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Remembering Leonard Kamsler Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

27 November 2020

The undisputed dean of golf photography, Leonard Kamsler, died earlier this month from organ failure in Bethel, N.Y. He was 85.

As a freelancer primarily for Golf magazine from 1959 to 2019, Kamsler covered 40 consecutive Masters tournaments, 17 PGA championships and 22 U.S. Opens. No one was better than him at capturing "the perfect picture at the perfect time," Tom Watson said when Kamsler became the first recipient of the PGA's Lifetime Achievement Award in Photojournalism last year.

As good as he was as a photojournalist on the course, his technical innovations changed golf photography.

He applied the lessons he learned in 1957 from Harold "Doc" Edgerton at MIT, who pioneered the use of strobes in photography, to capture the arc of a golf swing in stop-motion images. Kamsler used the technique to document over 400 golf-swing sequences of the greatest golfers, including Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Kathy Whitworth and Tiger Woods.

He used a high speed 35mm camera designed to shoot 70 frames per second that he tweaked to capture 200 fps. The camera had originally been developed by Charles Hulcher to record slow-motion studies of rocket launches.

And he was the first to set up remotely controlled cameras behind holes 12 and 15 at Augusta National Golf Club for the Masters.

Kamsler "always shared what he learned, always helped the other guys," said Dom Furore, senior photographer for Golf Digest. "Leonard got to the top without sharp elbows."

He was just as well-known for his ability to disguise himself to photograph the more reclusive golfers on the tour.

He once hid himself in a cardboard garbage can in which he cut a hole for his camera to photograph Bruce Crampton. And he nearly got a shot of Ben Hogan by camoflauged himself as a bush but Hogan spied him and walked on.

Kamsler, who was born in Raleigh, N.C., grew up in North Carolina. His father gave him a movie camera when he was 12, opening up a new world to him. As an undergraduate at Duke University, Kamsler took an art appreciation class that persuaded him to abandon his plan of becoming a magician.

His first job out of college was working as an assistant for New York City photographer Milton Green, whose star client was film icon Marilyn Monroe, at $32 a week.

"I worked for Milton for about a year, then went into the Army for six months," Kamsler remembered. "I was not a great soldier. After that, I started freelancing and very quickly got that first job for Golf Magazine. Funny how that happened, because I was not a golfer. Forty-five years later, I was still shooting golf, but I never played a single round."

Golf wasn't his only subject. He shot the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Disney on Ice and the Harlem Globetrotters. He also shot for country-music labels and medical journals.

Kamsler sold his library of over 200,000 images to Popperfoto, a partnership with Getty Images, in 2018. Leonard Kamsler: A Life in Pictures contains a nice selection.

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