Photography is a broad and all-encompassing medium for artistic expression. However, if you’ve ever seen a picture of your favorite athlete in action or a photograph of a priceless expression from a game you enjoy, you’ve come into contact with the work of a sports photographer.

“Sports photography” is a branch of photography that focuses on showing athletes doing their sports in a way that portrays the beauty and elegance of their movements and the event’s emotions. And sports photographers are professionals that specialize in this field.

Suppose you’ve been captivated by the beauty of sports images or wondered what it would be like to work as a sports photographer. In that case, you should read this article until the end, as it will cover most of the key information you need to become a sports photographer.

Who Is a Sports Photographer?

A “sports photographer” is a professional photographer who captures images of athletes and sporting events. The most crucial role of a sports photographer is to show viewers and readers how beautiful sports events can be. Obviously, the sports media relies heavily on this branch of photography.

Images in sports photography are utilized to tell stories that a thousand words cannot. For example, a picture could show how a hockey player feels when their team loses to the opponent. Sports photographers work with magazines, websites, and stock photography agencies to send pictures of sporting events from small-scale to big-scale ones like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, Indian Premier League, National Hockey League, Formula 1, etc. They are the main instruments in getting images from these events to outlets like magazines, websites, newspapers, periodicals, and the internet at large.

Sports photographers could also work as freelance photographers for various media outlets. Similarly, photojournalists are sports photographers who also write stories to complement their photos.

As expected, sports photographers are thought to have a high skill level because the pictures they take should show how the athletes move, perform, and feel. This skill level exceeds the one needed to capture still or posing images. 

It’s also essential for photographers who cover sports events to take photos that both the athletes and the audience can relate to. Looking at the images from a sporting event, people should be able to tell its mood and describe its moments without being present. That’s how important the work of a sports photographer is.

What Does a Sports Photographer Do?

Generally, photographers specializing in sports have almost the same training as other photographers. However, they are required to understand the events they capture thoroughly. Many sports photographers niche down on one sport for this reason. However, some choose to focus on two similar sports, like soccer and hockey, which both have a lot of action and are hard to predict.

Some responsibilities of a sports photographer  include the following:

  • Ensuring they have access to all of the equipment needed, such as good lighting, that is required to create photographs of high quality.
  • Install their technical gear at the sporting venue promptly before each event and successfully pack them afterward.
  • Taking care of photographic tools and equipment.
  • Using high-class photo-editing software to edit the photographs they took to ensure that they are of the highest possible quality.
  • Working closely with journalists to ensure that their photographs are being used appropriately.
  • In most cases, sports photographers are required to meet strict deadlines. They provide that all images are suitable and processed before deadlines.
  • Being abreast of all that is happening in their chosen field of expertise. If you photograph soccer, for instance, you have to be up to date on what’s happening with various soccer teams, matches, players, etc.
  • Monitoring weather reports and evaluating the potential of each shooting location. In most cases, this assists in preparing for whatever lies ahead.

Skills Required of A Sports Photographer

If you want to start a career as a sports photographer, here is a list of skills that will help you thrive in the profession.

Imaginative storytelling

Photographers who cover sporting events need to be creative and able to use their photos to tell a story. They also need to be able to set up their shots in a way that makes sense to their audience. Because of this combination, they would not only be valuable in their field but also need to stand out as professionals. 

Social perception

A good sports photographer needs to know how people react to different moments and what makes them react that way. This is critical because, in sports like football, for instance, it is vital to capture the mood and reactions of both the winning and losing teams’ players. When recounting the story, these reactions generate more attention than their acts.

Problem-solving skills

A sports photographer may have trouble with their equipment while taking pictures during a game. They must be able to fix these problems quickly and keep working to not miss out on too much action.

Technical knowledge

A good sports photographer must vastly understand operating fundamental photography equipment such as digital and non-digital cameras, lenses, and speed lights. He must also be skillful and experienced in using industry-standard picture-editing tools like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Sports photographers also need to know how to use different lighting tools and techniques to show the subject in the best light.

Traveling experience

Traveling to sports venues takes a lot of time for many sports photographers. This may sometimes require them to move their gears between countries. Hence, they must ensure they have reliable transportation to keep up with the rest of the crew and experience dealing with new locations. They may also be required to edit photographs regardless of where they are, in which case having a mobile workstation comes in handy.

