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Characters | Leonard Kamsler

For 50 years Leonard Kamsler has been golf's most creative photographer

By: Jeff Neuman

Appeared in Fall 2013 LINKS

Sometimes, to be creative you’ve got to think inside the box.

Leonard Kamsler was assigned by Golf Magazine to shoot a cover photo of Bruce Crampton. The problem was, Crampton didn’t like being photographed. 

“He was playing early in the morning, there were only a handful of people following him, and I stood out like a sore thumb,” Kamsler recalls.

“So I went a few holes ahead to a tee where there was this cardboard garbage box—it was early in the morning, there was nothing in it. So I took my key out, and cut a little hole in the side, put the thing over the top of me, and squatted down. I had it in just the spot I needed. He came along and hit his tee shot, I got the picture, he went ahead, and I lifted up the box and went about my day.”

Kamsler has solved a lot of problems in his 50 years as one of golf’s premier photographers. Most didn’t involve hiding in a trash bin, though with Crampton he only risked embarrassment; with Raymond Floyd he was risking his life.

“I had to get a swing sequence with Raymond, an up-target picture [facing the golfer from the front], and we found a place with a decent background,” Kamsler says in his high-pitched southern twang. “But the tee wasn’t raised more than a foot. I said, ‘Raymond, now’s your chance to get rid of me for good.’ He says, ‘Yeah, but’—we’re both from North Carolina—‘whoever they would replace you with would be worse than you.’” Floyd’s shots flew safely down the fairway, and Kamsler lived to shoot again.

No one has photographed more swing sequences than Kamsler. Lugging his heavy, high-speed Hulcher camera to the practice range—Kamsler persuaded Charles Hulcher to create a model that could shoot 100 frames a second instead of the usual 50—he has shot every major player from Arnold Palmer (below in stroboscopic detail) to Tiger Woods.

Kamsler began his career in New York working for Milton H. Greene at Marilyn Monroe Productions, but soon realized commercial photography wasn’t for him, and started pitching ideas to sports and golf magazines. He once had photos on the covers of Golf Magazine, Golf Digest, Par Golf, and Golf World at the same time.

Golf instruction became his niche even though he doesn’t play the game. “Instruction was what nobody else wanted to do. They all like to go out and sweat up and down those hills with those heavy cameras with the long lenses and maybe get one picture published; I’d go out and spend an hour on an instruction piece and get four pages.”

To hone his craft, he spent time with Harold “Doc” Edgerton, the father of stroboscopic photography, while also stretching beyond golf as photographer for Ringling Brothers, Disney on Ice, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Moscow Circus, and a host of country music stars in the 1970s and ’80s.

Kamsler was the media honoree at the Memorial Tournament in 2001, and was presented with a caricature signed by nearly all of the field at his 35th Masters, a memento that hangs in his Manhattan living room.

In his late 70s, he still shoots for several magazines, and works closely with Dave Pelz on his books and articles. For Pelz’s book Golf Without Fear, Kamsler developed a technique to show everything the golfer sees, from his own hands and stance and club position to the trouble he’s facing and the target down the line. He and Pelz dubbed it the “Golfer’s Eye View.”

“I had an art education professor at Duke who had a slogan: ‘Exhaust the possibilities,’” he says. “That’s what we did with ‘Golfer’s Eye View.’”  

It’s what Kamsler’s done for more than half a century.              

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