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Behind the lens: Ezra Shaw

The veteran sports photographer's powerful images of Michael Phelps, the Tour de France and more.

In his 13 years as a staff photographer for Getty, Ezra Shaw has documented the world’s most epic sporting events — from the Olympic Games to the Super Bowl to the World Series. His human-interest features have ranged from a 500-mile wheelchair race across Alaska to a bike race that crossed 580 kilometres of the Simpson Desert in Australia. Here, he shares the stories behind a few of his favorite shots.

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  • Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics

    Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics

    "Michael Phelps was the biggest story of the Beijing Olympics. I was shooting in the catwalk when he won his eighth gold medal to break Mark Spitz's record of seven. There were only a few other photographers, and we were only allowed one lens with us at a time for safety reasons. I positioned myself above Phelps' mother and two sisters (thinking he might wave to them from the pool side). When he began his victory lap, he not only waved to his mother, but walked through a sea of photographers to hug her and that’s when I got the image."
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  • James Blake

    James Blake

    "Tennis is one of my favorite sports to shoot. You have the opportunity to move around so you can work different angles and also use the changing light for different pictures. For this picture of James Blake I was shooting overhead, working the different shadows as he served."
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  • World Paragliding Championships

    World Paragliding Championships

    "Before I got the assignment to go shoot the World Paragliding Championships in 2007, I didn’t even really know what the sport involved. It was amazing. Each competitor would run off a cliff with a kite attached, and then ride thermal air currents to a destination between 50-100 miles away. There were nearly 200 paragliders up in the air at the same time, and with all the different colors of the kites, it made for beautiful pictures. I really like how the sun flare in the lens adds to this image."

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  • Closing Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics

    Closing Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics

    "For the Opening Ceremony, I had to wear a firefighter suit because of the amount of fireworks — plus we were only allowed in certain locations. It was great to get a second chance at the Closing Ceremony. For this picture, I mounted a remote camera with an 8mm lens over the side of the stadium. Every time fireworks went off, we were required to duck down for safety reasons. So I actually couldn’t see the fireworks when I took this picture, but whenever I heard the explosions, I would press the remote trigger."

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  • Tour de France

    Tour de France

    "I've only shot the Tour de France once, and it remains one of my favorite assignments. It's similar to having a Super Bowl every day for three weeks straight. For this picture, I was on the back of a motorcycle, a little ahead of the peloton, and saw this hay field in the distance. We pulled over, I ran through the field with all my equipment and my helmet still on my head, and I was able to position myself for this picture just in time. They passed me in about 10 seconds, and then I ran back to the motorcycle and was off to try to catch up with the riders."

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  • James Lilly

    James Lilly

    "In 2005, I had the opportunity to work with James Lilly. He was shot twice and paralyzed while in a gang fight at the age of 15 in the South Side of Chicago. Over 20 years after the shooting, James has become a motivational speaker and professional wheelchair athlete. The race he trains the hardest for is Sadler's Ultra Challenge, a 267-mile stage race for wheelchair athletes from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska. Similar to the Tour de France, the athletes race a different distance every day over the six days of the race. This picture was taken on the final day of the race, when James and his good friend Alejandro Albor decided to go for a swim."

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