Capturing Essence: Madeleine Penfold’s Journey as the Photographer Behind Football’s Biggest Names

With an innate ability to find beauty in ordinary moments, Madeleine Penfold‘s photography career began on the streets of North Manchester. At a young age, she was already playing with cameras. This hobby grew into a passion by 14 when she was gifted her first camera. Her artistic expression expanded to embrace the music and club culture that thrummed through Manchester. Madeleine started photographing friends and local music nights in an organic documentary style at college. She longed to capture the essence of fleeting experiences, and her photographs reflected her immersion in these worlds.

Though Madeleine studied business at her mother’s behest, corporate life held little allure post-graduation. Aged 21, she embarked on a 3-month American adventure to inch closer to her photographic aspirations. Stateside, Madeleine taught photography at a summer camp while producing photographic images and films. This time helped Madeleine see how much pop culture impacts young people. Being a gay woman who liked wearing baggy clothes, she never saw anyone like herself in the media. She vowed that her work would provide diverse representation so others could embrace their true selves. 

Returning home, Madeleine spent two years in digital production though her heart wasn’t in it. Aged 23, she launched a successful studio in Manchester, making headlines as an entrepreneur. While rewarding, studio life soon lost its sheen. Madeleine left the studio after a reflective trip to Gambia to pursue freelance photography full-time. This leap of faith quickly paid off. Within a month, she photographed footballer Roberto Firmino and soon after went to a Real Madrid shoot where she met a talent manager who admired her relaxed confidence with athletes.

More football work flowed in. Madeleine’s genuine connection with players set her apart. She has also captured the personas of football giants, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Sadio Mane, and Jurgen Klopp.

Beyond sports, Madeleine has donated her skills to causes and communities close to her heart, balancing the world of commercial shoots. From local charities to independent brands, her pro bono work gave her greater purpose and surrounded her with like-minded creatives. 

Today, top brands regularly book Madeleine for major campaigns, valuing the mindfulness techniques and visualization skills she uses. She coaxes authentic expressions from talent by cultivating an open, trusting environment on set. According to one client, “Madeleine brings the person out of the player”—her light-hearted nature puts even elite athletes at ease. Amongst other accolades, tennis phenom Coco Gauff personally requested Madeleine for future shoots.

Paralleling her commercial work, Madeleine continues championing inclusivity and diversity in her sports imagery. She embraces subjects of all backgrounds, shapes, and sizes, challenging societal beauty ideals. For Madeleine, truly meaningful photography reveals the subject’s inner essence, not superficial appearances. Her recent workout campaign for Adidas Global Women’s World Cup 2023 exemplifies this approach, highlighting the athletes’ strength and spirit.

As she develops her signature style, Madeleine aspires to impact a new generation of creatives. She hopes her unconventional path inspires youth to pursue their passions, no matter external pressures. While awards and acclaim motivate her, human connection remains Madeleine’s driving force. She views each photoshoot as an opportunity to uncover our shared humanity behind the guise of celebrity. For Madeleine Penfold, photography is not about capturing the perfect image but about capturing life.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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