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Award-Winning Photographer Donald Miralle Shares His Top 10 Outdoor Shots of All Time

From the Tokyo Summer Olympics to Mavericks' monstrous waves

By Photography by Donald Miralle

Donald Miralle Photo Essay - Ironman Championship Hawaii

2012 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i“The view of the mass swim start of 2,000 triathletes from my position hanging out the door of a helicopter. This is a moment in time you don’t get to see anymore—they now send the athletes out in waves instead of all at once.”

Donald Miralle just returned from the LA Marathon, where he and his team of assistant photographers captured the annual siege: nearly 40,000 athletes methodically descending on the city. From the Dodger Stadium starting line, where Miralle hovered above the crowd at dawn on a cherry picker, to the finish line at the Avenue of the Stars. After capturing the thrill of the start—80,000 legs suddenly in motion—they hopped on motorcycles to zip around the city and capture key moments of the entire 26.2-mile course. His wife, Lauren, and their two sons are happy to have him back on solid ground at their Leucadia home, but they know it won’t be long before the award-winning photographer takes off on his next adventure.

By Jet Ski, helicopter, or his own two feet, Miralle has gone far afield to capture the world’s most prolific athletes (Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in the early 2000s, all the gold medal events for Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps), the largest events (the Super Bowl, the Summer and Winter Olympics), and the most remote locations, like cave diving isolated cenotes in Tulum.

“The moment I get on a scene, I take the camera away from my face and look around, absorb what’s around me,” says Miralle. “When your face is in the scamera, you miss out on a lot of things. I step back, watch the scene unfold, see the bigger picture.”

From the alternate realities just below the surface in the Yucatán Peninsula to the highest bike race on earth in Nepal, Miralle’s massive portfolio is a visual love letter to the great outdoors. His anything-for-the-shot approach has landed his work in The New York Times and Sports Illustrated, and earned him over 50 international awards, including six from the World Press Photo Foundation and seven from the Pictures of the Year International Competition for Sports Photographer of the Year. For our annual outdoors issue, Miralle shares some of his greatest adventure shots of all time. — Erica Nichols

Donald Miralle - Tokyo Olympic diver

Donald Miralle – Tokyo Olympic diver

Team China in the men’s synchronized 10-meter platform diving at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics

“This is such an insane sport, where divers have to be in perfect synchronization. This photo captures that dynamic, multiple-exposure movement showing the spins and dives they’re doing.”

Donald Miralle - Tokyo Olympics swimmer

Donald Miralle – Tokyo Olympics swimmer

Caeleb Dressel: Men’s 100-meter butterfly at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics

“Dressel is one of the most powerful swimmers on the planet. I sat with a really long 600 millimeter lens prefocused to the spot where I predicted he’d come up and captured him bursting out of the water, on his way to get the gold medal.”

Donald Miralle - swimmer

Donald Miralle – swimmer

Swimming Team Free Final in the 2019 FINA World Championships

“The moment Team Russia enters the water, where the water is still really calm—I flipped the photo so their reflection at the bottom of the pool is mirrored. I had to really envision what I wanted way before the moment came here. The camera is static, situated in an underwater box that’s weighted down in the pool with about 200 feet of cable running out of the pool and onto the pool deck, where I fired the shot with a remote control.”

Donald Miralle - Chumbo surfing

Donald Miralle – Chumbo surfing

Professional surfer Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, 2017

“The California coast was hit by a massive swell, where the conditions were projecting waves from 35 to 50 feet for several days. I was positioned on a Jet Ski, capturing Chianca dropping in and outrunning this avalanche of water.”

Donald Miralle - US Open of Surfing

Donald Miralle – US Open of Surfing

2014 US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach

“Shot for Sports Illustrated. I hung out of a helicopter to capture this cool, graphic view of the spectators along the pier and the turbulence in the water as the surfer paddles out.”

Donald Miralle - Carlsbad bioluminescence

Donald Miralle – Carlsbad bioluminescence

Bioluminescent waves beneath a full moon in Carlsbad, 2020

“Amid COVID, we were treated to bioluminescence and a full moon. With a couple of friends, we went out to a secret spot at night. It was a stealth mission of them paddling out into the water, myself waiting in the dark to watch them get a wave. Magical.”

Donald Miralle - Reef sharks

Donald Miralle – Reef sharks

Blacktip reef sharks in Bora Bora, 2016

“I was out in Tahiti competing in an open-water race. On my day off, I spent the morning swimming with these blacktip reef sharks and was able to appreciate the beauty of the pristine water there—it’s crystal clear, with a beautiful ecosystem.”

Donald Miralle - Fish and coral reef

Donald Miralle – Fish and coral reef

Fish moving among a coral reef in Bermuda, 2018

“On my last day of a work trip for Condé Nast, I took a boat out to a reef and free dived about 30 feet down, capturing this cool, pretty sea fan and the fish moving all around it.”

Donald Miralle - Swimmers and turtle

Donald Miralle – Swimmers and turtle

2016 Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i

“I found myself at the bottom of the bay, at six a.m., as nearly 2,000 athletes waited in the water above me for the signal to start. There was this anticipation in the air when I saw this green honu [sea turtle] swim by my lens. I almost couldn’t believe it. It’s one of my more famous photos in sports and captures the mana [soul] of the event and of the Hawaiian Islands.”

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