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What do you recommend I do to become a professional sports photographer?

I would love to know how to get a job working on the field of a professional sports game (a NFL game perhaps?) as a photographer. I have a passion for sports and I especially love football. It would be a dream come true to photograph games. I am a junior in college at San Jose State. Any recommendations to help me achieve this career goal? #sports #photography #espn #nfl #nba #sports-photography

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5 answers

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Bob’s Answer

In order to become a sports photographer, you should be very familiar with the sports that you wish to photograph. Anticipating action and focusing your camera where action may occur or at least focusing on a main player expecting to make an important move is essential. You will likely be working with very long telephoto lenses which must be tripod mounted. Practice panning as well as isolating action with an extremely limited field of view. Watch the action with BOTH eyes open when taking a picture, because this happen unexpectedly and quickly.

Thank you comment icon Thank you, Bob. This was super helpful! Ben
Thank you comment icon this was a lot of help Luke
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Alejandro’s Answer

go out and photograph sports, any sports. Getting familiar with each sport and the moments of anticipation will allow you to capture great imagery. Whether it is contact sports or singles, every athlete performs a number of actions throughout the time of play. Get familiar with those particular moments and think seconds ahead of the action because by the time you think to press the shutter, the moment has past and you've missed the shot. See the shot before it happens. Just be ready and have fun.

Thank you comment icon Thanks for your advice it was super helpful! Ben
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Archana’s Answer


Very interesting choice of work.

Love sport. There is little point wanting to enter this field if your sole reason is financial. A sports-enthused photographer will find it much easier to capture the real essence of the sporting moment because your natural instincts will help to prime you for recognizing vital moments worth shooting.

Prepare to be ambitious. Sports photography is competitive and you'll need to have both excellent photography skills and excellent people skills, in order to work with the people who can get you the positions you need for taking the best shots.
Improve your photography skills. If you're a beginner, take courses that will teach you as many technical elements and special techniques as possible. If you can find a sports specialty course, so much the better. Read wikiHow's article on photographing sports to help you get focused.
Improve your people skills. The best location for seeing the action in professional sports will often be where they've placed the best seating or VIP boxes. If allowed there, you'll need to be very professional, unobtrusive, and courteous with the people around you.

Practice your sports shooting skills by photographing amateur games in anything. From ice hockey to football, swimming to horseriding, give as many sports as possible a try so that your skills are broad and well tried out.
Start with an easier sport and work your way up to harder sports. For example, a sport with less movement is easier to begin with than one that has lots of speed and quick movements. It is easier to capture a rower than a goalie, for example.

Ensure that you're using the right equipment. Invest in quality cameras and lenses. A lot of sports photography requires having a fast telephoto lenses (gets you close in), with fast autofocus (movement). A wide aperture is important for isolating the subject and not focusing on the surroundings, fast-moving responsiveness, and having fast shutter speeds allow you to freeze the action.

Create a portfolio from your very best photos across a range of sports. Consider making both a hard copy portfolio and an online one. Always choose the very best and discard the rest, even those you're fond of (you can look at the latter after work!) Show your skills off to their best advantage. Try to show the following:
Your skill at capturing movement
Your skill at capturing speed
Your skill at recognizing a moment worth capturing, such as the agony on a goalie's face when he misses the save, or the pain of a cyclist contorted under her fallen bike, or the sheer exhilaration of the swimmer as he places his hand on the wall and wins.
Your skill at using backdrops or other elements to provide an overall feel
Your skill at capturing the mood of the crowd.
Apply for a position as a photographer at a relevant newspaper, local journal, website, etc., and specify your particular interest in sports photography.
It may take some time before you're shifted into the photo job of your dreams. If you have to do time running around as an assistant, be grateful for the experience and tips. You'll get there, with patience and skill.

All the best, do well.

Archana Jain

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David’s Answer

Are you shooting for the school newspaper now? That's a great way to gain experience shooting sports. How about local schools? Do you have a portfolio of exceptional sports images? They don't have to be pro, or college, sports. Just good sports images. As far as getting credentials for an NFL game, they are hard to come by. Generally, someone is paying you to be there and shoot. You get to that point by producing great sports images and contacting people that buy sports images.

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Christopher’s Answer

For entry-level positions, this is not as difficult as you would imagine. Check for listings at the major sports arenas in the area and see if they have a photographer pool. Many of my friends did work at Key Arena (Seattle) for WNBA, concerts, etc., way back when.

This is second hand, but this is what I picked up from them:
-Turnover-burnout rate at this level is very high. However, that means ability to move up if you are dedicated and good is there.
-It's often a resume spot, not a portfolio job (most of my friends who did things like this checked out a camera from the tech department and then were required to return it with card and received no credit).
-As others have mentioned, great service and communication skills are a must. Alienate one A-lister and you're done. As an entry-level photo position, you are easily replaced.
-At least one of these friends has gone on to photograph multiple NFL games, NCAA FBS games (USC vs _, for example) and even a few editorial portrait sessions and OTA/training camp practices, too.