Attention to detail

A sports photographer must pay close attention to minor details and listen carefully to what others say. They should also have an eye for detail to help them determine which colors, lighting, angles, and other elements will make an image appear great.

Proactiveness

Because unexpected things can happen during a shoot at a sports event, being a sports photographer requires one to be proactive while on the job. Being proactive allows you to spot complex problems from afar and find ways to deal with them. Proactiveness and problem-solving skills are essential skills that a sports photographer can’t do without. 

Clear communication 

As with any other career, a sports photographer must know how to communicate concisely with others verbally and in writing. You also need to be able to tell when an athlete or audience member is talking with their body language. Being able to discern the body language of your subjects will help you take memorable images that other photographers will likely miss. 

Additional competencies for every sports photography professional include:

  • Perseverance and focus
  • Strong networking abilities 
  • Teamwork abilities 
  • Critical thinking skills

How to Get Started as a Sports Photographer

Take some photography classes

Building a career in any type of photography involves capturing moments in the form of high-quality images, and sports photography is no different. Taking photography lessons is the first step in starting your journey as a sports photographer. If you are still a high schooler, consider taking some photography classes at your school. 

For people who have completed their high school education, photography classes are accessible both online and in the community. You need to take these classes to learn the fundamentals of using a digital camera. If you want to advance your skills and delve more deeply into other parts of the craft, consider getting a photography diploma.

When learning sports photography, especially as a novice, you should focus on action photography, which involves capturing moving objects.

Earn a higher-level degree.

According to research by Zippia, approximately 65 percent of individuals who shoot sports events have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Although you don’t need a degree to be a sports photographer, having one could be an advantage in highly competitive jobs. 

Therefore, if you want to commercialize sports photography and earn a living with it, you can find an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program that focuses on the field and apply to it.

However, note that there is no cause for alarm if you do not have a degree in photography because some companies will mainly look at your portfolio in addition to your experience working behind the camera in the sports field.

Learn How to Edit

You must be good at photo editing to work as a professional sports photographer in the twenty-first century. The courses you take on your journey to becoming a sports photographer will teach you this. However, you must apply a lot of practice to sharpen your image editing skills. 

Learning how to use well-known photo-editing tools like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom will significantly improve the caliber of your images and help you land some of the most significant positions in the industry.

Invest in high-quality photography equipment.

Given that many jobs in sports photography require applicants to have their own gear, purchasing high-quality equipment is a sensible investment. The quality of your equipment will determine the quality of your images. Generally, your sports photography equipment will include a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, speed light, a monopod, many memory cards, and a range of lenses (both standard and zoom). You’ll also need accessories like bags, carrying gear, protective coverings, etc.

Sports photographers need cameras with a minimum zoom lens of 200 millimeters to capture quality long-range images. However, you must choose a well-known brand whose camera you are comfortable using.

Learn about your preferred sporting niche.

In sports photography, selecting one sport you wish to document and becoming acquainted with it is advisable. It is often preferable to pick a sport you love. Knowing a sport’s style of play, teams, players, and event calendar help put you ahead of many other photographers in your field. Also, getting acquainted with a sport may let you know what can happen next, enabling you to capture special and memorable images. 

Another strategy is to look at previous professional breathtaking photos of the sport you want to photograph to get an idea of the types of moves to capture, such as a slam dunk in basketball, a dribble in football, a bowl in cricket, etc.

Continuously practice sports photography.

After training in photography, getting your equipment, and learning about the sport, the next step to becoming a sports photographer is to practice a lot. 

The practice aspect is regarded as the most challenging in sports photography because it requires physical strength and the ability to think quickly on one’s feet and master new technologies. Also, capturing a football game is not the same as photographing athletes competing in skiing or skating. This is why you must devote quality time and effort to honing your skills in your field.

Furthermore, a high level of muscle memory and reflexes are necessary for successful sports photography. Even with the most advanced photography equipment, capturing subjects in motion can be challenging. You may have trouble getting started, but consistent practice is the key to success.

You can start learning to take pictures of moving things by trying to take photos of birds, squirrels, people walking by, etc. But you can only go so far with this, so if you want to get somewhere, take your camera to local sporting events. 

After you become proficient with your camera and grasp the nature of the sport you want to capture, you should be ready to put everything you’ve learned into practice in real events. 

