6 sports photographers share the favourite images they captured in 2020

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Michael Hermosillo. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
  • 2020 was weird year in the world of sports.
  • In addition to the highs and lows of top-tier competition, the sports world was interwoven into both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Insider asked six sports photographers at Getty Images to take us through their favourite shot of the year, and explain what stood out to them in this unprecedented year.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

2020 was a strange year in the world of sports.

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced people around the world into their homes, sports leagues were forced to suspend play and figure out how to proceed. Some formed bubbles, and others played on in empty stadiums without the roaring crowds that would normally accompany the best athletes in the world.

Then, after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, marches across the country took place in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against racial injustice, with many star athletes using their platforms to push forward their message.

As the year comes to a close, Insider asked six photographers at Getty Images to take us through the best shot they took in 2020. We asked them three questions: How did this photograph come together? What was it about this shot that stuck with you? What was the biggest difference or challenge of your job in 2020?

These are the best sports photographs of 2020, as told by the photographers that shot them.


Maddie Meyer — OL Reign kneel together

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How did this photograph come together?


What was it about this shot that stuck with you?

This is an image from the NWSL Challenge Cup this summer in Utah, before the quarterfinal match between the OL Reign and Chicago FC. This summer was one of reckoning in the United States following the murder of George Floyd. Kneeling for the national anthem went from a protest by few in years past, to demonstrations sweeping the WNBA and NWSL. The most impactful photos I am able to make are the occasions where news and sport intersect.


What was the biggest difference or challenge of your job in 2020?

The biggest challenge this year was illustrating in my work the chaos and tumult of 2020, while still showcasing athletes in action. Here I was able to use the dramatic summer Utah light to show members of the OL Reign kneeling together donning “Black Lives Matter” shirts. It’s a quiet and powerful moment I know I’ll always remember.


Ezra Shaw — Michael Hermosillo catches the final out

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How did this photograph come together?


What was it about this shot that stuck with you?

This picture pretty much sums up the baseball season for me. It definitely was strange when the Major League Baseball season began this year. The start of the season was delayed a few months because of the pandemic and no teams in California allowed fans to attend the games. A lot of the teams were selling cardboard cutouts of pictures of their fans to fill the seats. The Oakland Athletics did sell the cardboard cutouts, but in one section of the stadium they went a step further, and they put stuffed animals, along with a cutout of some of their former great players.

This picture was taken on the last out of one of the first games I went to all season. It hadn’t been a great game for pictures, so I was very excited when the Michael Hermosillo, the left fielder, leapt up to catch the ball right in front of the stuffed animals for the last out. It reminds me of the famous incident when Steve Bartman reached over the wall in Chicago in the postseason in 2003 and prevented a Cubs player from catching the ball in foul territory. On this play, Hermosillo didn’t have to worry about any fans reaching over to prevent him from making the play.


What was the biggest difference or challenge of your job in 2020?

The biggest notable difference for me in 2020 is the lack of fans at the games. It definitely makes for less traffic in and out of the stadium, but it unfortunately changes the atmosphere at the game. I love my job, and feel very fortunate to be able to continue to do it during the pandemic. However, what I love most about my job is the energy that the fans create at a sporting event. So hopefully, the fans will be back in their seats soon, and I will be back to complaining about the horrible traffic getting in and out of the stadium.


Patrick Smith — The ‘Lumber-Jacked Gym’

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How did this photograph come together?

A month into the pandemic shutting down professional sports, I learned of Zachary Skidmore who was adhering to Ohio’s stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus outbreak. He created the ‘Lumber-Jacked Gym’ – a seven station workout setup he constructed by hand out of a downed tree. Due to the uncertainty of the crisis, I drove over six hours each way – all in one day – to photograph him working out. I knew this was a powerful story and knew our customers at Getty Images would be able to connect with him through my visuals.


What was it about this shot that stuck with you?

I tracked down and photographed many athletes as they trained in isolation under strict policies in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But Zachary’s commitment, attitude, and approach are something that cemented with me personally during this challenging year. We’ve all been affected in one way or another by this virus, and he showed the world that he wouldn’t be stopped from making the most of his life.


Elsa Garrison — Cam Newton takes the field

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How did this photograph come together?

On certain days games, the light in the visitor tunnel for New York Jets games can be quite soft and lovely. Normally we are covering the game from field level and can see players coming out of the tunnel easily.

Before warmups began, I searched for the best angle into the tunnel where I thought the light was the best. I wanted to get a nice tight portrait of Cam Newton as he took the field for warmups. I knew that he would most likely have his helmet off as he came out for warmups and I could see his face easily as he wears a reflective face shield on his helmet once the game starts. Lucky for me, he was walking out alone and on the opposite side of the tunnel from where I was standing so I could see him.


What was it about this shot that stuck with you?

I like the quiet softness in this picture. The light falls on his face nicely and reads easily. It is a simple quiet moment of him before he takes the field. I have tried to duplicate it with other athletes during subsequent games at MetLife stadium and so far I haven’t been able to see this again.


What was the biggest difference or challenge of your job in 2020?

This year has required us to have a bit more patience than before. The first half of the year is normally very busy for me. A typical spring for me would include March Madness, NCAA basketball, and NCAA hockey, the start of NHL and NBA playoffs, the start of regular season MLB games at both the New York Yankees and New York Mets, and the start of the MLS season. This year none of that happened.

We were finding ways to stay busy and that meant covering news events that we as sport photographers normally would not cover. We tried to find more feature work to do and covered some Olympic athletes as they tried to stay in shape in case the Summer Olympic Games happened in 2020. Patience was a key component for me working in 2020. I could not cover as many events and move at the pace I normally would during the first half of the year. It forced is to be a lot more creative in our approach to competition.


Tom Pennington — Mookie Betts goes yard

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How did this photograph come together? What was it about this shot that stuck with you?

Mookie hit this homerun in the bottom of the 8th inning. At the time, the Dodgers were only leading the Rays by one run, so the homerun helped provide a little more insurance for the Dodgers to hang on for one more inning and secure the World Series win.

The mood in the stadium was electric, with the Dodgers fans on their feet cheering when Mookie walked up to the plate. The fans exploded the instant Mookie made contact with the ball, so I knew it had a good chance of being a home run. I followed Mookie all the way down the first baseline, but he hadn’t reacted as soon as I had expected he would. Then right as he approached first base to make the turn to second base, he absolutely exploded with emotion! I immediately knew, through the viewfinder, that it was a big moment that we had all been waiting the whole World Series for, and that I had captured it.

I continued to track Mookie around the bases, across home plate and all the way back to the dugout. Fans around my photo position were going mental with excitement, but I had to concentrate and remain mentally focused on continuing to cover the game, as Corey Seager was now at bat. In between pitches to Seager, I was able to review the image on the back of the camera screen and transmit the image from the camera directly to our editors. I was extremely excited and relieved that Mookie had reacted the way that he did! Moments like that reaction are very rare during a “normal” season, much less a COVID modified season.


Christ Graythen — NASCAR stands with Bubba Wallace

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How did this photograph come together? What was it about this shot that stuck with you?

On this day, NASCAR came together to support one of their own. We knew that the drivers were going to push his car to the front of the starting grid and walk alongside the car.

Even with limited media allowed in, I knew I wanted to try to get something different and take a photo that showed the scale of how big this was. I put a camera on my monopod and raised it up about 6-8 feet above me to be able to capture not just Bubba, but the whole sport standing with him. The high angle helps give a little better sense of the scale of the moment, to tell the story in one image.