How to Become a Sports Photographer

The main steps to becoming a sports photographer are getting the right equipment and building experience through shooting lower-level games. However, the entire process has a few more steps than that.

My name is Caleb, and I have more than four years of photography experience. As a sports photographer, I’ve shot games in several sports, ranging from college basketball to soccer. 

In this article, I’ll explain how to become a sports photographer and what you’ll need to do it. If this is a path you’re interested in, keep reading to find out all the details.

What You’ll Need to Become a Sports Photographer

Before you get into sports photography, you need the right equipment. After all, there’s nothing worse than a game-changing moment happening in front of you and being unable to get a decent shot of it because of your gear.

This doesn’t mean you need expensive, top-of-the-line equipment. In fact, many entry-level cameras like the Canon Rebel series are good enough to handle sports photography these days. But you do need the right type of gear.

1. Camera

You’ll need a digital camera with an interchangeable lens. It can be a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but most sports photographers prefer the speed and autofocus abilities of DSLRs. 

Most point-and-shoot cameras just don’t have the specs to keep up with the demands of shooting sporting events. Even if you do have one with high-end specs, not being able to change the lens out is a significant problem.

2. Lens

The best lens for the job will change depending on which sport you’re shooting. For example, a long zoom lens helps capture the action in the middle of the field in soccer, but would be an inconvenience when shooting closer subjects in a sport like basketball.

Basically, having a digital camera with an interchangeable lens is the most important thing to getting started. 

It also helps to have a lens with an excellent focal length for your sport and a wide maximum aperture, such as f/2.8. 

The wide maximum aperture will help freeze the action and get sharp, rather than blurry, shots. It also dramatically improves your ability to shoot in low light. 

At some venues, such as poorly lit high school fields, you’ll really need this wide aperture to get the most out of the minimal lighting.

Of course, lenses like these are expensive. I wouldn’t recommend getting a high-end lens until you’re sure you want to keep doing this.

If all you have is a basic DSLR and a kit lens, you can still get into sports photography and even get good results when the conditions are ideal. 

Just be aware that when the lighting isn’t as good or if it’s overcast, or if the game is moving especially fast, you might struggle to get sharp images and avoid underexposure.

3. Additional Gear

Finally, you should bring at least one spare battery and make sure that it’s charged fully. Sports photography usually involves shooting in burst modes, which run through your battery life quicker than regular shooting.

The last thing you want is to run out of battery before the game ends, so bringing a spare is a reasonable precaution.

Other accessories might be useful, but they’re large sport-specific. Knee pads might be useful in some sports, as you’ll mostly shoot from a kneeling position. In others, a monopod is a good piece of equipment to help with the weight of your camera and lens.

The usefulness of many of these accessories depends on your specific situation, so do more detailed research on what you’ll need for the types of sports you’re thinking of shooting.

How to Get Into Sports Photography

When you start out as a sports photographer, you’re usually on your own. You won’t have the backing of a media outlet to help you access games, and you probably don’t have direct connections to sports teams.

Tip 1: Start with Low-Level Games to Build a Portfolio

You should first shoot some low-level games where you can easily get access to the sideline. High school games and some amateur games are good for this. You can use these games to learn the ropes of sports photography and build a portfolio.

How long should you cover these low-level games before trying to get access to better ones? Well, that depends on how fast you progress. Try to look at your pictures from an objective point of view.

For example, if you were the person running a sports team’s website, would you be happy displaying one of your photos in a game recap? If you think you’ve reached the point where your photos are good enough to show off, you can compile some of your best shots into a portfolio. 

This can be a file you’ve made in a word processing software like Google Docs or Microsoft Word or an online photo album on a site like Flickr. The most important thing is that it only has sports photos.

Tip 2: Use Your Portfolio to Gain More Sports Photography Jobs

Once you have a portfolio, you can send it around and look for new opportunities. However, remember that jumping right into high-level sports is unlikely. 

Major college and professional teams already get plenty of coverage from several sources, so they aren’t in a rush to bring on random freelancers. 

Many of these high-level college and pro teams will only give you access if you’re working for an outlet like a newspaper or a sports website.

Don’t worry, though. There are a lot of sports teams outside the top level that are grateful for any coverage. For example, there are over 100 semi-pro soccer teams in just the United States. 

There are also plenty of smaller colleges that don’t get much attention from pro photographers. 

Chances are, if you have a decent portfolio and email someone from a team like this, they’ll be happy to give you access to their games in exchange for the rights to use your photos on their website or social media.

Tip 3: Apply to Media Outlets

Media outlets can also get you into games, but trying to find an outlet to work for is often hit or miss. 

The larger ones generally only work with photographers who have significant experience. That means your options will mainly be smaller local outlets, like independent websites or newspapers.

A lot of it comes down to luck since there may or may not be a smaller outlet that covers the sport you’re interested in shooting.

Regardless of how you get access to games, it’s just the start of your road as a sports photographer. 

Improving will take time and shooting a lot of games, and you’ll have to upgrade your equipment at some point if you’re really serious, but once you’ve done the steps above, you’ll be in an excellent position to advance yourself further.

FAQs

Still have questions? Here are some of the FAQs we didn’t get a chance to cover.

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages of Being a Sports Photographer?

Obviously, the primary advantage of being a sports photographer is being on the sideline for sporting events and being uniquely close to the action. However, the most significant disadvantage is that it’s a job a lot of people want, making it competitive and hard to move up.

How Much Does a Sports Photographer Make?

It’s impossible to give one number for how much a sports photographer makes, as this varies a lot by the situation. Someone who shoots games for their local college probably doesn’t make anything, while higher-end photographers can make a living from sports.

Conclusion

Sports photography isn’t the easiest field to get into. It requires better gear than many other types of photography, and it’s a competitive space. But if you love sports and being close to the action, it’s also very rewarding.

At the end of the day, the best way to get into sports photography is to get out there and start taking pictures. As valuable as it is to plan and strategize, it’s your portfolio and your experience that will help you get work.

Are you thinking of getting into sports photography? Which sport do you want to shoot? Let us know in the comments.

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