Is becoming a sports photographer right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do sports photographers do?

Still unsure if becoming a sports photographer is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a sports photographer or another similar career!

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How to become a Sports Photographer

Sports photography does not have strict educational requirements in terms of formal degrees or certifications. However, obtaining a solid foundation in photography through education and training can significantly enhance your skills and prospects in the field. Here are some steps you can take to become a sports photographer:

High School Education or Equivalent
Begin with a high school diploma or equivalent. Courses in art, photography, visual arts, and computer skills can provide a solid foundation. Throughout your time in school, develop an in-depth understanding of the sports you think you may want to cover. Study the rules, strategies, and tactics of these sports.

Acquire Photography Equipment
Invest in a high-quality camera, including lenses with a variety of focal lengths, and accessories tailored to sports photography. Sports photographers often use both DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex camera) and mirrorless cameras.

While both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can take photos at very fast shutter speeds, a mirrorless camera's simpler internal mechanics enable it to shoot faster than most DSLRs, particularly when it comes to a series or burst of images. The frame rate on the most recent mirrorless cameras is remarkable.

In addition, with no mirror to flip up when you press the shutter, mirrorless cameras can take photos without making a sound. This is a huge advantage in some sports photography, where you need to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Self-Study and Practice
Self-study is a crucial aspect of a photographer's education. Familiarize yourself with your gear. Experiment with your camera and lenses and with different lighting conditions, exposures, compositions, and settings to understand how they impact your photographs.

Study the work of renowned sports photographers to understand their styles and techniques. Analyze what makes their photos exceptional.

Online Photography Courses and Tutorials
Take advantage of online platforms offering photography courses and tutorials. Websites like Coursera, Udemy, Skillshare, and LinkedIn Learning offer courses in sports photography, lighting techniques, composition, and more.

College Courses in Photography or Fine Arts
Consider enrolling in a college or university offering photography programs or degrees. Pursuing a bachelor's degree in photography, fine arts, or a related field can provide comprehensive knowledge and skills.

Photography Workshops, Seminars, Immersive Experiences, and Online Communities
Attend workshops, seminars, or short-term courses, as well as immersive experiences like photo tours and photography retreats, especially those focused on sports photography. All of these provide hands-on learning, exposure to various techniques, and insights and mentorship from established professionals.

Join online photography forums, groups, and social media communities dedicated to sports photography. Engage with other photographers, sports journalists, athletes, and sports event organizers and participate in discussions to expand your knowledge and network.

Consider a specialization within sports photography. Among the possibilities that may align with your interests and strengths are underwater photography, action sports, or individual sports. Understand that your chosen specialization my require specific training or certifications.

Portfolio Development and Online Presence
Develop a diverse portfolio showcasing your best sports photographs. Begin by photographing sports events at the local level, such as high school games, community leagues, or amateur competitions. Focus on capturing compelling action shots and key moments. Showcase a variety of work to demonstrate your skills and versatility. Quality over quantity is key. Build a professional website or utilize social media platforms to share your portfolio, connect with a wider audience, gain exposure in the industry, and market your services.

Internships and Assistantships
Seek internships or assistant positions with professional sports photographers. Learning from experienced photographers in real-world settings is invaluable in understanding the practical and business aspects of the job, including client communication, pricing, and contracts that clearly outline terms and deliverables. Time spent as an intern or assistant will also expose you to copyright laws and licensing to protect your work and establish guidelines for its use.

Connect with Sports Photo Agencies
Consider submitting your work to sports photo agencies, such as Getty Images, to gain exposure and access to a broader client base.

Be Patient and Persistent
Remember that breaking into the field of sports photography can take time, so patience and perseverance are essential. Many sports photographers start their careers by freelancing, allowing them to gain more experience by covering various sports events for different clients, including local newspapers, magazines, and online publications.

Continuing Education and Certifications
Stay updated with photography trends, new techniques, equipment advancements, and emerging athletes and sports events. Consider obtaining certifications to enhance your skills and credibility. The following are some of the voluntary certifications and professional organizations supporting sports photographers:

  • Society of International Sport and Leisure Photographers (SISLP) – SISLP offers various qualifications and distinctions, including Licentiate Qualification, Associate Qualification, and Fellowship Qualification.
  • International Sports Press Association (AIPS) – Abbreviated from its French name, Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive, AIPS is primarily focused on sports journalism and photography. It offers resources, training, and the opportunity to participate in sports-related events and competitions.
  • Diving or Underwater Photography Certifications – If you are interested in underwater sports photography, you may consider obtaining scuba diving certification and training in underwater photography. Organizations like the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) offer diving certifications.
  • Sports-Specific Training – Depending on your chosen sports specialization, you may seek certifications or training related to that sport. For example, if you wish to photograph equestrian sports, you could explore certifications related to horse care and safety.
  • Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) – To earn this certification, offered by the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), you need to pass a written exam that tests technical knowledge and artistic skills, submit a portfolio, and adhere to a code of ethics.
  • American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) – The ASMP offers professional memberships, resources, educational opportunities, and advocacy for photographers working in various commercial fields, including advertising, editorial, and media photography.
  • National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) – While primarily focused on photojournalism, NPPA can also be valuable for sports photographers who work in editorial and documentary photography. It provides education, advocacy, and networking opportunities.
  • American Photographic Artists (APA) – APA is a photography organization that serves photographers in various fields. It offers networking events, business support, and educational resources.
  • Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) – While not specific to sports photography, becoming an Adobe Certified Expert in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom can enhance your post-processing skills, which are essential for sports photographers.
  • National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) – For photographers who specialize in post-processing and image editing, NAPP offers memberships and resources related to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
  • Nikon School Certification – The Nikon School offers a certification program for photographers who want to enhance their technical and creative skills using Nikon cameras and equipment.
  • Canon Professional Services (CPS) – While not a certification, Canon Professional Services (CPS) is a service and support structure designed to provide working photo and video professionals with a wide range of benefits and services, including hotline support, loaner equipment during service episodes, rental equipment, free or subsidized shipping, service discounts, and online access to the CPS member service page.