As much as you’d like to, you must understand that you can’t start your sports photography at the Olympic level. You can’t just start taking photos at a big-scale sports event. Therefore, you must start by building your skills, experience, and portfolio with small-scale events. For instance, you can volunteer to capture your high school, college, or neighborhood sports events. You can then move up gradually as your results get better.

Make an online portfolio of your work.

As you hone your skills by taking action shots of sports events, ensure to document your results. This is important because, like in other lines of work, potential employers will look at your portfolio to judge the quality of your work. Thus, you should save the best examples of past projects from the start. You can do this by sharing your best images on a portfolio website, social media page, or blog where others can view them.

Get an Internship

A job as an intern at a newspaper or magazine will not only help you increase your skills in a real professional environment but will also connect you with bigger opportunities in the sports photography field. Inquire at newspapers and magazines in your area to see if they are hiring for internship positions. Make them aware of your interest in sports photography and present your portfolio to make them consider you. You could also talk to your high school or neighborhood sports organizers about being their official sports photographer. These may only yield low pay or no pay at all. However, they are a good start in building your career.

Apart from photography, you should also be open to opportunities in other related fields like sports journalism or editing. This allows you to expand your scope and increase your experience in the field, putting you ahead of your competitors.

Constantly improve yourself.

A popular saying goes, “Do not bother to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” Improving yourself by consistently taking on new assignments and challenges is the best way to become the sports photographer that everyone wants. This will also help you build the confidence to showcase your versatility and photographic prowess more.

Like in any other career, there is no alternative to hard work. Sports photography is a crowded and highly competitive space. Therefore, you need to put in extra time and effort and seize every opportunity that comes your way. If you keep at it, you’ll become one of the best in your field. Then you can have a steady stream of employers that need your services.

Job Opportunities For Sport Photographer

There are several job opportunities for sports photographers, from media outlets to sports magazines or newspapers. You can also choose to go into freelance sports photography. This way, you are not confined to working in a physical office for one employer but from anywhere in the world. 

The following are examples of companies that hire sports photographers:

  • Sports Agencies 
  • Picture libraries
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines

Other Sports Photography Related Careers

Press photographers

These categories of photographers work for the press and are responsible for using photography to cover news, current events, and lifestyle stories. They work hard to get the best pictures that portray what happened and tell a story regarding an event. Their works usually appear alongside stories in a magazine or newspaper.

This kind of photography is sometimes referred to as editorial photography, and people in this niche can easily become photojournalists if they want to.

Video production specialist

A “Video Production Specialist” is a trained person who takes raw video footage and turns it into a finished product ready for public view. This procedure entails editing and combining raw video materials. 

Video production specialists don’t have to shoot videos themselves. However, they are in charge of overseeing every process of the video shoot and production, including planning, shooting, editing, uploading, and sharing across distribution channels.

Salary Expectations of a Sport Photographer 

A professional sports photographer can earn between $20,000 and $35,000 yearly. However, this can vary significantly depending on how many events you cover and how often your images are published.

 The average starting wage of a sports photographer in the United States is between $20,000 and $26,000. Working for a large professional company or a newspaper, you can expect to earn around $35,000 per year. 

While an average person may see this as very attractive wages, you must know that sports photographers spend a lot of money to buy high-end gear and take care of their equipment. You will also have to foot your health care bills, among other expenses, if you decide to go freelance.

Conclusion

Being a sports photographer is a dream job for anyone with a keen eye for photography and a deep appreciation for the thrill of sports. We hope this post provides you with the complete information you need to become a professional sports photographer and pursue a career in the field. As a bonus tip, remember that, just like any other job, your chosen field may not always be easy, but with enough time and effort, it will be rewarding in the long run.

FAQs

What camera do sports photographers use?

Professional sports photographers use high-performance mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. These cameras are fast and durable, with helpful features like two card slots and high continuous shooting rates. The Canon 1D X Mark III and the Sony a9 II are two of the most popular cameras used for sports photography.

What kind of lens do I need for sports photography?

Telephoto lenses with broad maximum apertures are ideal for sports photography. Examples of these lenses include the 70–200mm f/2.8 and even the 400mm f/2.8 glass. The prices of these lenses are high, yet having them is necessary to capture sharp images even when the available light is limited.

How do I start sports photography?

To start in sports photography, you first need to learn how to use your camera and get familiar with the sport you want to capture. You can take courses or get a degree to help you get all the knowledge you need to pursue a professional career in the field. After a while, you can start looking for small-scale sports photographer job opportunities at local firms or institutions.