup and at most of those he has worked alongside Cannon. “He is always one of those who, if you see him on site, you go ‘OK, game on this week. We’re going to have to work a little harder,’ ” Mummert said.
“One of the things I tell my team all the time is that you make your own luck by being out there in days that other people don’t want to be out there. When it’s raining sideways, you still go out there. When the light isn’t perfect, you still go out there. You can’t make your luck in the media centre. If you’re not out there you’re not even giving yourself a chance.
“There are not a lot of right decisions to be made but there are a lot of wrong ones. So much of what we do is knowing where to be and when to be there. It is very much a sixth sense, gut instinct, hairs on the back of the neck. Dave has had a career of making the right decisions. He is historically always in the right place.”
Cannon has worked for other people all his life, for Neville Chadwick in Leicester, Bob Thomas in Northampton, Allsport and then Getty Images. Soon he will have his own library, the David Cannon Collection at Getty Images, and starting a project such as that in his seventh decade is sure to give him a new lease of life. He will continue taking golf photographs for some time yet, equipment over his shoulder, his distinctive hat on his head or round his neck
“Some people want to do (photography) for five minutes and then get fed up and move on,” Rogers said. “Anybody who is in it for a long time has had to give up their social life, work weekends, work at night. When everybody else is out there you’re out there working. But he is still as keen as mustard. He is as keen now as he was on the first day he started, which takes some doing in this job.”
Here we reprint five of Cannon’s most famous photographs, chosen by him and accompanied by his own words as to why they are significant to him.
Severiano Ballesteros upon winning the 1984 Open Championship at St Andrews. The ’84 Open was my third as a fully accredited photographer. When I saw where Seve’s ball was on the final green I knew where I wanted to be. I chose a position in the long grass on the bank at the back of the green. It was perfect. I must have had a premonition as I put a fresh roll of film in and I think I was more nervous than Seve. I had to concentrate so hard to keep the focus on Seve. What a moment it was. It seemed to go on forever and in fact just as Seve embraced his caddie I ran out of film, thirty-six precious frames! Unlike many final putt sequences there are probably four or five iconic frames. This was so special. My all-time sporting hero at the home of golf.
Seve Ballesteros on Somo Beach at home in Pedrena in 1996. This picture was taken at the end of a day that probably means the most to me in my whole career. I had arrived the day before from Australia and was very jet-lagged but it was wonderful, shooting instruction articles for Golf World magazine that culminated in getting Seve to re-create how as a boy he cut holes with soup cans, found a stick and used a handkerchief as a flag.
Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters Tournament. I had been following Seve until the 15th hole hearing the huge roars from what was clearly the crowd reacting to Jack Nicklaus making birdies and eagles on a huge charge. Just as Jack played his second shot on the 17th hole, Seve was walking down the 15th hole that runs alongside. This was pure chance as I was still undecided, literally walking 10 yards each way at least five times until finally settling on following Jack. I am lucky being over 6 feet tall and found the tiniest gap over the head of the crowds and focused on Nicklaus. A great decision as it turned out as he rolled in his birdie putt on 17 and made a fabulous iconic picture for me.
Tiger Woods during the 2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The driving range at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club was a fabulous opportunity to make lovely early morning pictures as the sun rises directly into the eyes of the players. Not ideal for them but it gives us a great chance to make some really different pictures. This picture was taken on the morning of the first round as Tiger warmed up. I got absolutely soaked as I lay down on the wet grass. I love this picture because the point of focus is on Tiger’s eyelashes and his whole upper body shape is so recognizable. The slight flex in the driver shaft also adds to the picture.
The par-3 ninth hole on the Ailsa Course at the Trump Turnberry Resort in Scotland. The Ailsa Course has for a long while been my favourite course in the world and Turnberry has always held a special place in my life as my mother, who was in the Women’s Royal Air Force, was based there during the war and would take great delight in recounting how she would swim naked with friends off the rocks. The new ninth hole is a testing par-3 over the rocks to a green situated in front of the iconic lighthouse. The thing about photographing courses in the British Isles is the incredible skyscapes we get. This particular morning was another breathtaking Scottish morning in July as the sun rose with a wonderful sky. Course photography is my “hobby.” It is hard to describe mornings like this, out on the links before the greenkeepers arrive. Just me, my cameras, the birds, the hares, and the noise of the sea in my favourite place in the world.
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