"My time on the Ham&High in particular was a real education," Eamonn McCabe once wrote, but while he may have started at this newspaper, he went on to acclaim around the world.

The former sport, news and portrait photographer from north London has died aged 74, drawing tributes from across the industry.

Eamonn joined the Observer in 1976, as a sports photographer, and went on to become picture editor for the Guardian.

But having developed an interest in photography through taking pictures of bands such as Bad Company and The Who, it was by covering sport for the Ham&High in the early 1970s that his career began.

Eamonn's wife, journalist Rebecca Smithers, said: "Eamonn's spell on the Ham&High was a hugely interesting and rewarding one and we always enjoyed returning to his old 'stamping ground' together when he would recall that period in his career and his hugely varied assignments.

"Also, any excuse for a pint at The Flask! He was a big fan of local papers throughout his life and used to say they taught him valuable life lessons such as how to turn up on time, shoot to size, negotiate with people and how to wing it.

"The Ham&High's catchment area – with a large number of MPs living there – meant it was always rich in news.

"And the quality of sport was an added bonus. He used to photograph Arsenal, Spurs – his favourite football team – and the Saracens before they got really big. I know that this segment of his working life was a very important one of which he was very proud."

Paul Collins said when he became Ham&High sports editor, he decided to make coverage of Arsenal and Spurs more analytical, with more interviews.

"But our section needed to catch the eye – and Eamonn's work leapt off the page. Outstanding pictures captured the drama far more than ordinary football images," he said.

"I knew his quality would take him to the top and much deserved recognition. It also did not surprise me that tributes have come in such large numbers. Eamonn was a consummate professional and a pleasure to commission."

Ham & High: Eamonn McCabe's shot of Phil Thompson and Phil Neal of Liverpool celebrating winning the European Cup in Paris in 1981 against MadridEamonn McCabe's shot of Phil Thompson and Phil Neal of Liverpool celebrating winning the European Cup in Paris in 1981 against Madrid (Image: (C) Guardian / eyevine. All Rights Reserved.)

Ham&High photographer Nigel Sutton said his friend always "had a fantastic eye".

"He was a fantastic guy," he said.

"He was on sport but started doing general stuff for us. He would fill in – I remember him standing in for me when I had glandular fever.

"He loved working for the Ham&High, going to all the MPs' houses – far more impressive in those days."

He added: "He was a great, great guy, always generous with his time and always willing to help out. And he was very modest, never blew his own trumpet."

Ham & High: Eamonn McCabe at his friend and former Ham&High colleague Nigel Sutton's exhibition at Burgh HouseEamonn McCabe at his friend and former Ham&High colleague Nigel Sutton's exhibition at Burgh House (Image: Peter Beal)

Plenty of others were willing to sing his praises.

His work for the Observer took him to the Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1984) Olympics, and he was a four-times winner of Sports Photographer of the Year.

In 1985 he found himself at the Heysel Stadium disaster, when 39 people in the crowd died before the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool.

"It was a shocking situation to be in," Eamonn wrote in the Guardian in 2002. "I'd gone out there for the Observer to shoot a football match and all of a sudden I found myself having to take pictures of people dying. You're shooting for a paper and you have to go into a kind of professional drive to get the job done."

Ham & High: Eamonn McCabe's portrait of Desmond TutuEamonn McCabe's portrait of Desmond Tutu (Image: (C) Guardian / eyevine. All Rights Reserved.)

Eamonn continued in photography after leaving the newspaper industry, with 29 pictures in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. These include photographs of Sir Tony Blair, Dame Paula Rego and Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens).

Eamonn McCabe’s death at his home in Suffolk on Sunday was sudden and unexpected. He is survived by his wife, Rebecca Smithers, and their daughter, Mabel, and his son, Ben, by a previous marriage.